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Wednesday, 18/01/17

Super Strengths and the Cult of Creativity

I've never really been one for New Year's Resolutions. They seem like fleetingly ridiculous things. Want to give up smoking, just give up. Want to lose weight, exercise more, just get on with it. But having successfully used the new year as an inflection point for some of my own behaviour (which is the point, right) I thought maybe I'd offer a series of potential resolutions for people. My first ? Stop bloody brainstorming, acknowledge super strengths and a cult of creativity.

So, my son plays sport. A lot of sport. Loads. And different sports. A lot of these sports seem to have slightly differing coaching philosophies kicking around. Generally the ones where we (ie our island) have been more successful have more similarities in their philosophies than differences. One of the things that we've bumped into recently in the coaching of one of these sports is the idea of super strengths. Instead of training the things you are less good at to create a more rounded player, focusing on the things that you are better at and making more of a virtue of those.

It's a little counter intuitive. You watch a game, you see the gaps in your son's play, you want to fill them in. You start to tell them that they should do this when that happens. When you are mucking around with them you start to do things you think will help those developmental areas. Yet when you actively ignore this instinct and start to focus on the super strengths, the results are really quite interesting. It doesn't mean you do nothing on the skills and techniques you are less capable of. But, when you are building up to big staging posts you concentrate on those you are better at and make them into super strengths. It actually echoes something my old boss used to say about "assembling the avengers." It also acknowledges that sooner or later you are likely to bump into someone who is better at your super strength than you. If that happens its no longer a super strength, just a strong capability, and you've lost the power of the thing you brought to the team (or party).

Why am I banging on about this? What relevance does it have to our world? Well, I've been obsessing a little recently about the drive to democratize idea generation in our industry. This has been a long term trend, fuelled by the will of all sorts of different agency typologies to "have a seat at the top table." There are a number of very compelling reasons that this direction of travel is good. Largely these aggregate to the fact that different agencies are good at generating different types of idea largely driven by the variation and diversity in the kind of people that they employ. A trend that is fuelled by the re-emergence of the brainstorm as a model for idea generation. A situation where you grab a group of people and "ideate" (and yes, I know it is more than this, I've done a fair amount of it in my time).

 Yet, super strengths.

Some people are just better at generating brilliant ideas. This is why they are the ones that always get invited to come together with some other folks to brainstorm. This may also be why they are in your organisation in the first place.

But what happens to the people whose super strength is idea generation in pairs or on their own. Different people work differently (Saskia Jones @ BBH wrote a lovely piece about the differences between introverts and extroverts in our industry early last year on this tip - here). One size does not fit all.

So please stop with the brainstorms. Not in totality. They have value in certain circumstances, and their political onboarding value is undoubted. But perhaps recognize that there are better ways.

I don't want to be someone fanning the flames of a fabulous few who whisper ideas down from the land of amazingness, but would like people to stop and think about how they are coming up with the ideas that fuel the answers to our clients' briefs. It can't be that the same process is right for all of these now can it?

So, acknowledge people's super strengths and use them in fact, you could start the year by asking "what is my super strength and how am I going to build on it and use it."

By Chris Binns, Head of New Business Strategy

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