Sean Thompson is the Co-Founder of ad agency Who Wot Why. He and Matt Follows, an author and sustainable high-performance coach at training company Leading Left, have been delivering helpful advice on the good, the bad, and the ugliness of the creative brain.
They now collaborate with Leigh Wolmarans, a headteacher who has worked in areas of social deprivation across the world to show the creative advantages of the disadvantaged creative brain. Thompson explains…
When you take a trip to a new city, the differences light up various areas of your creative brain. You take more photographs, you think of more ideas, and often your dreams are more vivid. It’s because your brain is receiving new experiences and you are forging new neural pathways.
To a much greater extent, this happens when you work with different types of creative people. People who are from unusual backgrounds shake up your tried and trusted ways of thinking. Creative brains need to be stretched. Sticking in your comfort zone is what is producing the 89 per cent of the advertising wallpaper that you ignore on your screens on a daily basis.
The creative brain is much more hungry for knowledge, data and experiences. It tends to be more empathetic, sensitive, trusting, idealistic and inquisitive. Meaning it’s in danger of being more exposed to the harsher elements of life.
The author, blogger, scientist and Professor of Psychology at Durham University, Richard J Crisp, says that embracing diversity in our social world has two aspects: it awakens our creativity and it also maximises our creative potential. Our creative businesses are a work in progress. They badly need diversity, but they have to go deeper than purely hiring people from university, art college or ad school. We need to embrace disadvantaged people of all backgrounds.
Disadvantaged people’s creative brains are no different to our own, but their experiences are far different.
The creative brain is much more hungry for knowledge, data and experiences. It tends to be more empathetic, sensitive, trusting, idealistic and inquisitive. Meaning it’s in danger of being more exposed to the harsher elements of life. Which is why it’s more prone to internal and external conflict.
Disadvantaged people’s creative brains are no different to our own, but their experiences are far different. This is why, given the opportunities, they can come up with ideas that are wonderfully different. However, they might have grown up in tough environments and feel that the world is skewed against them. This means that, from the beginning, their brains will have been loaded up with destructive subconscious self-talk and negative belief systems.
Above, l-r: Sean Thompson and Matt Follows
Promising plastic minds
The philosophy of my company Who Wot Why, is to champion creative people, without whom advertising businesses would be left wanting. Yet supporting the creative talent who deliver the work is an area that is too often neglected, poorly understood, or run roughshod over. The Who Wot Why team are working with Leigh Wolmarans’ organisation, The Silhouette Youth Theatre, to open doors and minds to the commercial arts: directing, photography, writing, design.
Wolmarans has discovered many reasons why the creativity of disadvantaged people is set apart from the norm, but there are two main ones: they have to think creatively and flexibly simply to survive and they are more grateful when given opportunities – giving everything they have to succeed.
The ad industry is dominated by middle-class people – some might say it’s lost its spark.
In Wolmarans’ experience, you need to engage young people early and you must make everything you do relevant to their lives. Then, you need to make sure they enjoy what they are doing. If you don’t, they can get agitated and everything goes to pieces.
Gaining their trust is important, because many of them have learnt not to trust outsiders. Once they trust you, more often than not they create work that is exceptional. One example of their unaided creative thinking is deciding to form their own theatre group and naming it Silhouette – as one of them said, it’s difficult to tell the ethnicity, gender, age and background of someone in a silhouette. Smart.
Matt Follows, a leadership coach and psychotherapist, has worked with hundreds of different types of creative brains including those from disadvantaged backgrounds over the past decade. He’s found that what unites all of them is that every mind is plastic, with skills, abilities and coping mechanisms that are able to change. This means that no matter what type of life people have led, be it deeply traumatic, clinically depressed, or burnt out, they may be remodelled in a way which makes them far more creative, emotionally resilient and happy than before.
This isn’t about you being all do-goody, though that helps; it’s about you doing good for your creativity.
The young people involved in Wolmarans’ theatre group come from tough backgrounds, but we know that if you change their environment from negative to positive then everything changes. Their minds rewire, from the overly active bias that’s been grooved into their brains’ physical architecture, to open up to explore new ideas.
Provocation and creation
The ad industry is dominated by middle-class people – some might say it’s lost its spark – so we need to bring in people who break rules, people who think unexpectedly, people who have original provocative points of view.
This isn’t about you being all do-goody, though that helps; it’s about you doing good for your creativity. Yes, you need to stretch the creative brains of disadvantaged people but in turn, you need to spark up your own creative brain.
If you’re interested in helping yourself and someone from a disadvantaged background at the same time, then Wolmarans knows some disadvantaged creative brains who are looking for internships.