Workshop #2 – Creating creativity

And stay curious.

Plenty of Cs during the workshop based out of The Guardian’s HQ near King’s Cross.

This was, for me at least, an incredibly enjoyable way to spend a day. Surrounded by funky colourful furniture, with interesting people, discussing wacky ideas, but what’s more – ways you can do it better.


Nick and Marcia from a creative agency – UMWW – led us through a series of talks and workshops, allowing us to engage throughout and really push at what leads to creativity. Often these presentations etc can be drab, but the content and delivery were incredibly engaging – meaning we were gleefully pushing ourselves the whole time.

The #1 message was that ideas don’t just appear randomly, there’s a definite system to getting the best of how your brain works. This concept isn’t new – as highlighted by James Webb-Young in 1939 (also check out the rest of the blog).

I’ll share with you the pertinent points from the day.


1. There is a huge amount of upside to being creative in your life and work. Especially in today’s economy, the ability to think beyond “what we’ve always done” is crucial. However, as with anything that looks to disrupt, there will be resistance. Circumventing these inevitable push-backs is half the problem.


Know your audience. Don’t get all hippy on those with the purse strings if think that more resource in an organisation should be devoted to creativity. Yes, it might not be an easy win – but having a conducive, collaborative workspace has been shown to be critical to success


2. Creativity might seem to be “how can we do something that’s never been done before”, but in fact it’s much more about making connections that haven’t been made before. It’s about having ideas that bring together thinking from abstract planes, and applying it to a new scenario.


This was probably the best advice to hear. Do interesting things with your time! Go and explore things in your city, make the effort to read widely, and watch interesting (mainly TED) videos. By going to a Secret Cinema, say, you could get a whole new perspective on how solve a problem you’ve been experiencing. Which leads to the next point…


3. It doesn’t matter if what you come up with is rubbish. Like really really rubbish. Like selling chocolate teapots. Because even if that point doesn’t lead to anything, it might spark someone to see the potential for something else, like chocolate spoons perhaps for a hot chocolate?


This was a really important thing that I learned today. Often, if brainstorming, you’re told “there’s no such thing as a bad idea”, and I found that difficult to grapple with. Clearly there are bad ideas. But that’s not the point – it’s not about getting to an end solution – even if you take a detour, the more you talk about, the more connections you might be able to make


4. It is best grown, and nurtured in a safe environment. Or rather, the group should be greenhousing. Brainstorming (or whatever you want to call it) sessions are a brilliant way of getting people together, and to borrow a quote from Alex Osborn (inventor of the brainstorm) “Creativity is so delicate a flower that praise tends to make it bloom while discouragement often nips it at the bud”. This is how to create many “thought leads” through divergent thinking.


If ever brainstorming, set the rules and have someone whose role it is to ensure that greenhousing is happening. And that goes along with other forms of negativity. Make it a free thinking work environment


5. But there is room for criticism. Again, something I struggled with before entering the session was how there was never any time to critique ideas, and iterate them. But there is time. It just needs to be clearly defined, and set aside. Probably as overtly as saying: “We’re done with divergent thinking, now we will converge our ideas”. This is where you can talk through the demerits of the ideas on the table. Leave personal relationships outside where you are.


Again, have a bit of structure. Maybe (in fact almost certainly) get out of a regular working environment, as this will trigger you to think in a certain frame. If you want to think outside the box; think away from a table.


I’ll leave it at 5.

David Pemsel (Chief Commercial Officer at The Guardian) spoke with us, and argued that 5 was a good number when it came to priorities that you need to keep.

But more important, yes, we also had a talk with the Chief Commercial Officer at The Guardian. Incredibly interesting guy. He talked through why The Guardian wasn’t adopting pay walls (contentious topic in journalism) and how the strategy that they are undertaking has, in his eyes, a sustainable future.


He also shared his 10 general tips which were are as follows:

1. Pace of change. Instagram has a market cap of $1bn with ~25 “kids”. It would never be possible before. Remain nimble where you work, but also be objective about what you look to do

2. How to mitigate risk. How deep before leap? How deep water?
3. Creating teams. Never “I”. More you talk about the team, the more things get done. You don’t always have to ask
3a. Look for people who want to prove themselves

4. Always be curious.

5. If things are good, bad is never far. Plan to avoid dips.

6. Companies and brands no longer own conversation

7. Prioritise ruthlessly. 5 to get done really well.

8. Spend time out. Get out of the office, get into new spaces

9. Sustainability is now job of everyone.

10. Learn and relearn. The new illiteracy will not be those cannot read and write, but those how cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.

We also came away slightly indoctrinated as to why The Guardian has a fantastic business model and will outrun all of its competitors. The guy spent most of his career in advertising I guess…


Our afternoon was spent pitching some ideas that we had come up with over lunch in groups of 4 (apparently the ideal number for a brainstorming session). We scrawled down thoughts often disparate parts of our brains, and came up with any idea that we wanted to then pitch. In a bizarre, Derren Brown-esque moment, two groups independently came up with the exact same idea…

Though the team pitching second protested when pitching that they had several superior features.



There were also a whole host of nuggets that were dispensed throughout the day. If you have the time, I’d recommend looking a bit more into them:


Concepts/ articles

You can have 6 Thinking Hats

Project Loon – Google providing Wi-fi to the world – visual organisation for creative minds

Duolingo – learn language for free by translating the web

Red Brick Contest – finding the world’s best salesperson


Books/ Speakers

49 Marketing Secrets by Ron Finklestein

Levity, Brevity and Repetition by Dan Pink

Roller skaters and wine makers by Nick Leonard



3 Beards – tech startup community events

The Lost Lectures – talks in secret locations


There was also a memorable “brainstorming” story, where some guys were working at M&S and trying to make a new stir fry product. To do this, a big circle was drawn in the centre of the floor (the pan) and each member of the team took on the role of the ingredients (i.e. the oil went in first and whizzed around, then the beansprouts, then the other veg, and then a spoon chased them around).

Although this sounds like a bit of fun, afterwards they sat down and talked about the experience. The oil said: “it was good, but it felt you other guys didn’t give me enough time”.

This then led to the thought/realisation that many people when cooking didn’t let the oil get hot enough when putting it in the pan. And so they developed a type of oil that changed colour once it got hot enough, so you knew when to start putting the veg in.