Gary Bertwistle, Blue Moon Creative, Sydney, Australia
by Jerry Vigil
The word “creative” is found in almost every classified ad looking for a Production Director or imaging producer. It’s a quality every station wants in their production department, and it’s a quality every producer/writer wants to be labeled with. Gary Bertwistle took the search for the essence of creativity to the extreme and discovered ways to tap the well within us all. His techniques were so effective that he was able to leave his comfortable management position at Australia’s Triple M Network and open his own company, teaching others the basics of creativity, how to find it in yourself, how to get it from others, and how to use it. In this month’s RAP Interview, Gary shares some of what he discovered about creativity and offers techniques you and your station can put into effect today that will take your creative to the next level.
JV: Let’s get some background on you. Where did you get your start and how did you wind up starting Blue Moon Creative?
Gary: I started my career in retail, in department stores. Then I worked in shopping centers. Then I looked for the next thing I thought would be of interest to me, my next passion, and discovered radio. I started in radio about ten or eleven years ago and worked firstly in a role that was somewhere between sales and promotions. They called it the Client Services Manager. We used to go out and take a brief from the client, bring it back to the radio station, take it to programming and promotions, find the right idea that would win us the business from the client, take it back to the sales guys, write a proposal, and then present it. So I started in all the different facets of the radio station but was most interested in promotions and marketing. After doing that for two years, I decided that’s where I wanted to be. So I moved to another radio station and did my first promotions role. Then I worked through promotions roles to be the National Promotions Manager for the Triple M Network here in Australia. Shortly after that we bought our opposition, and we had the biggest radio network in the country. Then I became the Group General Manager of Promotions and Marketing for both networks. We had thirty stations here and then opened five stations in conjunction with Measat up in Malaysia. My role there was overseeing the promotions and marketing for those stations. Through that role, and even through my time in shopping centers and retail, I was always frustrated when I went to a conference or a course or heard someone speak, and they never really talked about how I could come up with the next idea. They gave me a lot of the wheres and hows about how promotion works, how to put a promotion together, how marketing works, and what retail is all about. Well, that’s all fine, but how do I get the next idea to excite people and make them buy my product? They never told me that.
In my roles in radio, in client services and promotions generally, one of the biggest roles was to find ideas to generate more listeners for the radio stations or generate more revenue for the radio stations. I’d been doing radio for about seven years, and I started looking at the people around me, the Program Directors and other promotions people and creative people in the industries around me. I wondered, why are they creative and yet a guy who goes out and sells advertising is supposedly not creative? He is good at selling, but he’s not good at coming up with ideas for the radio stations. It started to puzzle me why there was this difference between the two areas. I looked at advertising agents and thought, why is it that a creative who works in the creative department is good at coming up with ideas, yet the account service guy who wears a suit every day is not—and God forbid he should ever come up with an idea and try and put an idea forward to a creative because “that’s not your job. You’re not a creative person.”
So I started reading about it, learning about it, and interviewing people; and I started to put together my thoughts on the creative process. Eventually I started teaching the Promotions Directors whom I was responsible for around the network about creativity, and some of the programmers became interested. Soon I found myself actually doing a lot of teaching in the radio networks about how the brain works, how it thinks, different ways to look at things, and so on. Eventually, I realized I was enjoying that more than my actual role in radio. I was enjoying the learning of that creativity and the teaching and sharing with people more than I was the day to day running of the radio stations and the radio network.
Then I went to the Creative Problem Solving Institute in Buffalo, New York, which is an institute that happens once a year where everybody that’s interested in creativity and some of the gurus of the industry get together for five days. I went there, studied it, thought it was fascinating, and decided that my future wasn’t specifically in the radio business, but more so in creativity and teaching—showing radio stations and people how they might come up with new ideas and develop them. So I came back and resigned and decided to go into full-time training and teaching creativity and using the creative tools to facilitate conferences and strategy meetings. That’s when I started the company, which was about eighteen months ago.
JV: And how is business?
Gary: Business is great. I must say, the first six months was an interesting process to actually explain to people what we do and have them appreciate the opportunity that existed. But now, at eighteen months later, we’re getting repeat business from people who have done stuff with us in the last year and are coming back for second rounds. We now have companies on retainers where we’re taking the companies forward creatively in lots of different ways, and it’s like an ongoing process for them. And the good thing about it is that when you’re doing conferences and so on, you’re speaking in front of different organizations that come together. You can speak to a client and have an agency, a sales promotions company, and a publicity company all together in the same room. We’re now starting to see people from those groups taking some value back to their own organizations, which means we pick up new clients.
