Could flexible working save creativity?

Artificial intelligence is quietly stalking creativity, ready to kill. Chatbots, music, movies, TV dramas, programmatic advertising and more are out-smarting humans, and shaping art worthy of the ‘Next Rembrandt’.

At McCann Japan, the company’s new artificially intelligent creative director, AI-CDβ is busy responding to live briefs from clients with logic-based creative direction based on past trends and success of TV ads. Last year, a human advert showing the hand-drawn beauty of giant calligraphy artistry narrowly beat AI-CDβ’s ‘superhuman flying dog’, in a consumer vote, by just 9%. Only with divergent human thinking will creativity defeat the robots.

Currently, creativity is in a workplace straitjacket.

Could our inflexible, outdated working systems be holding us back? Currently we’re in a ‘groupthink’ situation where 88% of all creative is shaped by a homogenised group of creatives (male, white, educated) within a traditional 9-6pm time structure. To creatively outrun artificial intelligence, it’s time to add in fresh, divergent perspectives into the mix, fast. To do that, we have to rewrite the workplace.

Trailblazing ideas rarely come during office hours.

Laura Jordan Bambach, chief creative officer at Mr President and co-founder of SheSays dreams her ideas (she scrawls in a ‘dream diary’ beside her bed, some time in the small hours), while chief executive of J. Walter Thompson, James Whitehead, cites his Saturday run as his most productive thinking time. Ana Balarin, executive creative director at Mother London, uses her breast-feeding time to solve creative problems, while Dentsu Aegis UK and Ireland chief executive Tracy De Groose says conversations with her sons have sparked some of her most creative ideas.

Our notions of time are outdated.

Imagine if our workplaces focused on a six-hour day, instead of our 24/7 model. Or, we worked around ‘core hours’ of 10am-4pm, like a recent workplace initiative from Wieden + Kennedy in London.

It makes sense; a recent study from Sweden showed that a six-hour working day significantly increased productivity. Nurses who worked a six-hour day were happier, healthier and had more energy compared to working eight hours. Additionally, they took less sick days and were less stressed, more active and experienced less back and neck pain.

If creatives could come in and focus on six-hours of ‘core working’ just consider the fresh, divergent approaches that could spark. A recent initiative from AMVBBDO has introduced permanent half-time working roles for parents, which may shape a path back to work for those we currently force to leave in droves: mothers.

Inflexible working hours mean we lose a huge majority of mothers.

While not considered a ‘diversity’ group (like race, LGBTQ, age, ability), the fact is so few mothers shape work within our business. Yet research from Digital Mums shows six out of 10 working mothers don’t have access to flexible work, despite laws introduced in 2014. Almost seven out of 10 stay-at-home mums would go back to work in some capacity if flexible work was an option. Creative Equals research shows an incredible 60% of our young female creatives believe they won’t be able to stay in the industry with a young family.

With open flexible workplaces, there is no doubt we’ll retain our mothers, attract Generation Z and, with multiple points of view at the table, unleash creativity. Just maybe we’ll daydream those unexpected, impossible ideas no algorithm can possibly predict, let alone create.

Ali Hanan is founder and chief executive of Creative Equals. At Cannes Lions this week, Ali is hosting a panel on how to increase creativity via flexible working at 4pm on Wednesday 21st June in the Dentsu Aegis Network Beach House. For more information or to RSVP, visit the event page.

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