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APG Noisy Thinking | What inspires you?

Inspiration was the theme of the final Noisy of 2017. I set an open brief just to see what would come back; safe in the knowledge that our 6 speakers would come up with a sparkling diversity of opinion and ideas. They didn’t disappoint.

It was genuinely uplifting to hear such an outpouring of interesting stuff; so heartfelt, so individual and surprising. Once again we saw a live demo of the fact that there are no right answers in this game. It’s all about being true to your best instincts and your own interests; following your curiosity and presenting your ideas with absolute conviction.

And not giving up.

Kate Waters is inspired by: Truth. Courage. Solidarity. Optimism. Which was just what I was hoping for at the end of this most perplexing and discombobulating of years. She had 4 great examples:

Truth: A Japanese researcher, Riko Muranaka, expert in the HPV vaccine who fought against tides of nonsense and misinformation that led to the vaccine’s take up reducing from 70% to 1%; using the absolute certainty that the vaccine was safe and effective to back up her campaign.

Courage: #MeToo. Women having the courage to to tell their stories and call out bad behaviour.

Solidarity: The Women’s march and the Guilty Feminist podcast.

Optimism: Her lovely daughters who are unshakeably optimistic about the future.

Chris Baker was up to that old planning trick of changing the question to say what you want to say. And he managed to do it both relevantly and elegantly. He’s inspired by the brain. So he asked somewhat tautologically: What inspires the brain?

And using that other clever planning trick of putting up a great big picture of the brain on the first slide, managed to convince us that he is super intelligent before he’d even opened his mouth. (Wonderful bit of BE in action there).

Chris is interested in affective neuroscience – neuroscience working with psychology. And he’s fascinated by the brain’s ‘Seeking System’, which is what we need to survive and thrive in the world. It helps us with a sense of community, with learning and passion and purpose, and insight and ideas. In 'The Archaeology of Mind’, Jaak Panksepp and Lucy Biven talk about the Seeking System being an energiser for creativity. And this is forced into the background when we are overwhelmed by anxiety or fear. The current 24-hour disaster newsfeed has a tendency to bring out defeatism and boredom in place of creativity. Chris thinks it’s a bit weird that we characterise our era as being overwhelmed by threats, since they are mostly imaginary or over blown any quantitative measure we have way less to fear than any previous generation.

So he gave us 2 hacks to work against this:

  • Dwell on Trump and N Korea less, and seek inspiration more

  • Create little wins: The dopamine hits you get when you seek out a truth or an insight and get what you are looking for. And as luck would have it – this is our job.

He went out with a wonderful maxim: ’Think like a squirrel not a mountain climber’ (and to appreciate that one, you really have to wait for the vid of the show which should be out in about a week).

Clare Phillips came straight in with a Dave Trott-style headline thought: All ideas are theft. She’d been to the recent Matisse exhibition at the Tate and was inspired by the way the curators had put the original objects Matisse used for his paintings alongside the paintings themselves. She called it ‘conscious stealing’ and proceeded to give us a brilliant list of interesting places to steal from:

Clare thinks our well of inspiration as a community is getting smaller as we form more echo chambers. So we should be more RANDOM in where we look

And there are some big things that happen that can have a direct effect on your ideas and can take shape in the real world.

Clare based her World’s Biggest Sports Day for ITV on an inspiration from the ‘Je Suis Charlie’ movement spawned in Paris after the massacre. An odd connection but a great idea that was hugely successful in the real world.

She also thinks to be really inspired we need to switch off a lot more. Take time to daydream. And be bored: Keep all the tabs open, and steal time for reflection. Nice.

Pete Buckley is all about attention to detail. Citing the Japanese railway company that apologised for running a train 20 seconds early he got his talk off to an incisive start. Why he ever thought we might take our eyes off his main theme for a moment, is beyond me. But he played a fascinating video on both side screens of a Japanese barman carving ice into different shapes so that it melts at the optimum rate depending on the cocktail in which it is served…

So what to watch?


Ice carving?


Pete won hands down. He riffed on the original scientific paper that explained chaos theory. This is a paper literally no-one read until a friend of the author came up with the term 'butterfly effect term' and it’s now the most cited scientific paper in the world. He talked about Les Binet’s theories on the impact of changing the music on a TV commercial; he reminded us how important it is to get the context right for advertising, especially when programmatic has its teeth into every digital campaign.

As humans we act to details. EPJ Data Science explored 44,000 Instagram posts and was able to determine who’s depressed, simply by their expression. A ’Trigger’ app has been launched in the US to help recovering drug users by monitoring if the are about to relapse by recording their smart phone usage, which can apparently precisely indicate when they are vulnerable, triggering a direct call to try and intervene before they relapse.

His anthem? Details are not details. They are the design. Like an Eames Chair. Perfect, Pete.

Clare Hutchinson indulged us with a film quiz. A brilliantly random but entirely planned introduction to the philosophy that inspiration is all about connections.

As you can imagine I can’t quite do it justice here. You had to be there, as it was audience participation-inspired and she even got a bunch of introverted planners to shout out some opinions. It’s all in the vid.

But I can record her conclusions:

  • Science is inspiring. In what she described rather marvellously as her ‘long and tiring career’ she talked of how she admires science’s ability to ‘unpick things’ and how as a planner she has lent hard and successfully on the ideas and inspiration of scientists. She thinks it’s worth making friends with scientists as she did on Road Safety campaigns as they want to talk and share. And they do view the world very differently from most of us.

  • Jealousy is good. ‘I wish I’d done that’ is one of the judging criteria for the APG awards and a brilliant spur to be better.

  • True Stories and Keeping it Real is a maxim to work by. To be a great strategist you have to get out of the building. Hang out with consumers and even with clients. Remember stuff, file it away as you never know when it will be useful.

  • The art of randomness is the true friend of the thinker. Like the International Random Art Festival in Finland it helps you make lateral connections. And it’s those connections that inspire great and useful thinking.

Simon Wassef thinks it’s a great time to be alive as a strategist. Everything is fucked: Brands are being punched in the nose by disruptive changes, consultancies can try and laser beam us out of existence but it gives us a chance to be properly strategic.

Citing the Chubbies brand he made his point that the it sold 30,000 pairs of shorts, on-line in a single day by putting user generated content on the platform.

Ultimately to be a strategist you need to be the wolverine. We need to create clarity to be able to solve things end to end, and strategy solutions are potentially so wide it gives maximum rein to our thinking. Think holistically like R/GA did for LIV bank.

Remember strategists are no longer constrained and we need to remind ourselves that we can rally around really big ideas.

Simon was also the best walking pitch for the APG Creative Strategy Awards book I’ve ever encountered. Thanks Simon.

And thanks to all.

This really was an evening where you had to be there to understand that it’s the people that make the difference. Because even as I write up what they said (or a version of it) so much is lost in translation without the person in front to you. Great strategists are as individual and diverse as the ideas that inspire them.

So remember, be yourself and trust yourself to be good - curious and intuitive and following your nose. And enjoy the ride.

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