There is a brilliant stunt by Derren Brown in which he invited an ad agency to design a campaign for him. His only instruction to them is to design a poster for a chain of taxidermy stores. The poster must include a company name (which they can choose), a strap line and a logo. They’re given half an hour and asked to go with their first instincts. As he sets the task he tells them that he’s had a few ideas of his own and has sketched them out on a piece of paper which he leaves on the table.
30 minutes later he returns and asks them to talk about their poster. They explain that they started with the name and progressed from there. They created a long list, then a shorter list, ultimately settling for ‘Animal Heaven’ with the strap line ‘The best place for dead animals’. The picture featured a bear playing a harp and a logo constructed from a set of wings that could have either belonged to a bird or an angel.
When asked to explain the name they described their vision as being like a zoo in heaven with the zoo gates being The Pearly Gates of Heaven. They then added the harp-playing bear to make it ‘funkier’ as without it the poster was a bit twee.
Derren then revealed his poster. It featured a harp-playing bear, a set of angels wings, a name ‘Creature Heaven’ and the slogan ‘Where the best dead animals go’. In the background was the image of the Zoo gates. The similarity was uncanny. What was even more remarkable was that when Derren asked them to show him their first attempt that they had discarded it was even closer to his own. One of the ad men then showed Derren the first bear that he had drawn. It was so close to Derren’s he could have traced it and no one would have known.
In revealing how he pulled off this stunt Derren played a video showing the ad men’s journey to the office earlier that day. As they left their off ice passed a sticker on the wall featuring a hand drawn bear almost identical to the one they would draw later. They were picked up in a taxi, provided by he very kind Mr. Brown, which was then driven past London Zoo. As they passed the zoo a set of school children made their way over a crossing wearing an image of the zoo gates on their sweatshirt chests. Again this image was almost identical to the one they would draw later. They continued their ride completely unaware of what part the journey itself would play in the rest of their day. Gazing out of the taxi window they passed the slogan fly posted on a wall and a hand-drawn set of wings with ‘Creature Heaven’ written underneath. This just happened beside a window with a harp in it.
Like the ad men Derren Brown has made his living from taking advantage of the sponge-like nature of the human brain. We are all open to suggestion and the ad man’s sole purpose of existence is to take advantage of the sponge-like nature of our brains. Their job is to weave suggestion, logos and brands in amongst the important stuff so that it blends into the back ground until that moment of recall. The brain has a remarkable capacity for unconsciously storing fragments of information that we think we have no longer have use for. As demonstrated in most of Derren Brown’s work, and every time we go to the supermarket and pick up an item off the shelf, it’s amazing how these stored bits of information become useful at a later date.
The ability to store information this way is an essential requirement for the creative process. Those Eureka moments we like to think are sparks of genius are nothing more than moments of recall. Whether you remember storing that info in the first place or not the process of creativity is based around connecting ideas. This is why having a spongy brain is no bad thing. What is important is that you allow your brain to become a fertile place for ideas to grow and clash. Open yourself up to suggestion, absorb what you can and for goodness sake feed your brain.
Teaching someone how to be more creative in what they do is easy. Teaching someone how to be curious is not. Without curiosity our creative minds have less to feed off. Without the desire to know more we simply don’t have a method for stocking up on brainfood.
For most of us curiosity diminishes as we pass from childhood into adulthood. Once we feel we have a good grip on the world in which we live we begin to naturally accept possible outcomes of scenarios rather than question, pull apart and challenge ‘norms’. At the age of three a child’s favourite word is ‘why’. Rediscovering the word ‘why’ can only be a good thing. You can’t be taught curiosity but you can be encouraged to accept nothing at face value. Assume nothing. Question everything. As Russell says ‘The way to be interesting is to be interested’.