So it’s certainly growing. It’s an area I think people are now starting to get hold of and understand and appreciate. Take the Internet for example. Look at how fast the information is being transferred and how quickly new technology can be copied. People are starting to appreciate that one of the greatest tools, one of the greatest advantages you’ll have over your competition, is your ability to be able to come up with new ideas, to do things differently. Once upon a time, information was enough of an edge, but now the excess information is there for everyone. And products are being copied very quickly by competition. One of the real advantages in business is how you think about things and how you look at things. So I think we’re about to come into our own.
JV: What is your definition of creativity?
Gary: That’s a very interesting question. There are so many different variations on the definition. Dictionaries will give you one view on it, and people like Edward de Bono will give you another view. In a lot of de Bono’s stuff, he says it’s simply looking at things differently. And if you talk to people at the Creative Problem Solving Institute where people like de Bono and these guys all meet, their definition is, “novelty that’s useful.” In effect, if something is novel, it’s generally different, fun, and useful. My definition of creativity, basically, is whatever somebody needs to find a different, unique, or novel approach to something.
It’s interesting; when you stand in front of a radio station or a corporate company and ask the same question. People will say the definition of creativity is anything from being innovative to looking at things differently to having sex to doing art. And I guess what I try to work with people on is that it’s all those things.
I don’t think there’s one definition to it because if I gave you a definition you might not agree with, you might say, “Well, I’m not creative if that’s your definition of creativity. If that’s it and you’re a guru, then maybe I’m not creative.” The thing is, you might go out tonight with your family and dress up for a fancy dress party and have no problems coming up with this great looking outfit, which everybody thinks is fantastic. Then you go to work tomorrow at the radio station and people won’t come and ask you for creative help because they don’t think you’re creative and you don’t think you’re creative. Yet you dressed up last night in a really creative manner, and you had to be creative to come up with that. You draw this barrier that says, “Oh, dressing up is not creative; creative to me is being able to come up with a new idea for an ad campaign.” And so they put up these barriers. What I endeavor to do is not give them a barrier. Instead I say, “Whatever it is that helps you do things differently, look at things differently, or find another way of achieving something, then that’s your definition of creativity.”
JV: You sent me a very informative cassette tape called The Creative Espresso—A Short Sharp Jolt of Creativity, along with some Creative Espresso newsletters. Tell us about these.
Gary: I put down a goal three or four months ago to get an audio series together because you can teach people in different ways. The print versions are done quarterly, and they’re for visual people. So, if you’re very visual and enjoy sitting down and poring over things like journalists and writers and readers and people like that, then the print version would be good for you. I also wanted to do an Espresso for people who are aural, the people who don’t enjoy sitting down and reading, people who prefer to pump it in the car, or pump it in the cassette while they’re at the gym, or just listen at home. And our workshops are for the people who are aural, visual, and/or kinesthetic in that they like being involved in exercises, touching and feeling and so on.
The tape was done to sell what we do, but it also gives you usable, practical tools you can take and apply. But it wasn’t just a selling vehicle. It has enough tools in it to make it valuable, and it also gives you an idea of what we do and how we do it.
JV: In the tape you say that basically everyone is creative. Elaborate.
Gary: Creativity is an innate quality that everyone’s born with. You’re born with a certain degree of creativity, and it goes back to left and right brain thinking, where left brain is very mathematical, very systematical, word driven, very logical, and very analytical. And people who are considered right brain are very imaginative. They’re dreamers. They see things with pictures, and they are considered to be very creative. The thing is, everyone is born with a left and right brain. It’s just that people who are very left brained choose not to use a lot of their right brain attributes when thinking or approaching things. And people who are very right brained choose to be more that way and choose to be less analytical and systematic in their approach to things. This is something everyone has, but what stops us from actually having access to either side of the brain, in which case we find ourselves sometimes more left brain than we are right brain and so on, are the barriers that we create between the left and right brain. And I guess that goes back to the definition of creativity. If you put a rule on yourself and say, “No, to be creative I’ve got to do this,” then you’re just putting up a barrier and stopping yourself from accessing what’s there in your right brain, which enables you to think and dream and be more imaginative.
