Innovation is not welcome: a warning to creatives


Man shruggingInnovation is the process of making something better, or doing something better. It’s applied creativity. In some small way, almost everything could be made better. There are plenty of things that are crying out to be made better. Innovation is certainly needed. But it is not always welcome.

People don’t like change. They say they do, but they don’t. They don’t like things that are different and they certainly don’t like people who are different. This is a double blow to creative people like you because not only are creative people the ones who drive change by doing different things, they are also different themselves. They may even look, sound and act different to normal people. Normal people don’t like that.

This is a warning to creatives: you and your ideas are not welcome around normal people.

Who do you think you are getting ideas above your station? You’re paid to do a job, not to think. You’re paid to keep the status quo, not to upset the applecart. You’re paid to continue the ideals of the company, not to modify them (even if it makes them better).

Trying to get a new job? Who wants a troublemaker? Who wants a loose canon on deck? Who wants someone who’s multi-disciplined? They have a coat peg here for a job description, not an evolving mind. (If you don’t believe me on this, just check out any job advert and you’ll see that from a cleaner to an executive, the job description involves things that must be done, not things that could be thought.)

Trying to start you’re own business? You’ve got to stand out from the crowd to be seen, but if you stand out too much you may look flakey. If you look too exciting and fun you may be thought of as flighty and not serious (but of course if you look too ordinary you won’t be seen at all).

Most inventions and developments took ages and ages for the normals to catch on. The herd are too frightened to try anything new so they wait to see what everyone else does first.

If you’re too innovative, they often can’t even see what you’re offering, it is simply invisible to them, they can’t compute it. You remember that story about the ships coming over the horizon to the shores of South America for the first time? The story goes, that the natives, not ever having seen a ship, couldn’t see it. This is of course a load of hyperbole, it’s more likely that they simply explained it away and initially just ignored the phenomenon. Something like that anyway.

My favourite example of this is the Beatles 7th album in 1966, Revolver. It is now cited by all the experts as probably the most innovative rock LP ever recorded, certainly the most influential LP of the 1960s and definitely better than the one everyone usually thinks is better, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

But what happened on its release was unusual. It went to number one, obviously, but the critics of the day couldn’t review it. They couldn’t review it because it was too innovative to review. You can get hold of these reviews today and read them for yourself. They didn’t have the literary skill to properly describe what they were listening to. Even people you’d expect more from such as Ray Davies from the Kinks said he ‘didn’t get it’.

It took the listening public a year to ‘get it’ by which time the Beatles had released a less innovative LP, Sgt. Pepper, which was lapped up as the greatest human artifact every created in history. But they weren’t really praising Sgt. Pepper (they thought they were), they were praising Revolver, which had finally stretched the audience to be able to listen to rock music. All rock journalism changed that year, along with everything else in culture. Revolver was just too advanced in 1966.

Now, that was just a record we’re talking about and not really very important, but the same problem can happen with your new products, your new services and even your new ideas: if they are too innovative people just aren’t ready for them. They just won’t ‘get them’.

I’ve spoken in front of the wrong audiences many times. They didn’t get my topic of creative thinking. They didn’t get my guitar. They didn’t like my purple suit. They didn’t like my mad hair. It was too much. They just didn’t ‘get it’.

So what do I do? Unlike the Beatles, I can’t rely on my popular cultural icon status to be able to release Revolver onto an unsuspecting public. I did get a haircut. But I have to either dumb my message and approach down to an acceptable level or find a different audience, one that is ready. One or the other.

I suspect that you have a great new product or service and yet you can’t get anyone to take it up. I bet you have a great new idea but are struggling to find people to ‘get it’.

My guess is that, because it’s you, and I know you’re one of these ‘creative types’, it’s probably not because what you’ve got isn’t any good. It’s probably because what you’ve got is TOO good. Too good to be true and just too different.

I’m not in a position to offer advice. (I’m in the position to buy a new suit). But if I were to give advice, perhaps it would be this: keep looking for ways to find your audience. They’re not going to be down the street. They’re not going to be coincidentally in the next conference or networking event you rock up to. You’ll probably find, like me, that they’ll be 3% of your audience hidden in every batch of normals you come across. Our challenge is to increase those odds by being more strategic.

The other thing you could try would be to stop being so darn clever and knuckle down to be mediocre and boring just like everyone else. Play it safe and sound, that’s best.

