I work for a pretty large organisation (600ish staff) that periodically worries about its image. Yesterday about 20 of us from the Communications department had a brainstorm to think about possible slogans; our current ‘mission statement’ is, while thankfully factual and jargon-free, a bit unwieldy.
We started off with some exercises to ‘get the creative juices flowing’, by splitting into groups and thinking about what sort of drink, celebrity, vehicle or building the organisation would be. This is a branding staple, and the answers are intended to illuminate how the object is perceived.
Except that’s not how it worked. We already know our ‘brand’ – both as it as and as it would ideally be – partly through experience and partly because we’d just sat through a presentation on exactly that.
So the exercise became a matter of recalling those ‘brand values’, deciding what sort of car would ‘fit’ those values, and then explaining it to the others. Then the chair pulled it all together, saying how interesting it was that we’d all coverged on a certain set of values.
Then we split back into groups to ‘brainstorm’ slogans. The ones we came up with were a mixture of dull, silly, cringeworthy, clumsy and not half bad. But the end result was just a list; there was no sense of anything being developed.
Maybe some people work well in these settings; I don’t. If you want good ideas out of me, you give me a brief and lock me in a room on my own, preferably with internet access. You give me a little time and space to spew a bunch of ideas onto the screen and then develop the promising ones. But when sitting around with four other people, one of whom is writing a semi-arbitrary selection of things down, it’s very hard to make progress in that way unless one person completely dominates or you’re all on the same wavelength.
If you want a novel or a poem or a play written, you get one person to go off and do it. So why do we imagine that slogans and other small pieces of corporate creativity have to be done in groups? Sure, the group work creates a certain amount of energy in the room, and yes, it was decent fun (by work standards), but that sort of thing doesn’t take you much past monkeys-with-typewriters territory. There’s a lot of scope for making jokes (I produced some funny but unusable rip-offs of actual ad slogans) but not much for focusing any insight.
Creativity isn’t about suddenly producing some gem amid a torrent of dross; it takes work, it takes critical thought, it takes finessing. But somehow the corporate world has got it into its inhuman head that filtering the spasmodic utterances of a group through a hurried scribe is how to be creative. Amid the forced energy, the individual is lost.