So, it’s something we are born with, and research is now showing that you can actually train and teach people to be more creative. It’s not a matter of standing in front of a group of people and saying, “I’m going to make you creative.” They already are creative. Our job is to take them to the next step and show them how to be more creative and how to make more use of the ability they already have. Our job is essentially to remove the barriers. And a lot of the barriers are the rules you set for yourself. “In order for me to be creative, I have to do this or that.” There’s internal and external dialogue, the environment, other people, fear of saying something stupid, fear of it not working, fear of being ridiculed, doing something silly in front of your peers, and all these sorts of things. They’re all barriers. So instead of accessing our right brain and going for something that’s different or another way of doing things, we tend to stay very left brained and go, “Well, this is the way it’s always been done. This works. This is safe. I don’t have to fear any of these things. I’ll just do this and stay within the box.” So it’s something everyone has. The job is actually removing the barriers to enable them to access it. An analogy is drilling for oil. Everyone knows the oil is down there, but the challenge is actually finding it, getting down to the oil, bringing it to the surface, and then making it useful. It’s like that with creativity. It’s in everybody. It’s down there. The challenge is finding out where it is, getting down to it, bringing it up to the surface through the barriers, and once you’ve brought it to the surface, showing them how to make more use of it. That’s sort of what our workshops are about.
JV: What are some of the techniques you teach in the workshops to help people get their mind into the right side? What are some that can be used in the radio production environment?
Gary: If a production guy is given a brief to produce, a promo and/or a commercial for a client, one of the great tools is to break it down into smaller pieces, which I think we talk about in the audio tape. Break it into smaller pieces and think about the head of the promo, the tail of the promo, the content, what the client needs to get out of it, what the radio station wants to get out of it, what the components are that make it up—the music, the voice track, the special effects, the message, the sell. Break it down into smaller pieces, then get the people together who are involved in the process—the promotions guy, the programming guy, the music guy, even a rep, production people, and somebody who may be in the target demo who is totally unrelated to it but could have an interesting angle on things. Get together before starting the process of production and actually think about and talk about what could make each of these components work. What would be the best thing to do? What are the different ways of doing those pieces? Then piece it together to make the whole. It’s amazing what can come out of it this way rather than just going in and attacking it as one big piece.
JV: Radio producers need creativity fast. How can a radio production person generate ideas under that kind of pressure? What are some techniques they can use?
Gary: Mind mapping. It’s a very visual thing. What you do is, if you’re writing a promo, say it’s a New Year’s Eve music feature, you start with a big wide board. Smack dab in the middle of it you put a circle, and inside the circle is “New Year’s Eve Countdown.” Then you start putting all the elements that are going to go into that promo in circles around the outside of it. So from the circle in the middle you start drawing out little tentacles, and at the end of each tentacle is a circle with a word in it. It might be the music. The next tentacle could be the client. The next thing could be the music countdown. The next piece could be the jock, station ID, and so on. Then you put all the components that are going to make up each of those. For the music there could be three tentacles, one that says “music from the seventies, eighties and nineties,” one that says the tempo has to be upbeat, another that says it’s got to say “classic,” and blah, blah. Then what you can do is brainstorm each of those components to find the best way of doing things. In effect, what you are doing is an action plan, but as you’re doing the action plan, you are clearly identifying each of the components that you need to make up the central piece. As you’re doing your action plan, you can look at each individual piece and put in more tentacles to find different ways of doing that piece. So from “music” you go to the different sorts of music you can use, then break it down to further categories within that. It’s very easy, and you can do it in front of you in a very visual sense. You draw a map of what has to be achieved, and at the same time you’re brainstorming different ways of doing it.
I use this method a lot if I’m going to be presenting. I create a systematic approach to what I’m going to be doing, almost like going around a clock. If I were doing a presentation tomorrow, I might start with the name of the company in the center. Then the first things I’m going to cover are the welcome, the housekeeping, then the agenda for the day, thoughts for the room, break times, where we’ve been, where we’re going, all sorts of things. Then I’ll go back and, let’s say, with my welcome, add who am I, what have I done, the history of myself with the company, and so on. Then, when I get to housekeeping, it’s telephones, where the toilets are, make yourself comfortable, drink lots of water, and so on. I work my way around the clock with the circle in the middle and tentacles coming out of the circle with more circles for each part. I brainstorm what I need to do in each of those circles that go around. Then, when you are presenting, it makes it much easier because you remember your way around the clock. You remember the headings you’ve got, and within those you have the points you’re going to bring up. It’s just a really easy visual thing that you can use.
