I've been asked to deliver a keynote at Film4's Innovation Summit later this month, which is I'm really excited about.
When you do things like this you always get a call asking for the title of your talk weeks or sometimes months before the event. This is so that organisers can get their publicity out. The thing is I never give the same talk twice and usually end up preparing something close to the day. For years I got away with it by calling all my talks 'Everything is Amazing' because no matter what, I could always swing the conversation around to this. I stopped doing it about a year ago when I was convinced everyone on the planet had seen that video.
I really like talking at events like this because preparing really forces you to think hard about what it is you do. It gets you to collect all the thinking you've been doing and to make some sort of sense of it all. It requires you to take all those noodly, random and often fleeting thoughts or bits of conversation you've been having and combine them into something coherent and of value to yourself as well as the collected audience.
So the title I gave Film4 when asked was 'Nothing Dies, Everything Changes'. But after a chat with Matt yesterday about formats, and having thought a bit more about what I'm going to talk about I'm beginning to think 'The Content, the Container and the Consumer' might have been a better title. Until recently content was made to fit a limited number of containers and just a handful of consumer behaviours. Now, the smart creators think not just about the content but are also designing for a multitude of containers and consumer behaviours.
So there are a few of my thought's that may or may not shape what I talk about.
The sharpest creators are those who know that teetering on the edge of tomorrow is a much healthier place to be than just worrying about their industry in five or ten years time. I think 'noticing' is something we need to get better at as behaviours become more subtle. And I don't care what Bill Carr, Amazon's VP of Music and Video says about preferring the algorithm over the human tastemaker in the development of TV shows, humans understanding humans behaviour is as important as computers understanding data in our new world. A world of content created by algorithm alone scares me a little.
I'm going to be running a six week course at the Cornerhouse in Manchester on Where Ideas Come From. I've been running it at Shoreditch House in London over the last year and it's been great fun to be a part of. Wonderful conversations follow and people from all sorts of creative industries attend. If your job is about coming up with ideas there will be something in it for you.
We were never taught about ideas in school, we were just expected to have them without any guidance as to where they come from. Once I begain studying ideas I naturally got better at producing them. Seems obvious I know but schools, collleges and workplaces rarely teach you about ideas. They just drop you in a brainstorm with a few bogus rules and expect you to know how to do it. Personally, I don't think this is the best way of getting good ideas out of your teams. Give them the right tools and they'll be generating ideas 24/7.
The feedback I get after each session is almost always the same - "Why did nobody tell me this sooner?" and all I can answer is that I think it's because of the old myth that there are people who are good at ideas and people who are bad and that the bad ones can't become good. Which is total rubbish of course.
If you want a place on the course you can sign up here. It's for people of all ages and abilities. The lessons will be a mixture of light lectures, videos and conversations. If you can't get to the course but would like to me run a workshop for your company do get in touch.
If you're a cultural entrepreneur then Matt Locke's talk on Empires of Attention for Radio 4's Four Thought show is one of the the most important listens this year.
Attention defines our culture and as Matt points out the great cultural entrepreneurs have been the ones that know how to listen to, understand and measure attention.
From BuzzFeed all the way back to the 18th century taverns and pleasure gardens Matt tells the story of how the interaction between artists and audiences has moved from 'visceral participation to abstract measurement and back again via the birth of musical halls, cinema, TV and the internet'.
Building for new paterns of attention is one of the cornerstones of how we work at Storythings. Paying attention to how audiences are consuming, sharing and behaving around culture is something we obsess over. As a spectator sport there has never been a better time to be a fan.
The rigid cultural attention patterns of my childhood (music was split into 3 minute singles and 45 minute albums whilst TV was mostly 30 or 60 minute episodes or 90 minute films) seemed to hang around for what seemed like decades. Now our attenion is spread anywhere between a 6 second vine, glance up glance down reality TV and weekend long Netflix binges. The pace of change in audience behavior is so rapid one dare not take ones eye off them in fear they'll vanish quicker than a snapchat photo.
Empires of Attention is the book Matt is always threatening to write and the book I desperately want to read. I really hope he gets it written soon.
Creativity is more about taking the facts, fictions, and feelings we store away and finding new ways to connect them. What we're talking about here is metaphor. Metaphor is the lifeblood of all art, if it is not art itself. Metaphor is our vocabulary for connecting what we are experiencing now with what we have experienced before. It's not only how we express what we remember , it's how we interpret it — for ourselves and others.
In January they met for the first time. By February they were best friends.
