Category Archives: Creativity

Why it’s good to be messy


Last year one of my favourite books was Maria Kondo’s ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying‘ It really did change my life. I threw out all the clothes that didn’t give me joy, cleared out all my old work files and visited Wandsworth tip on a regular basis. I recommended it to everyone I know.

However, this year the book I keep banging on about is Tim Harford’s ‘Messy. How to be Creative and Messy in a Tidy Minded World’. It’s the complete opposite of the Magic of Tidying, but is just as compelling and inspiring. This book argues the case for introducing disorder, chaos and randomness into our lives in order to make us more productive and creative. What I love about it is the variety of source material he draws upon – music collaboration, building design, aircraft safety – and it’s relaxed, anecdotal style. Plus for someone, who find’s it easy to be messy, it made me feel less guilty about the state of my office.



Yet Another Depressed Cat on the Internet

The latest Young’s Seafood ad features a cat called Malcolm who’s tormented by the delicious  gastronomic fishy ready meals that his owners have prepared.

This ad has clearly been inspired by another miserable cat – the French existentialist, Henri. He’s so popular he got his own Youtube Channel – HenriLechatNoir. Here’s my favourite Henri video

There’s 2 points I want to make about this. (the first, serious, the second, less so)

Firstly, Imitating what you admire is perfectly normal and indeed essential in every creative activity. My favourite quote on creativity is by Voltaire

“Originality is nothing but judicious imitation”

It’s so true. To come up with a new idea you need to keep your ears and eyes open and imitate what inspires you. That’s what musicians do. That’s what artists do. And clearly it’s what ad agencies do. So to kickstart your creativity, fill your brain with external stimulation and steal shamelessly.

Secondly, our obsession with cats never ceases to amaze me. Where would the Internet be without cat videos? Probably about half the size. If you’re a fan, there’s a series of Internet Cat Video Festivals in 2015. It originated in 2012 in the USA, but now it’s gone global. For example there’s an event in Perth this weekend and in Glasgow in February. So if you’ve got a cool, entertaining cat – it’s not too late to enter.

How to Visualise Ideas


In any idea generation session, it’s so important to be able to visualise ideas so people can really ‘get’ what you’re talking about and are able to add richness and depth to them. I always include visualisers and designers at my workshops as they add real value to the sessions. However, I wish more people were better at drawing but most people don’t feel confident about their drawing skills. This is because:

a: they never practice

b: they’ve never learnt the basic skills and techniques.

c: they believe they’re incapable of drawing (thanks to a sadistic art teacher from school)

However, if you want to improve your drawing skills, there are plenty of opportunities available. Here’s a couple of initiatives run by a friend of mine Trevor Flynn, who runs a company called Drawing at Work

1) Sketchmob – free drawing events that take place all over London. Simply turn up with your drawing materials and join the crowd of sketchers. The next event’s on 2nd April in Soho. Click here for details

2) The UCL Drawing Gym. This is a series of videos with worksheets that teach you some basic drawing skills. Primarily designed to help engineers to draw, the principles can be applied universally. Click here for details.

As with most things in life, the more the do, the better you’ll and the more you’ll enjoy it. If you want to turbo charge your creative output, pick up your pencils and get sketching!

My Favourite Books on Creativity

Here they are, in no particular order

1. Ignore Everybody Hugh MacLeod

A concise book of thoughts and ideas on how to unlock your creativity. I like it because it’s very insightful, has a refreshing, cynical perspective and is packed with the author’s amusing cartoons.

2 The Art of Looking Sideways Alan Fletcher

A huge slab of a book, that’s packed full of inspiration. Every page is different and I like to randomly choose a page now and again and have a read. It could a quote, a visual and long narrative. It’s endlessly interesting and inexhaustible.

3 Thinkertoys Michael Michalko

This book is full of creative thinking techniques. It’s a great reference book for when you’re facilitating a creative workshop and need some inspiration on how to get people to think differently

4 The Artist’s Ways  Julia Cameron

This is a classic book on how to overcome your fears and inhibitions and embark on journey of creative enlightenment. Lots of interesting suggestions for new creative habits and behaviours.

5 Steal Like An Artist Austin Kleon

A pocket sized book that you can devour in a couple of hours. It’s simple, contemporary, very concrete with 10 creativity principles based on the author’s life experiences.

Where To Look For New Ideas


‘Originality is nothing but judicious imitation’


This is one of my favourite quotes as it encapsulates how the creative process works. Essentially, generating new ideas is all about voyeurism and theft – searching for existing ideas and then adapting them to create something new. But where do you look for inspiration and who do you steal from?

1 Look Backwards

Another great quote

‘He who cannot draw on 3 000 years is living from hand to mouth’


The most obvious start point it to learn from the past. You can do this in lots of ways

(a) Study and imitate your heroes. This is what all great musicians, artists, writers, fashion designers, film directors always do. Read any biography and you’ll see that they started out studying and copying the past masters. The Beatles were inspired by Elvis and Little Richard. Picasso was inspired by Cezanne.

(b) Study successful product and service ideas from the past and try to update them for a modern age. For example the Sony Walkman was invented in 1979 and become the template for the iPod which was launched in 2001. Wikipedia replicated the need for encyclopaedias. Go to London’s Design Museum if you get the chance. It’s a great source of inspiration.

2 Look Forwards

This means being sensitive to what’s new and emergent, so you can catch the latest trends and be ahead of the curve. So how to do you do this?