But I can’t imagine you can do that anymore than I can. We just don’t have ‘being ordinary’ in us, do we?

Ayd works with people and businesses to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

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RAM on against the critics


Paul and Linda McCartney RAMIn my last article on criticism I focused on John Lennon. Let’s have a look at what happened to Paul McCartney who had to deal with criticism in a different and more prolonged way.

McCartney had, unlike John, lived his life almost without any form of criticism at all, right up until the end of the 60s. Then it hit him hard. Blamed for the acrimonious way the Beatles split up and appearing to attack the other three and their business decisions, it placed McCartney as the outsider. The press and the public seemed to always side with Lennon and the others. While Lennon’s first solo efforts were seen as deep, McCartney’s were seen as shallow. He suddenly found himself in a place where, just a year or so earlier he was hailed as Britain’s greatest songwriter, responsible for YesterdayMichelle, Eleanor Rigby, Sgt. Pepper, Hey Jude and Let it Be, his new efforts were seen as pale and trivial.

Today we know better. Listening to Every Night and Maybe I’m Amazed of 1970’s McCartney we can imagine that a followup to Abbey Road would have been every bit as great.

In 1971 McCartney recorded his second solo effort and his first post-Beatles LP, entitled RAM. He’d been in a panic as to what to do following the split. The pressure to deliver something spectacular must have been enormous. His solution was a great one: just do what would be fun. He retreated to his Scottish farm and with the help of his new wife Linda, created the new album.

When it was released it face almost universal scorn. Lennon reportedly hated it (it contained secret messages to Lennon encoded in the themes of the songs Too Many People and Dear Boy). Even Ringo, who nearly always managed to stay positive and not take sides said that “there wasn’t a good song on it”. However it did spawn a massive US number one single with Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.

Everyone, including McCartney’s own record company despised the fact he’d credited the album to ‘Paul and Linda McCartney’ and the ‘fan’ backlash against Linda continued. That had begun with his marriage to Linda in 1969 – how could ‘their’ Beatle, leave beautiful and talented Jane Asher (she left McCartney by the way) for this plain, American divorcee? Paul took his family on tour with him throughout the 70s with his band ‘Wings’ and Linda sang (and played) in the shows and on the records, giving rise to the joke, ‘what do you call a dog with wings? – Answer: Linda McCartney.’

But what makes the story of RAM all the more curious is that in May 2012 it was re-released in remastered form, on multiple CDs, DVD box sets and as 190g vinyl record to universal acclaim, with radio stations and rock magazines showering praise and awards on it.

They even went as far as saying that RAM was McCartney’s best ever album.

And Linda turned out to be a devoted wife, loving mother, talented award winning photographer, famous celebrity chef, founder of and instigator of soya protein vegetarian food. When she tragically died from breast cancer in 1999, everyone loved her.

So it just goes to show, even when you face what seems like universal criticism, you can never really be sure of the context, which might be different for every critic. Getting criticism doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve done a bad job. People will always have their own agendas and reason for slagging you and you work off.

So take care. You may well have just produced your greatest work too.

(In 1995, the famous and successful comedian and actor Stephen Fry disappeared. His friends got worried. It was because he’d had a bad review for a show. He said he’d felt as low as he thought possible. If his talent and his track record wasn’t enough to fend off just one bad review then it’s no surprise the rest of us suffer.)

Ayd works with people and businesses to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

Getting over brutal criticism – you won’t have it as bad as John Lennon


John Lennon 1968 pen and ink drawing white album

Drawing by Ayd Instone, aged 16

There’s no escaping criticism. No matter how good you are, there’s always someone who’ll have a pop. There’s a whole profession of people out there who describe themselves as ‘critics’ whose job is to criticise. And the more successful you get, the more open to brutal criticism you are.

When it comes to your own personal creativity and work you have done yourself, criticism is tough. It’s personal, or feels personal. Highly creative people often lack confidence in themselves and their work. We often believe that we’re only as good as out last piece of work (that’s never really true) so if we get a bad review or a finger is pointed at us and our errors, we take it so much to heart that it feels like the end of the world.

Can you imagine going from being universally loved and adored for your work to having pernicious personal criticism levelled at everything you do and then having one critic so hating you and your work that they set out to murder you.

Yet that’s exactly what happened to John Lennon.

In 1968 the Beatles released the John Lennon song Revolution as the b-side of Hey Jude. It had the line “But if you talk about destruction. Don’t you know that you can count me out.”