Friendships like these are beautiful things. And rarities. When you're young you think 'best friends' grow on trees. As you get older you appreciate how hard they are to come by. There isn't a price can be put on them. It was lovely seeing mum finding an amazing new friend so late in life.
When Sylvia was first assigned to mum in January she, like all of us, thought it might be a week, maybe two. And if I'm honest I kinda thought Sylvia would see mum as 'just another patient'. As someone who cares for people in their final days I assumed the only way to cope is to avoid connection, right? I couldn't have been wronger. The friendship they built up over a short time was remarkable. Mum loved it when she knew Silvia would be staying over. And I know how fond of mum Sylvia became. If you knew mum you'd understand.
To give you an idea of why mum was so easy to love i'll give you just one from a million stories I could share. It was the early 80s and The Smiths has just finished their first US tour. Morrissey (friend of my brother) came around to our house so I introduced him to mum: "Mum, this is Morrissey from The Smiths". "Hello Morrissey" said mum "How are you?". "I'm very tired Mrs Garry" said Morrissey "I just back from America this morning" he said. "AMERICA!!!" said mum, amazed to have a transatlantic traveller in her living room "Did you go to Disneyland?" Oh mum.
She could talk to Sylvia about things she couldn't talk to her family about. They could talk about their faith and together try to make sense of what was about to happen. I can't imagine that's something you can do with just anyone.
In no time at all Sylvia knew my mum's routines and how to make those nights as comfortable as possible - how to lift her, turn her over, ease the pain - which lifted the pressure on a family trying their best to provide care for and cope with losing a mother at the same time.
A Proper Cup
Mum was as stubborn as they come. She'd take her grandchildren to MacDonalds and insist on a 'proper cup' for the tea she'd just ordered. And she loved proving people wrong. Like on Good Friday when she was 'unlikely to see out the weekend' her first words of the morning were "Get the oxygen, we're going out for cake". Mum had outstayed her 3 month prognosis by almost a year and a half by the time she went mid-April. I wasn't prepared for how hard those final weeks would be. I would've given anything to make her life just a little bit better. But I never felt I could. I felt pretty useless. I know that Sylvia being there at night really lifted her, it brought a smile to her face. Just knowing Sylvia was there made me feel a bit better about me being rubbish.
Sylvia is an amazing woman. I think that's why my mum liked her so much. It takes an amazing woman to know and amazing woman. I think Sylvia is the most perfect example of how incredible the service Marie Curie provide is.
A Big Thank You
The only way I could think of thanking her and everyone that played a huge role in those final days was by raising money. So I'm going on a very long bike ride and I'd really appreciate it if you could sponsor me. Through donations people like Sylvia can keep doing their job, making incredibly tough times a little bit better for the families of terminally ill people.
The other night I was invited to talk at a brilliant event called The Fantastic Tavern organised by Matt Bagwell from AKQA. I was asked for my point of view on how we organise and plan for chaos. My point was that we should be careful what we wish for.
In the future, companies will no longer be seeking people who can execute the old plan. They want people who have a new plan and know how to put it in action. They'll need to keep bringing in people who've learned things that the companies don't already know. They'll need to tap into skills that they didn't even realise they needed and then, when it's fresh skills they need, dispense with those services just as quickly as they got them in.
This is of course richly ironical and points out the Fallacy Of Planning - or map-making in an earthquake zone, as I've heard it described.
"Map-making in an earthquake zone". It's a new phrase to me. But I think it nails it. I wish I had it in my back pocket the other night.
"I wanted to be the instigator of new ideas. I wanted to turn people on to new things and new perspectives."
I loved the Bowie documentary Five Years which screened on BBC 2 last week. There are a few Bowie documentaries out there but this really dug deep into his creative process. There were so many great quotes in there that I thought it might be an idea to look at them in relation to some of the ideas I've blogged or talked about in the past.
"I've always found that I collect. I'm a collector. I collect personalities, ideas."
Some of the most creative people I know are collectors. As I pointed out here collecting "exercises your creative muscle. It powers your curiosity, imagination and appreciation. It teaches you about aesthetics, sharpens your powers of observation, helps you understand patterns and recognise what is missing. We build narratives around our collections as well as human connections. We strive for perfection with our collections and in doing so achieve Flow. We experiment and tinker with our collections and most importantly everything we do with them forms a pool of inspiration for future projects."
"I'm a storyteller and I decided to enact the story I was writing rather than perform it as myself"
You learn how to become a storyteller through your collections.
"I wanted to make a mark and I didn't know how to do it. And it took me all of the 60s to try everything I could think of, in terms of theatre and art and music, to find out what it was I wanted to do anyway."