I use colored pens, so it’s all different and brightly colored. Then I rehearse it maybe two or three different times. I find it makes my introduction and the stuff I present so much easier to do because it actually gets you involved visually and in an aural sense because you might have rehearsed it two or three times. And you’re also involved kinesthetically because you’ve written it all down, and you’re writing what you’re going to be talking about in a fun way as opposed to just writing like a normal memo or a normal letter. So it hits on the three learning styles. That gets you involved kinesthetically because you get involved in feeling, touching, and emotionally attaching yourself to it.
JV: It seems that stations generally tend to put more creativity into their promos than they do in their commercials. What are your thoughts on this?
Gary: I one hundred percent agree with you. I think there is far more emphasis, energy, thought, and creativity put into promos, more excitement put into promos, more of a challenge put into promos, than there is into a good advertising spot. I think this is so because the production guy does a great promo, then goes to the programming people who he thinks are his peers and the people who know, and he shows them this great promo. He’s going to get the great pat on the back for the great achievement. Whereas when a great commercial is produced, he goes to the sales guy and the client. The sales guy says that’s great and the client says it’s great, but it’s not the same feeling of achievement.
In a lot of cases the junior production guy gets the client stuff, but the head producer gets all the promo stuff because it’s more important. And if you look at it in the creative process, anything that has to do with the client, that has client involvement in it, or is a client commercial, creates an automatic barrier, and the result is typically left brained, not right brained. “Let’s just get this done as quickly as possible. The client doesn’t really need something totally creative. We just need to be able to sell it and get the message across.” So the copywriters and/or the production guys have this barrier that says, “Well, this is a format that has always worked; let’s not try to recreate the wheel.” Also, to be fair to them, if they did try to recreate the wheel or step outside the box, not a lot of clients would understand where they’re going with it. A lot of clients just want to hear, “It’s on sale for $10.99. Don’t miss it. The sale starts Monday. Twelve months interest free.”
The client does create a few barriers, but I would say not enough stations challenge the client. Take a producer and a programming person and the sales rep in to sell a new, innovative way of doing things to a client, to educate them to remove the barrier by doing something different or unique. I think responsibility lies on both sides. But there is definitely more energy, in my experience, that goes into the programming side. There are more rewards, probably less barriers, and there’s probably a history of doing things creatively. Whereas on the client’s side, it’s very much within the box, and nobody wants to rock the boat.
JV: In your position at Austereo, you were creating sales promotions. You, especially, must have gone the extra mile with these.
Gary: To be honest, we put a lot of energy into finding the unique idea, finding different ways of doing it, and then working it through the system. I guess one of the great advantages we had, especially in the Triple M Network days, was the fact that we involved everyone in the process. If we put together a promotion for a client, rather than putting it together and having the sales guy brief the copywriter on what needed to be done in the client’s ad and/or promo, we always made a point of going to the copywriter and making out that it was a very special brief and a special opportunity. We’d brief them the same way we would brief them for a promo. So it elevated it. It elevated the stuff we were doing away from the normal retail straight up and down commercials, and it made it something special where the guy would put the extra effort into it. And it was okay for him to try something different, to find a different way of doing things.
When I was working with GWR last month in London, I said to them, “One of the greatest tools you can have as a programming person is to involve the whole station in what you’re doing.” You know, too often production has it’s own little production studio, and tends to be very insulated from the rest of the station. And you’d be lucky if you see a production guy. I mean, there are production guys I worked with for a couple of years and saw them very rarely because they would come in later in the day because they’d worked late the night before. Brilliant creative guys, but yet you had to chase them down to be able to build some rapport with them. And the sales guys become very insulated as well because they are rarely considered to be as important a part of the programming or promotions team as they could be. There’s always that barrier between sales and programming. And the on air staff can tend to be a bit aloof.
I said to promotions and programming guys at GWR, this is one of the greatest assets there is, to bring these people together when you’re doing something, from the receptionist right through to the guy who is packing bumper stickers in the back of your promotions vehicle. Have them all take ownership of what you’re doing. Invite them to brainstorming sessions. Ask them for their ideas. When something goes great, reward them and tell them how great it went and tell them you are proud of them. Send them a personal note saying thanks very much for making this great, and so on. Have them in client meetings with ideas. Run brainstorms with the client and have the production guy in the meeting so the production guy can get a handle on the big picture of where it’s going. Let the copywriter get the big picture of where it’s going. You’re making these people feel that they’re a part of the campaign rather than the last stop on it. I’m pleased to say there are campaigns we did still running now as national promotions three years after they started. With companies like Coca Cola and these sorts of guys, it was stuff that came out of these sessions long ago that were so successful that they now run as annual campaigns.
