As if the fug and fury of the creative industries – a world traditionally dominated by the garish brogues and macho braces of the opposite sex – was not enough for women to contend with, even greater challenges await for ambitious creative women when they have a baby. But having travelled just that journey, I believe that having children makes you more creative, not less.
This week, Women@Wavemaker hosted a bumper inspirational breakfast session with a creative lens. We welcomed four incredibly talented creative women to our agency, all four of whom are industry leaders. They spoke to us about how ‘gender has excelled or held them back’ in the creative worlds they work in.
When I think about myself in this creative world I chose 15 years ago, I think quite a lot about what having children has done to my creativity and how I think it’s made me better at my job.
In the spate of personality tests I’ve ever done, I’ve always been quite yellow. The piece of the cheese on the trivial pursuit personality wheel which says ‘I’m creative’. I’ve had a fringe since I was 19, liked the smell of the dark room at school, speak an often random stream of consciousness and enjoy drawing so I suppose it’s a bit true.
But nothing has made me more creative than having children.
I don’t want to bang on about what a big octopus I am with my spectacular multi-task able tentacles and how great I am at balancing bread knives, baby wipes, Franklin Gothic Bold 12 and the phenomenal number of relationships I now must maintain. Nor do I want to talk about how motherhood has made me more inventive, able to sell (peas) and being able to clearly communicate the basics in simplest of terms, while mastering the art of negotiation on primal terms. I don’t even want to ride the wave of female entrepreneurialism post the crash of 2009, as I sit trying to work out the best way to invent a legal sedative for two under threes after three years of not sleeping.
As Ken Robinson argues in ‘Creative Schools’, creativity is about fresh thinking and ‘imagination is the root of creativity. It is the ability to bring to mind things that aren’t present in our senses. Creativity is putting our imagination to work.’
And no one is more imaginative than children. As Them Khai Meng, chief creative officer at Ogilvy states, no one quite has such phenomenal freedom to explore, take risks and experiment.
Mine have made me see the world again, this time through their eyes. I’ve got another go at this life and I’m two foot tall again. My imagination is on steroids and I’m wandering around Neverland making friends with the Lost Boys. I get to see Autumn in new light complete with the wonder of a shiny conker, marvel at the fur on a peach, get high on the smell of stationary, forage for caramel pebbles and wonder why stuff dies.
I get to see the power in the spectacle and ritual of brands. Unwrapping the red wax from a baby bell is like magic, foraging for a two inch Ikea pencil and paper tape measure is akin to the delight of an Easter Egg hunt and the joy at what a three-minute break on Milkshake has to offer (and fill the sack for Christmas).
I am sleep deprived and energised. I am full of wonder, risk and have a constant desire to explore.
Last year I sat at a breakfast meeting at one of London’s finest for Mexican eggs and a dollop of advertising panache with my baby on my lap at a ‘keeping in touch’ catch up. An elderly Bill Nighy 1970s Madmen type upon leaving the table next to me said ‘she’ll be the most creative thing you ever do’. Yes. Exactly that. I thought. And so did my lovely male breakfast companion. Rearing of children is pretty special and something to celebrate, they aren’t just a monopoly of a working woman or man’s time, someone who takes up the other half of the week, sometimes inconveniently for a Friday meeting. They give back to the workplace more than we can ever possibly imagine, through the worlds they throw their parents into, the imagination they give back to agency world. They bring Neverland to the boardrooms of our agencies.
What can feel like a nausea inducing double life for most working parents, much of the time is enough to make one feel giddy with the schizophrenic weirdness of it all. One day I think I’ll get so dizzy I’ll fall, others I’m beating that cymbal like my four pack of AAs will never run out. But most of the time, I’m hoping my trip to Neverland never ends.
Emily Fairhead-Keen is group strategy director at Wavemaker