(a) Talk to people who you consider to be influential and experts in their field and seek their opinion e.g. technology experts, scientists, journalists

(b) Observe what’s happening in ‘leading edge’ cultures e.g. fashionable districts of cities, music venues, art galleries

(c) Read avidly. There’s so much published nowadays from trend spotting websites, magazines and blogs that collate and proffer opinion on what’s new and interesting. Popular sites are trendwatching and springwise.

if you don’t have time to do it yourself, there’s lots of people out there who can help you, such as Space Doctors or Futures Coaching

This way you’ll be able to keep fresh and current in your idea generation.

 3 Look Sideways

This means reviewing and learning from what’s happening in adjacent categories or different worlds. You can do this in lots of ways. For example:

(a) review a category / business / brand that is dealing with a similar problem to yours and observe how they’ve dealt with it. For example, if your issue is ‘improving customer service’ learn from how other people have done it well. Zappo’s would be great place to start. If your task is appealing to a specific target audience, review how other brands in completely different categories target them successfully.

(b) steal from a very different category or world and adapt it to your own. For example personal care brand Lush, learnt how to present their soap and personal care products by learning from fresh food deli counters.

(c) observe and adapt ideas from different cultures. Restaurants, food writers and food brands do this all time, by mixing and matching ingredients and recipes from different cuisines. (I’d love to try a cronut).Interior designers do this by adding style cues from other cultures.

(d) go back to nature. Take inspiration from the natural world, which has often worked out how to solve problems. For example in 1948 velcro was invented when a mountaineer on a walk observed how burrs from plants stuck to the fur of his dog.

Ideas are everywhere. You’ve just got to know where look for them.

Presentation Lessons That I’ve Learnt from TED

Like most people I know, I love watching TED talks. They’re a great source of inspiration and I try to watch one most days. However, I particularly enjoy watching how the speakers present their ideas as the content itself. Here’s a few lessons that I’ve picked up.

Include a healthy dose of self deprecation

People on TED stages don’t need to big themselves up. We already assume they’re eminent and successful, even if we’ve never heard of them before. Admitting to mistakes, reflecting on your frailties and what it taught you is a great way to get the audience on your side and demonstrate your humanity. Plus nobody likes a big head.

This happened to me

Share a personal story. People love to understand a bit more about the person who’s speaking. This could be surprising, humorous, everyday, shocking. It doesn’t matter. Again, it helps you connect and helps illuminate your talk in a way the audience can relate to.

This is a great example of how a 13 year old boy from Kenya tells the story of how he came up with a remarkable invention

This is what I believe in

Without being too ‘preachy’ all the great speakers at TED have a clear point of view on the subject – and on the world – and are keen express it. Take a stance on an issue. Argue it powerfully. Speak from the heart. It makes the audience really sit up and pay attention.

Here’s the big picture

In telling your story, place it in a bigger contextLots of TED speakers draw upon interesting stories from the past. They also draw upon examples from different cultures or different parts of the world. It gives your own story gravitas and makes it more persuasive and engaging.

Here’s the killer facts

People will not be able to remember too many facts from your presentation. Therefore focus on the key ones. Don’t bombard people with too much data. Focus on the surprising or the alarming i.e., the interesting ones. Some people, like Hans Rosling bring them to life vividly.  Some just shout them out clearly and loudly. It doesn’t matter, As long as the audience gets it.

And finally…it helps if you’re funny

The comedy threshold in presentations is pretty low, so you don’t have to do or say anything that’s truly hilarious. However, sprinkling one or two gags or light hearted episodes into your presentation will put you and your audience in a relaxed frame of mind.

Who displays all these characteristics? Well here’s a TED classic, Elizabeth Gilbert, talking about creativity, a subject close to my heart.


7 Ways to Nurture Your Creative Spirit


Enhancing your creativity is a lifelong journey, but how can you do give it a boost? Here’s a few suggestions

1. Find a Creative Outlet

Drawing, writing, flower-arranging, photography. It doesn’t matter what it is. We all need a focal point for us to channel and express our creative energy. So, take up your favourite hobby, learn more about it and get going!

 2. Increase Your Output

Creative people are doers as well as thinkers. The only way to develop your creativity is to increase your output. To come up 1 brilliant idea you need a lot of ideas in the first place. To invent 1 new product you need many prototypes.

3. Carry An Ideas Book

Ideas come to you in odd places at unusual times. In the shower, sitting on the bus. Make sure you capture the eureka moment as soon as it occurs, otherwise you may lose it altogether. Be it your favourite notebook or your favourite app, make sure it’s your constant companion.

4. Relax

When you relax, your subconscious mind gets to work and ideas pop into your head. It’s impossible to be stressed and creative at the same time. Listen to music on headphones, lie in the sunshine, go for a swim, ride your bike.

5. Get Fit

Exercise can contribute to creative output as it increases oxygen in the blood which is delivered to the brain. Also, certain types of exercise such as running, walking or swimming can create meditative rhythms and help you relax. (see point 4)

6. Get Regular Fresh Input

Routine is the enemy of creativity. Your mind needs fresh stimulation to get new ideas and new perspectives. Aim to do something different every day and seek out new experiences. Listen to a different radio station, visit new places, order something that you’ve never tried before

7. Use Creative Tools and Techniques

There’s hundreds of creative techniques you can use. When you get stuck, try some out. For example there’s Mind Mapping or there’s the Creative Whack Pack.

This is just a snapshot of some of the things you can do to help nurture your creativity. If you’ve got any more suggestions, I’d love to hear from you.