There was a promotion we ran for PowerAde for the Atlanta Olympics called the PowerAde Olympic Challenge, and we went through exactly the same process. We involved everyone at the station. We put a lot of effort into it to involve people in the creative process. The idea is still running now. It runs every year, and I would imagine it will run through the 2000 Games. All I’ve done is kept the same premise and changed the athletes.
So these were successful things. There were a lot of them, but I think the greatest thing was in the creative process, involving everybody from the start and making everybody feel as though they had some ownership of it, rather than just taking a production guy and giving him a piece of paper and saying, “There’s the brief. I’ll be back tomorrow to see what you’ve done.” It’s about taking him through the process. Sit him down. Work him through it. Have him in the initial meetings. Let him meet the client.
JV: What other things do you teach in your workshops?
Gary: Well, I did a conference in Houston recently about accelerated learning, which is about involving people’s learning styles. It was for a group of corporate trainers and schoolteachers, and it was about when you’re communicating a message, how you can get people to understand it and appreciate it better and quicker. These days, teaching and educating people or communicating a message has got to be done more on an emotional level. The communication has got to be done in a certain style, depending on what sort of person they are, how they learn best, whether it be visual, aural, or kinesthetically. So from a production person’s point of view, or someone briefing production or production briefing somebody else, it’s important to think about what sort of person they are. I suspect, being in that sort of environment, a production guy is very aural. The guys I know are very rarely kinesthetic sorts. And the secondary type might be visual. They’ve got to be able to read a script, to get hold of a script. But essentially, production guys can hear things that someone like me can’t hear. I’m not a particularly strong aural person. So when briefing a production guy, it’s all in how you present it. Get him emotionally involved through the words you use, the pictures you create with your words, that whole thing. Getting a production guy to come up with something special actually makes him feel emotionally attached to it. He’s emotionally getting the message you want to get across before he does his creative magic.
That’s something we used to work on a lot at Austereo with the production guys. I’d sit down with them and spend a lot of time going through it, not just saying here’s my outcome, but here’s the sort of feeling I want to create with it. Here’s what I want the target to be thinking and seeing when they hear this promo. Take him through it verbally and paint the pictures verbally with him so he really gets an understanding of the feel, the tempo, the outcome, the emotions. It’s amazing when you are teaching people on a more emotional level and selling on an emotional level; it makes such a big difference in the way they get it. They understand it and they appreciate it.
This method can be used to teach a child how to switch on the television or how to read. It’s how you involve them in the process rather than just telling them. It’s the same with a writer's session. If you’re briefing somebody, if you’re doing a presentation to a group of people, it’s how you get their senses and how you get them emotionally to understand and emotionally attached to it. They’ll walk away with a firmer understanding of it than they would if you just sat there and verbally talked at them, so to speak.
JV: Any plans to do more workshops in the US?
Gary: Absolutely. I haven’t the contacts in the USA to be able to do that yet. I’m starting to do regular work in Europe, but I’d love to do something in the US because I go to the States every year and I love the States.
JV: You had a nice piece on the tape, Creative Espresso, about using music to stimulate creativity. Tell us a bit about that.
Gary: There’s some really great research that’s been done in New York by a holistic center. They did all this research on the brain and how the brain works. What they showed was that generally the heart beats in a normal healthy person at around seventy-five to eighty beats a minute. And when you’re stressed, obviously your heart beats a lot faster than that. If you’re in a relaxed state or in peak form like an athlete, your heart beats around fifty or fifty-five beats a minute. And at that speed, when you’re relaxed and chilled out, your mind becomes very relaxed and de-stressed, and it’s a great time to be thinking creatively.
Radio stations are always pretty much full-on, and there’s almost always—maybe stress is not the right word—but a certain amount of energy going on. The pace, the frenetic way that people approach things—it’s a very impulsive, quick response medium, and things can change and be happening very quickly. It tends to create an environment which is not totally conducive to creativity because everything is going on so quickly, and no one gives himself a chance to really sit down, relax, and think about something. So the way to get your heart to slow down and to put yourself in a state where your brain is more relaxed and more conducive to being creative is to use music. The tests have shown that people who are listening to music like rock music—which might go ninety to a hundred and twenty or thirty beats a minute—their brain will be very active. The scans show areas that are very yellow and red indicating that it’s very stressed. But when they play something like baroque or classical music or relaxation music like Enya, the scans will show the brain going very blue, pale blue and royal blue, and that means the brain’s very relaxed. Enya, baroque music, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, music like that is all based on fifty beats a minute.
