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Lessons on Creativity: Things we learned at Material’s ‘Creativity Week’

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Danni Gordon is the talent and culture manager at Material Group.

During the last week of October, Material held 15 internal events for our staff, clients and friends, under the banner of ‘Creativity Week’.

We asked a selection of professional creatives of all types – artists, writers, comedians, broadcasters, musicians – to visit our Glasgow HQ and provide their perspective on ‘creativity’. While some discussed overarching ideas about creativity, others discussed their own creative process in detail. Key themes to emerge throughout the week included:

Standing on the shoulders of giants: Quite a few of the speakers hit on this theme. Working/ expanding on what has gone before, continually improving, evolving, learning from the greats. Stuart Cosgrove explained: “Culture deserves reinvention. Residual Culture can become Emergent Culture"

Disrupt the Harmony/Don’t be Linear: Harmony is a threat to creativity - you have to break out of your comfort zone, change how you work, where you work, change who you collaborate with, whatever allows a new perspective on an idea. Karrie Fransman, Graphic Novelist creates unnatural physical situations to encourage creativity.

Collaboration/Partnerships: A lot of the speakers described the benefits of collaboration, whether it be collaborating with the public, colleagues, family, other agencies or clients. Alex Smoke would ask friends to review all his work as he trusts their perspective. Mark Hogarth of Harris Tweed Hebrides extols the virtues of ‘partnerships’ over ‘collaborations’ as collaborating makes it seem like it is short term and he says: “If a partnership is worth investing in, then it is worth investing in for a long term. We have partnerships, we don’t collaborate."

Prototyping/Body storming: The importance of the Physical space and Play came up more than once. We were encouraged to create prototypes, video, get an understanding how something would look and feel. How would people interact and react to an idea? How can we use space to help imagine our thoughts? Sera Miller, the CEO of Material reminded us of Dougal Wilson of Blink Productions, director of most of the iconic John Lewis adverts, who creates what he calls ‘Crap-o-Matics’ to understand what the final adverts will look like to adjust, improve and understand what he is creating.

Putting people at the heart: The Consumer is the focus of all design. Make sure they are involved/considered/understand/accept/agree with what you are creating. Consult data to keep making sure you are user-focused. Sarah Drummond from Snook explained how they work with the public at every stage of their design process, continually making sure every step considers the ultimate user. Martin McDonnell from Soluis explained the importance of AR and VR stunts only working when the user gets the immediate benefit at the event. Ray Bradshaw, comedian said: "Sometimes you will never know exactly how things will work until you show it to the public. That can be terrifying but always use it as a tool for improvement and be willing to make changes even at the last minute."

Align with behaviour: You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Sarah Drummond from Snook says: "Don’t make consumers do what you think they should do, watch what they do, and enhance."

Removing the individual creative: Sera Miller, Stuart Cosgrove and Sarah Drummond all discussed the benefits of giving up your idea to the team, for the greater benefit. Sera reminded us of Ed Catmull of Pixar making this the major focus of the company.

Wear different hats: Taking on different personalities to improve the creative process and add a new dimension. Both Karrie Fransman and Sarah Drummond from Snook made us realise the benefit that this technique has on creativity: stepping out of yourself, whether imagining yourself as a different person or a different version of yourself, in order to view your work through different eyes. Ray Bradshaw, comedian, explained how important it is to understand each joke from different perspectives.

Open source sharing of ideas: Alex Smoke and Sarah from Snook both extol the virtues of sharing your work, whether that’s allowing the masses to have access via Soundcloud or uploading sketches/designs to an open source platform or giving over the design/idea to the client to be able to manage it themselves, improve and re-align to their needs.

Overall, the unusual line-up of events at Creativity Week including a 3D printing workshop, a Tenement TV filming sessions, Screen printing Workshop and Tennent’s Halloween Tour, were received really well by Material staff. As well as learning a new skill, getting away from their desks, experiencing something they never normally would, these events were also useful as a team bonding exercise.

We’re now looking forward to Material’s third annual Digital Week, which is planned for April 2016. If anyone is interested in being involved with it, or with similar events in the future, don’t hesitate to get in touch at

Danni Gordon is the talent and culture manager at Material Group.