Blog 2 of 5: Can Creativity Be Taught?

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Completing this blog series of 5 means a couple of things. Firstly you will have read a smashing piece of literature. Secondly you will be able to assess whether you understand your own creativity more and whether you learned something useful. If not, you totally wasted your time reading 5 blogs, so shame on you. Each topic builds on the previous publication week after week. Sort of like a miniseries, except in writing, so you’ll have to read know that thing people use to do in the old days.
Blog 2 of 5: Can Creativity Be Taught?

Thinking Differently and What it means to be creative in advertising.


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Last week we defined creativity, (see: This allows us to delve slightly deeper in our quest to answer the question: “can creativity be taught?” While defining creativity, we saw that there is an element of thinking outside the box in all creative cases. In other words, thinking differently.
So, what is it to think differently?

Thinking differently is not as strange a concept as you might think. I say this because I compare my own opinions to the work by Dyer and Gregersen. In an essay on creativity they point out that a lot of innovation comes back to associative thinking, which is, or can be, a learned skill. We will get back to this statement later in the blog, when talking about Hyper Island.
Most ‘creative’s’ in the ad industry, including myself, walk around with a little notebook in which we jot down anything that stands out to us on a daily basis. It’s a way of organizing chaos, or as Dyer and Gregersen would say, a way of thinking associatively – and writing it down.
To a naturally creative person, thinking associatively is also about knowing they can ask the question differently when it doesn’t work for them, opposed to wrecking their brain over what the right answer to the given question might be.
To illustrate this: if I asked you 5 + 5 = ? you would, depending on your level of math knowledge, think and eventually tell me the answer is 10. Which would be correct. What if however I phrased the question differently and asked you: 10 = ? + ? By simply asking the question differently, you now have a million possible answers to the same question asked above, making the question more creative than the initial, single solution. This to me, in advertising, is what creative thinking is all about.

The Japanese Art of Chindogu

Chindogu is the Japanese art of creating un-useless inventions. In other words putting things together in surprising ways. They’re not useless, but also not useful, simply un-useless. chindogu.jpg

Stanford University has a think tank for young creative minds, in which they all start off with completing an assignment using ‘chindogu’. This is because in most cases, and an institution like Stanford knows this, creative thinking has been taught out of us from a young age. Chindogu, in academic terms is the closest thing I could find to physically explain what happens during the creative process and why thinking differently is so important. Chindogu uses associative thinking to create something unique, which most creative’s would refer to as “this just feels right”. And if asked the question, why? They respond, “because, it just feels right”. It’s not creating something within reason, its creating something beyond reason.

So what is Hyper Island?

Hyper Island is a creative business school, specializing in real world industry training using digital technology. When looking at the question if creativity can be taught it only makes sense to look at Hyper island, especially when thinking differently is concerned.

The first thing you do at Hyper Island, even before getting a briefing from a client is to “empty your brain”. Just like with chindogu the point of this is for you and your teammates to come up with as many ideas as you can, and then find correlations between them at a later stage, after getting the client briefing. The result is that a team of 4 individuals from different fields will have a well of a couple of hundred ideas written down on post it notes to combine and choose from as they wish during a 48 hour period. The large majority of hyper island techniques can be found online at: and are really worth having a look at.

I put it to the test

Being fascinated by Hyper Island, thinking differently, creativity and the question, “can it can be taught?”, I set out to put this to the test on 27 and 28 November. I called the initiative 48hSandbox and got a briefing from a client called WebSummit, the largest tech fest in the world. For the duration of a Saturday and Sunday teams of 4, consisting of individuals from different academic fields such as mechanical engineering, business economics, design and communication worked together to find creative solutions for the briefing. The initiative started off slowly with an exercise called “future mapping”, similar to emptying your brain where everyone writes down past, present and future trends. Some teams later used these as sources of inspiration for their creative campaigns. post its.jpg

What was interesting was just like at Stanford University, some participants took a while to get into this way of “chindogu”- thinking. One participant, Ryan Wolters, a creative from an advertising agency in Amsterdam, immediately jumped into the exercise writing down and screaming out anything that came to mind. Other participants, from other academic fields took some time to grasp the concept of organized chaos. They took time to shake their way of thinking, and step into an uncomfortable mind frame and different way of thinking; thinking without rules, textbooks or guidelines.
By the end of the first day something remarkable happened though. I had mechanical engineers, designers and creative’s from different fields walking up to me to personally thank me for the experience. On Sunday evening, each team pitched their ideas. Not a single idea lacked creative thinking, even though some participants started off saying “I don’t know if I am as creative as everyone else here”.

Since 48hSandbox’s first event the pitches have been sent through to the client. One idea was almost identical to a campaign released a few days ago in New York to promote Advertising Week. The only difference? The 48hSandbox idea was devised by three students with close to no advertising experience in a span of 48 hours. The advertising week campaign was developed over a matter of weeks by some of the most talented creative’s and strategists in the advertising world. Its quite amazing what happens when people start thinking differently isn’t it? group photo 1.jpg

Coming Soon:

Blog 3 of 5: Mentoring and why it is so important


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