The revolutionary sub culture was split on whether their idol and spiritual leader had gone soft and had sold out. Was he saying they should all just be cool, peaceful and take it easy, or was he siding with the establishment?

But later that year, the Beatles eponymously titled White Album, was released with a different version of the song which contained the lyric ‘But if you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out… in.”

It had appeared that Lennon had done a u-turn on the previous non-violent stance. The subculture was now incensed. Not because Lennon appeared now to sanction direct action but because it looked like he’d swayed and changed his tune just to keep in with the underground.

The truth was that the album version of the song, although released second, was recorded first. Lennon’s actual stance was initially to perhaps support destruction which he later changed to be wholeheartedly in favour of peaceful protests.

The criticism he faced hurt him deeply and possibly pushed him into more proactively declaring his position (which was perhaps a good outcome) and led to his signature bed-in-for-peace events. But it also caused him to attempt to forge closer links with the more undesirable members of the underground subculture where his naivety was unable to tell good from bad. This led him to donate money and effort to some very undeserving causes, all to fend off that feeling of failure from harsh personal criticism.

This new radicalism alienated him from many of his former fans who, in Lennon’s words, “loved the mop tops and A Hard Days Night, but I’ve grown up. Have you?”

Yet this radicalism was short lived. He gained critical acclaim for his first solo album (1970’s John Lennon Plastic Ono Band) but it had poor sales figures. The best selling Beatle after the split was George Harrison with his hit single My Sweet Lord and triple LP All Things Must Pass. Even Ringo was having more hits than John. Lennon’s second LP, Imagine, was more commercial, but the third, Sometime In New York City was a disaster.

Lennon had been the first Beatle to be singled out for criticism, back in 1966, when the US radio stations picked up on the infamous ‘bigger than Jesus comments’. He’d had to suffer the embarrassment of having to ‘apologise’ repeatedly for what was a simple and fairly accurate statement made to a UK reporter months earlier and taken out of context. This event was part of their decision to stop touring. They had violent threats on their security by all sorts of weirdos including the Klu Klux Clan who threatened to plant bombs at a Beatle concert. John was physically sick before going on stage during that last American tour.

Then, from 1968, he’d had to put up with being criticised for getting together with Yoko, later blamed for ‘splitting up the Beatles’ but even before that, he had to endure nasty and disgraceful racial abuse leveled at her. He’d been criticised for turning his back on the Fab Four and pop music and being far too nutty and far out and yet also criticised for being childish and not being or radical enough.

Then he was criticised for producing ‘mediocre’ albums in the mid seventies (Mind Games and Walls and Bridges) and his LP of rock ‘n’ roll standards. Then he was criticised for not producing any new material for five years while he became ‘househusband’, looking after his son Sean. And more often than not, he was blamed for the lack of a Beatle reunion. (When if fact they’d all agreed on a reunion, but never at the same time.)

Then, in 1980, he was hunted down and killed by a ‘deranged fan’ who decided Lennon had become a ‘phoney’.

It would be hard for any of us to imagine what it could be like to have such adoration as the Beatles enjoyed (and suffered) in the sixties. It would be equally hard for us to imagine the type of criticism that followed, especially after following on from such acclaim. It would likely be impossible for us to consider that our creative work would cause someone to want to murder us.

I think when we consider what happened to John Lennon, it makes any criticism we face, just that little bit less raw, a little bit less biting and a little bit less relevant.

So don’t let it stop you. Carry on with your great works and love what you do remembering that there are no statues or memorials for critics.

Ayd works with people and businesses to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

Criticism? Feedback? Don’t ask people what they think


Being a graphic artist, author and speaker has meant that I’ve been enjoying more freedom than most when it comes to my daily routines and variety of work. But there is a great downside, one that most people don’t often have to deal with day to day and that is direct criticism of one’s creative work.

If you’re doing a process job and you get criticised, certainly it can hurt, but it’s easier to see that you got the process wrong. Perhaps you rushed it, did something in the wrong order or missed something out. Perhaps it was the weather’s fault or the customer’s. It’s easy to point the blame partially at something else. You didn’t get the sale? It wasn’t quite right anyway, there are loads of factors involved and you’ll no doubt do better next time when luck and better conditions are on your side.

