Opening Keynote Session
Wednesday, July 31, 2019
Allen Gannett, author of The Creative Curve
Allen Gannett, Author of The Creative Curve, explains the science behind achieving creative success. Using his ‘four laws of creativity’ you will learn how to develop the right idea at the right time.
Allen started the marketing insight company, TrackMaven, which helps companies find the patterns in their consumer data.
The book came about because he saw a lot of marketers and creators sharing negative talk saying they were not creative, and couldn’t be creative, and Gannett wanted to demonstrate that was not the reality of creativity.
So he asked the question: can you learn to be more creative? He approached the topic by examining the history of creativity, the research around creativity, and collecting insights from 25 living creatives.
Tell us about the story of the song Yesterday.
In Western Culture, there is a misconception that creativity just happens, that people walk down the street and BOOM, they have a brilliant idea that is fully baked.
One example of that mythos, and the reality of that process, is the creation of the song Yesterday. One day, Paul McCartney woke up and he had dreamed a melody. That melody was the song, Yesterday, which is now one of the most recorded songs.
But McCartney wasn’t convinced that it was an original idea. He was worried he had accidentally stolen it, so he spent weeks asking people and questioning it until he finally confirmed it was truly his song.
You were once on a game show, what lessons did you learn from that experience?
When he was 18, he thought it would be fun to go on a game show. He applied to a bunch of shows, and got onto Wheel of Fortune.
He still had to do an audition, but as soon as he got there, he realized that he had not watched an episode of Wheel of Fortune.
He watched other people audition, and realized that the other contestants were all following the same format, he had to talk loudly, enunciate clearly, and have lots of energy (which Allen did through sharing an Elmo impression).
But as he had not done his research, he did not win, and still didn’t know how to play, but he did know that he could nail down the audience.
Tell us about Mozart Amadeus, and what he can tell us about the nature of creativity.
The movie Amadeus presents a mythic image of Mozart (playing blindfolded for the Pope at 6 years old in the first 5 minutes). So although Mozart has this reputation of being a born genius, the reality was that he had a helicopter parent who told him when he was 3 years old that he had to become a successful musician and forced him to practice 3 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Additionally, a lot of the stories we’re told about Mozart are myths.
What do you tell someone who says they are not creative?
There is a study that says that 85% of kindergartners test at genius level of creative possibility, but by the time they are seniors in high school, only 15% have that potential. So what happens?
Creative potential is so much about our conditioning and so many of us are conditioned against creative fields.
It’s similar to athletics. Take an 11 year old girl who shows up to her first ever track practice and can run, but she’s never been on a track before. That’s a misattribution of success – as that same girl had been playing Softball in her backyard since she was 5, conditioning herself to do this same task.
We’re so bad at looking at our past and identifying where we learned things. We think it’s magical. But it’s really the hard work of developing a skill, the marketing and PR of the distribution of your content, and learning the skill of timing.
What does can Charles Darwin’s story teach us about timing?
When you look at history, it’s written by the winners. Darwin came up with the idea of natural selection at the same time as Alfred Wallace.
Darwin published a paper about it, had it co-authored by Wallace, but Wallace was on a boat, and Darwin was able to invest the time into promoting the idea. Now we look back and don’t know who Wallace is, but the only difference between them was timing and distribution.
What is the Creative Curve?
Creativity is a social phenomenon. It is the ability to create things that are novel and valuable. It’s not about creating something, it’s about creating newness.
As humans we have 2 separate urges, we like things we’ve experienced before and we also like things that are new (this is the Mere Exposure Effect vs. the Novelty Bonus).
The contradiction between those 2 things is our brain’s elegant way of balancing risk and reward.
So many of our favorite movies are just Shakespeare stories retold – and that represents that perfect balance of newness and familiarity.
A great example of the creative curve is a Drake song. When you hear a new song, you really like it – you’re benefitting from the newness factor. Then you hear it multiple times, and it is still pretty great, but then you hit a point where it just becomes annoying.
The things we find creative are the things that strike that balance, and are able to extend and create that curve. One of the ways the Beatles remained so popular was by changing styles so frequently, and always staying a little bit ahead of their audiences.
What are some tips for staying creative in the advocacy space?
One of the biggest advantages we’ve got is that we can look at what is happening in consumer marketing, and can apply vetted trends to our work.
We also have to remember that our job isn’t to create the best thing, it’s to create the best thing for our audience.
Consume the same primary materials as your audience/members.
How can you create change in an organization?
Shrink the risk and start really small. Test and make sure it matches your audience.
Consider the story of The Ben & Jerry’s Flavor Team. They are encouraged to take risks, and then they scale it back by matching their flavors to their audiences.
Find ways to put failures away (flavor graveyard).
Is there any overlap between humor and creativity? What does that look like?
The biggest personality trait for people labeled as creative is “openness.” Which is also a trait of stand- up comedians.
People who do stand-up have to get up in front of a room and pretend that it is completely organic, but the reality is that it is very practiced. They rehearse over and over again. There is an image of Jerry Seinfeld sitting in a courtyard surrounded by all of the notepads he’s used to write jokes in the documentary – and that’s a great image of the kind of preparation that happens.
How do you deal with people who have insecurity about being creative?
The most important thing is to understand that there is a lot of vulnerability in creativity. To help people who are experiencing that vulnerability, you need to create psychological safety.
One way you can establish that safety is by making your process data driven.
How do you replenish the will of creativity?
One of the misnomers in creativity is that creative people are constantly producing, but in reality, creative people are constantly consuming.
When people give themselves the raw ingredients or inspiration, they are feeding themselves, what they need to be creative.
Creativity is actually aided by silencing your inhibitions and the left hemisphere of your brain. If you can find silence, you can be creative.
What steps did you take to write a book about creativity?
Gannett was a first time author, and so he started to write some chapters, got an agent, who was a big guy in the business book industry, he got a deal, and then he wrote it,
If creativity is a learned trait, and you have to practice it a lot, are there things you can do to teach teams teams to be creative?
Psychological safety is crucial for creativity, so you have to have that.
You also need to give positive feedback early on in their career or in their process
Offices should make quiet spaces available.
What are some things that you can do to prolong or defy the curve?
You can have a product that is addictive (although that may not be ethical).
You can stretch out the curve by adjusting price and distribution.
You can make sure that you prevent overexposure.
You can recycle old content in a novel way.
What content do you consume?
Pretty niche based on what he’s working on – but also a plug to read his newsletter (available by visiting https://www.allen.xyz/)
Talk about the process of promoting your book and some of the unique things you’ve done?
Allen uses LinkedIn’s video service and has a 2x weekly video interview that he does. He had a dream that Jeff Weiner (LinkedIn CEO) gave him access, he posted about that and tagged him, and got access.
What’s next for you?
A book about insecurity! Talking about balancing insecurity and the nuances about that topic.
Any tips for how to build a team with peak creativity?
Using Hollywood as an example. There’s a misnomer that you need to have a bunch of real industry pros on a team. In fact, the best and most successful film teams are ones that have people who are somewhere in the middle between really established and really fringe.
You can also achieve that by having a mixture of people who are very established – and some people who are very fringe.