So we use music an awful lot in our workshops for two reasons: number one, to slow the tempo of everyone’s heartbeat down to make them more relaxed and make them more conducive to learning and to relaxing; and number two, if you use music in a creative environment, music tends to activate the right side of your brain. So if you’re working on a computer, or working in a workshop, or brainstorming, or even if you’re reading out your plans for the day, or you actually have a small piece of information you want to get across to somebody in an aural manner, some baroque or classical music played underneath it actually helps access the right side of your brain. You’re left brain is taking the analytical details you’re talking about, and your right brain is stimulated by the music. So the tempo you want to create in the room can be dictated by the sort of music you use.
Coming in and out of breaks we tend to use music which is probably more seventy-five to ninety beats a minute to sort of wake everybody up and get them stimulated to work in the room. But once we get down to the teaching and exercises, we’ll use baroque and classical music to stimulate their right brain, to help them think about things, and also to help them relax. It’s the same as when people get home at night and turn on the TV or the radio, which is not terribly conducive to relaxing in some cases. Instead, for fifteen minutes, put on some nice relaxation music and let the tempo of your day slow down, and set yourself up for a nice, relaxing evening. Then you can choose to turn on the TV and so on. It’s amazing the difference it makes when you actually use some of this music at fifty beats a minute like an Enya or Mozart. You really do find yourself slowing down and becoming a little de-stressed, and it does make your mind a lot clearer.
JV: I think a lot of people question their ability to be creative, even though that talent may be within them as you said earlier. What can people do to see themselves as creative? What exercises can they do?
Gary: I guess there’s probably two issues with that. One of the first things we take people through is the fact that they have to have a belief in themselves. If they don’t have a belief in their own ability to be creative, then it really doesn’t matter what tools we show them. I think it would be worthwhile for people to recount the things they’ve done in their own career that they’ve done differently. If people like de Bono are saying that to be creative is to find a different way of doing things, then the readers can start by looking at the stuff they have done differently. Have you ever done some landscape gardening in your back yard, and created what you think is a wonderful garden that was different than what was there before? Have you ever bought a unique present for somebody? Have you ever had a dinner party that was unique in the way it was done? Have you ever designed a different bedroom? Have you ever rearranged something so it was different than it was before? Have you ever put together a different proposal for somebody or found a great solution for a difficult problem at work? All these different things take a certain amount of creativity. So, when you start to explore and think about the things you have done creatively, a penny starts to drop that says, “Well, gee, maybe I am a little bit creative.” And given the fact that everybody has a left and right brain, and they are the same size, the fact of the matter is, you are born with it. You have used creativity. It’s now a matter of people believing their own ability and saying, “Well, that makes perfect sense. Yes, I have done those things. Gee, maybe I am creative.” Once we’ve achieved that in the workshop, the next challenge is, “Well, now that you have a belief in your own ability, let’s show you some ways to be more creative.”
When we start a workshop, we’ll ask the people in the audience, “Who thinks they’re creative?” Generally, you will get twenty-five percent of the people saying, “Yes, I’m creative.” The other seventy-five percent are saying no way. But when you restructure the question and ask how many people can come up with ideas, you generally get eighty-five to ninety percent of the room putting their hands up. Now, most people would say that creativity is actually being able to have ideas. But when you say that somebody’s creative, it tends to put a certain pressure on people. They feel as though they’re labeled as being creative. Now they have to have the ability to be able to come up with the right solution to a problem on the spot every time because that’s their job—they’re a creative. And it’s the fear—the fear of not being able to, or the fear of failure, or the fear of having ideas people think are silly—that keeps most people from saying they are creative. But, when you ask can you come up with ideas, then it’s like, “Well sure, I can. I can come up with ideas. It doesn’t mean I can come up with one right now for the problem you’ve got, but I have the ability to come up with ideas.” They’re essentially the same things. It’s just the way you reframe it and the rules you place on yourself.