This isn’t the same with a task that uses your creativity more directly. If you’ve designed something, drawn something, written something or made something, you’ve put part of your soul into it. And then for someone to come along and say “it’s not really working for me” or “I don’t like it” or the killer, “can you just…”. It’s horrible. It’s an affront upon your very being. Your reason for existence has been attacked. Your humanity and personality, your very soul has been deemed worthless, or worse, average.

No wonder it’s a powerful reason not to do anything. It’s just too risky being creative. We’re just not naturally built to take that sort of criticism. No wonder people devolve such responsibilities and avoid putting their naked soul on display where it can be jeered at and tormented.

The award winning writer Issac Asimov said that when he handed his manuscript to the editor it was, as far as he was concerned, totally finished and sacred. He refused to change one word, not one comma. That didn’t mean that it was perfect by any means but he just couldn’t face someone else getting into his artistry and messing with it. He couldn’t bare it. J. R. R . Tolkien was similar. He was the author, the artist. What could these other people know about it? How dare they suggest this wonderful world that he had summoned into existence be made better by some external reader, some punter, someone who hadn’t created one line of text in their lives.

If these giants of literature can’t take it, it’s no surprise we can’t. There are of course ways of giving feedback that doesn’t hurt or offend (and it’s not ‘constructive criticism’ by the way), but we’ll save that for another time. Here I want to deal with the receiving end.

First of all we need to get used to telling people to, well, clear off. Poking their noses in, who do they think they are? We need to get control back of our creativity and re-establish that it has value in itself no matter what anyone else thinks. If the value of your art is dependent on other people’s opinion you’ll either stop creating altogether or begin a downward spiral of depression and low self worth that can, like in the case of so many artists; painters, musicians, singers and writers, end in death.

The genius scientist, artist, musician and safe-cracker Richard Feynman was told so many times, “what do you care what other people think?” that he used it as the title of his book. He didn’t care what people thought of him so he felt free to indulge in his crazy ideas and experiments that earned him the Nobel Prize. Please note this is not saying we shouldn’t care about people. I’m saying we shouldn’t care too much what they think about us, or at least shouldn’t worry about it to a point that disables us from operating. We shouldn’t second guess our moves to accommodate what other people might think of what we’re doing.

Then must first re-establish the joy of the act of creation, no matter what the discipline we work in, as an end in itself, separate from whether people will like it or whether we can sell it. Monetising our creativity is important but that has to come second. If you don’t enjoy and feel free to create what you create without thinking someone is breathing over your shoulder, you will stop doing it.

With my design clients over the years and especially with my author clients, some have a tendency to doubt their work and feel the need for peer review (and often stranger review) to the work before it is competed. Some authors post the draft cover or the title of the book on their Friendface sites. Why do they do this?

If it’s to say, ‘hey, my new book is coming out soon, get ready, it’s going to be great’ that’s a good thing. If it’s ‘what do you think, please give me some reassurance because I’m not confident’ it’s a bad thing.

If it’s an impasse of ‘I can’t decide between A and B, please help me decide’ for example than that can be useful. But asking people ‘what do you think?’ allows a load of pig ignorant, out of context irrelevant people to offer their destructive comments, which they think, erroneously, are actually helpful.

How dare you! I hear you say. These are my friends! Well, I love my mum but I’m not going to ask her what she thinks of my book cover. What does she know about it book cover design? She’s not even in the target market. She’s certainly not going to buy a copy. I bet your friends won’t be buying a copy either. They’ll probably expect one for free. After all, they contributed to the book didn’t they, by telling you you’d done it wrong and needed their help to get it right. That deserves a copy doesn’t it. They probably won’t read it though.

There’s room for market research. It can be very important. But is has to be done scientifically with controls in place, with a sizable target market or all you’ll get is random, worthless opinions.

The opinions that you get from so-called friends are never offered in a caring way either. (They think they are, but they’re not). This is because most people are not trained in offering feedback. They simply fluff up their feathers, proud and empowered that they’ve been asked to give their opinion on something and then look hard to see what it is about your work that they can hate. They don’t realise that their opinion is always subjective. “I don’t like blue. Blue is the wrong colour to use” and phrases like that are worded in a global way, as if their subjectivity is objectively true under all conditions. This is wrong. All phrases that are offered that take a global form should be ignored.

Anyone who offers the phrase “I’m being devil’s advocate here” can get right out of town. The one thing that’s worse than an irrelevant opinion is someone irrelevant offering their guess on what someone else, who doesn’t event exist, may think.

