I’ve been lucky enough to find myself invited to Google Firestarters, an event that happens every two to three months, curated by the inimitable Neil Perkin of Only Dead Fish fame. It’s aimed at the Planning community, but I think it extends well beyond, blurring the lines between Planning, Strategy, Creative and Innovation.
As this is pretty much where I find myself working, I find each session extremely engaging and informative. And I get to meet a lot of interesting people and discuss interesting things.

Yet, I’ve not written anything up about any of the events I’ve been to. Today, I was revisiting some notes I made at the last event, which was billed as Creativity Is Not A Department, and I realised that I’ve started to stop sharing the information that I pick up. I’m being selfish. And I wondered if there was a reason for this?

I don’t consciously set out to keep things to myself. I throw a lot of stuff out on Twitter (mostly), although Google+ has featured a fair bit in my life recently. I think that work has been full-on; I need a break from the world of work, too (which is about to happen) and time to reflect properly on what I’ve learned, read, heard and debated.

So in the interests of breaking the selfish pattern, here’s some top-line nuggets from Firestarters:

Google Squared alumni started the session off. You can find out more about Google Squared here.
Jamie, Camilla, Emma and Michael gave us a good overview of where we’re at, as an industry, and why they believe things are headed in the wrong direction.

Creativity should not be confined to a department
Making it a noun broke our relationship with the creative idea. Why should creativity be confined? We should, instead, break the rules of having a creative department and learn to collaborate – hear different conversations, introduce new ideas and embrace experimentation. Yet, don’t dismiss the craft skills required to make ideas happen. They are just as important to the creative ‘process’.
Bearing in mind that accountants are taking over the bigger agency groups, it’s probably down to the independent, smaller ‘shops’ to do this. And they are.

Sunny side up
Next up were Bryan and Stephanie of 72 & Sunny, from good old rainy Amsterdam – the irony was not lost on them. They put some cats amongst the pigeons:
Saying ‘we are all creative’ takes both bravery and generosity. People need to be accountable for solving the problem. And using diverse teams who have hybrid skills – designers who can think conceptually, writers who can code, for example. It could just as well be a mix of cultures and nationalities.
Don’t split strategy and creative. The outcome will then put a stamp on culture.
And also: put stuff up for everyone to see – being open about ideas makes them better, as other people are inspired and can see cool ways to make ideas better.
Having said all that, there is still a place for one person to have overall ‘sign off’ of the ideas. Consensus only gets you so far. But then, that’s accountability again.

Media in the mix
Brave move, saying you’re a Creative Director at a media agency, but that’s exactly why Ann Wixley from OMD was an inspiring speaker. Having worked on a project for OMD recently, I can confirm they are, in many ways, beating the advertising agencies at their own game. But that’s another story.
Ann suggested a shocking truth: creativity is a formula. I hasten to add she didn’t mean formulaic. This means that creativity equals Diversity X Stimulus / Fear. And it’s the managing that fear (on the agency and the client side of things) that really takes skill. (I’d agree. It’s why I think account teams have to be involved – if they don’t understand the whats, wheres and whys of the idea, they won’t sell it convincingly.) Remember: there is no right or wrong answer.
She also had another top tip: make the space to be creative – get out of the office, break with conventions, don’t rush [being creative]. All-in-all, a very inspiring speaker.

A PHD in creativity
The final speaker was David Wilding from phd. He talked about the industry’s predilection for neologisms. These are a plague, he said, before putting forth his own: crelling – a portmanteau of creativity and selling.
Sales, he suggested, is killing creativity. It’s about the numbers, in other words. We’re back into Omnicom/Publicis territory. The bean counting doesn’t allow for good creative ideas – it’s easier to sell a mediocre idea than create a good one. We need to stop being so earnest about being creative and have more fun.
I liked that he asked a telling question: what would you do if you weren’t afraid? That’s something I will be using in future workshops.

Are you on the list?
It’s not easy getting an invite to Firestarters. It’s popular, for one. It’s not for everyone – it is mostly full of planning types; yet, I think it has a lot to offer anyone in the creative industry, in almost any department. Like any of these events, you get out of it what you choose to put in through listening, accepting a different point of view, giving yourself time to think about how the words someone is saying relate to your own situation. If you get a chance to go, take it.

Whatever the topic of the next event, it’s sure to be interesting.