We spend a lot of time removing those rules and showing them how they can restructure those rules. Then, once we have them believing they have the ability to be creative, we work on things that stop them from being more creative. What are the barriers? We work through those—their environment, their upbringing, the people around them, their rules, their fear, and so on. We start going through those barriers and saying, “Well, what can we do to remove those barriers?” I would say that in the majority of cases, the room would believe that ninety percent of the barriers that are imposed on them are imposed by themselves, and it comes through with the level of belief.
So, it’s a process of going through and looking at the great things you have done or things you’ve done differently and great. It’s a matter of believing the fact that it’s the innate qualities born into you and that you can choose to be more creative. And then it’s a matter of saying, “Well, what are the things that stop me from being more creative? Is it a matter of being more confident in my approach to things? Is it a matter of giving myself more time to be able to think about things?” Time is a great barrier, especially in a writer’s session. People say, “Oh, I haven’t got time to sit down. I haven’t got time to brainstorm. I haven’t got time to think about that. I haven’t got time to be with the client to discuss ideas.” That’s one of the greatest barriers you can have, and when you take the time, that’s when you sometimes make some of the greatest revelations. So that’s the process we go through in a workshop, and it really is quite gratifying to see people within a couple of hours change the way they look at things and their belief in their own ability.
JV: Where do you go or what do you do when you need a creative environment?
Gary: I put on music a lot. I have a pretty big selection of Native American flute music that helps me unwind and gets me to the place I want to be. I spend a lot of time exercising. I spend a lot of time around water like the beach and the harbor here at Sydney. I find the water is a good spot to just sort of relax and think about things. Australia is great for that. It’s funny, but as an Australian, every year I go back to America, and I go to the desert, out to Arizona and Utah and places like that. It’s the place I go each year where I just relax and think about stuff. It just seems to center me up there. I’ve found that the simple life of the desert and the scenery is just incredible.
JV: What are some things station management could do to raise the level of creativity in their creative departments.
Gary: I would give the creative departments more time to be creative. I would give them more time to spend on a particular project rather than having to be rushed, pumping out work all the time. I would suggest they change their environment. Stations tend to be very structured to the stations themselves and don’t use the facilities outside the building, like parks. I found a great spot here in Sydney for workshops and creative brainstorms in an amusement park. It has this area called the Visionarium which is this thing with big bean bags in it and these massive walls that show video clips. There are huge rides and 3-D games and stuff. It is just fantastic for thinking differently about stuff. I think the environment is terribly important. We tend to be inside the same four walls trying to come up with new ideas, and we don’t use the stimulants around us.
I would also involve more people from the radio stations in the creative sessions to find solutions to things. There’s an old saying that a table without legs won’t stand. I think it’s a matter of getting all the legs of the table in place throughout the whole station. If there are pockets of the station which are very creative, you’ll never really go forward creatively because you have all this other talent around the station that’s not being used. It always seems to be that there are two or three people at the station with a creative drive, and the rest of them are all the implementers or the doers. Use the whole station. Use everybody’s input and drive creativity through the whole station from the receptionist right through so that everybody feels a part of the process and everybody feels they can contribute. Once you start doing that, then you start to create a creative culture in the whole station, and there’s nothing stronger than that as opposed to saying, “We’re a creative station because Bill, Mary and Tony are really creative.”
Another thing, if a company is to go forward creatively, then they’ve got to have a common belief from the chairman or the managing director right through that it’s okay to make a mistake. If you’re really going to be creative and have a creative culture, you’ve got to be able to challenge things, try things differently, and break the mold. And in order to do that, you’re going to make some mistakes. Now, I’m not suggesting people should go out and set out to make mistakes and get away with it. You set out to do the best possible job you can and do the best job you can for the company and the people you are working with. But if you give it your best shot and something doesn’t work, and you can learn from it to make the next time around a better proposition, then they’ve got to be rewarded for that, and it’s got to be okay. Because right from school we’re taught that if you make a mistake, it’s wrong, and you get a big red cross. And actually, all the greatest breakthroughs in life have come after trial and error, and most of the people who are very successful in our society have failed over and over again to get to where they are. But the tendency in most companies is, if you make a mistake, you get ridiculed, and you get in trouble, if not the sack. And it’s difficult to stimulate creativity and expect people to think about things differently and try things when, if they make a mistake, they get in trouble. It’s got to be acknowledged what went wrong, but learn from it and form an appreciation of how to do it better next time. And they should be rewarded for trying something different. Then move on to the next thing.