It’s lovely when people say, “I love it!”. But that too is irrelevant and should be ignored. We should not need our friends, associates or strangers opinions to validate our creative work. No-one contacts the film company to say “love the new Harry Potter film poster”. No-one even contacts the author of a book and says “saw your book in the bookshop. Love the cover. Haven’t bought it or read it. But love the cover”. How offensive is that? It’s out of context, that’s why. The cover or the poster isn’t there to be validated on it’s own. It’s integral to the wider work and can only be judged in that context.

What happens when you get all these conflicting irrelevant, out of context opinions is that you freeze. You can’t move forwards or backwards. You lose all power. Do you you change it, scrap it, give up? Doing nothing is the only option. Perhaps time will make decisions easier to make. Perhaps the pain of criticism will go away. It will not, and it does not.

This all adds delay and perhaps a greater failure of the work not being finished at all. What a disservice to the real target market (who so far haven’t even seen the work) and now will never get it, or get it late in a watered down state.

Thank you ‘friends’. Thanks for wasting my time and letting us all down.

But it’s not their fault. It’s our fault for not having faith in our convictions. It’s our fault for not believing in our ideas.

If you have specific doubts about the creation, ask the relevant trusted expert a specific question. But never ever ask anyone “what do you think?” because until that moment they didn’t think anything. Now you’ve given them a knife and said, “see how deep you can cut”.

Instead, present your works to your network as a done deal. Say, “Here it is, my new book, available in September. I’m taking advance orders now”. See how many of them buy it. There’s YOUR feedback on whether you’ve got the right target market.

If there is something wrong, like a spelling mistake and someone points it out, that’s fine. That’s useful to know. It’s not an opinion, it’s an objective fact. But imagine someone saying, “I see you new book is coming out. I’d love to buy it but I can’t because it’s got blue on it”. Now it’s clearer that the person who says that is a moron. But of course no-one will say that because no-one in your network is a moron.

Unless of course you allow them to be.

More on criticism here: “Using the C-word in business”

Book Ayd to speak about Creativity and Innovation Mind-flow at your event.
For more interesting info see:

www.aydinstone.com

The ‘C’ word in business


I’m not referring to ‘creativity’ as the ‘C’ word here. I mean the other one.
I was at a business presentation recently and the presenter asked at the end for feedback. The people in the audience were fair and polite, but they did have concerns and found flaws in the proposition and voiced them. In some cases proposing how the offer could be improved so that they would be more interested. The startling reaction from the presenter was to say, “people always say that, they always point out these ‘niggles’ and if you were to study the offer more you’d see that that’s what they are. I’m not going to change anything because of these little niggles.” Needless to say, no-one bought it that day.

How do you handle criticism? It certainly made me think about my own business. How do I cope when people don’t don’t like what I’ve got? Do I have a protective knee-jerk reaction of “what do they know” and fight on, banging my head against the wall?

The best approach is to weigh up who is providing the feedback and in what context. In the presentation it was prospective customers who wanted changes made. Are there areas of our business that we’re so arrogant that we create a product or service in a vacuum with an imaginary audience in mind and when a possible audience comes along, we won’t budge to accommodate them and make a sale? Would we really want to have our idea intact and unaltered, but unsold?

In literary circles, editors have a name for the parts of a novel that the author loves, is wedded to and focuses all their attention on. It’s usually a few paragraphs that the author thinks is really clever but everyone else things is jarring and irrelevant. They call them the ‘darlings’. The editor’s first instruction is that they need to ‘kill the darlings’.

Are there parts of your business that you love but no-one else does? Are there things that your prospects are saying ‘all the time’ but you refuse to budge. Could it be that you love your new website – but it generates no business. Do you love your old logo (you’ve had it for years and designed it yourself) but everyone thinks its old fashioned. Have you had advice that you should position or niche your offering in a certain way but you feel that would demean it or restrict you. (Have you every said to anyone ‘our product is for everyone’ and yet no-one is buying it?).

Criticism is horrible. Especially when it’s called ‘constructive criticism’. It’s horrible even if it’s called ‘feedback’. It’s not nice and it hurts. Especially when you know that they just misunderstood, they just didn’t get what you were trying to do. The point is – if you hear the same thing more than once you need to change something, either your offering or your prospects. The ‘C’ word can be invaluable to save time and stop your head from banging against that wall.

Book Ayd to speak at your event.
For more interesting info see:

www.aydinstone.com