Think Different

Today I gave a talk on creativity and branding, as I so often do.

I arrived at the venue early, it was 6.15am. As usual in waiting situations, I picked up my iPhone and looked on Twitter. This is what I read:

“There have been three apples that have changed the world: the one that Eve ate, the one that fell on Newton’s head and the one that Steve Jobs created.”

I don’t know who originated that quote, but I had to open my talk with it as soon as more tweets confirmed the sad news. I had to change the direction and tone of my talk too as it sank in. The vision of a man who had died that morning, a man whom, I had never met, had, in fact changed the way I live and work by providing the tools that made my business possible and enjoyable.

Apple is now the most valuable business in the world. It has more cash in the bank than  the USA (around $76 billion). It was Steve Job’s vision and creativity that got it there.

Certainly there were and are thousands of brilliant people involved in invention, in design, in engineering, in production and in marketing that all contributed to that success. But the fact that we know who Steve Job is shows how important he was. It’s rare that an industry leader gains so much respect, both from within their company and their industry and from their customer base.

To the dissenters, dismissers and envious critics out there: you don’t get it do you? Millions upon millions of people gave their hard earned cash to a company that provided tools that they love to use. It really is that simple. Steve Jobs wanted to change technological tools and gadgets from things that got in the way of enjoyment, expression and lifestyle to things that enhanced them.

Not only was his vision of customer satisfaction unique, his marketing powers were second to none. But perhaps his greatest talent was as a showman and raconteur. If you ever saw the unveiling of a new Apple product by him, live on stage, you come close to seeing why so many admire him to the point of cult status.

Steve Jobs’ lifetime contribution to our civilisation matters. It has impacted you if you’ve ever used a computer post 1976. It matters if you’ve ever used a mobile phone post 2007. It matters if you’ve ever listened to music that didn’t come off a spinning disc or magnetic tape. Whether you own or have used Apple products is irrelevant, the technology industry has been transformed by their influence like no other. Just look at how many me-too iPhone like devices are on offer now. The iPhone raised the game. What mobile phones offered before was just no longer good enough.

Although they didn’t invent them, we have Apple to thank for computers that have graphics  on the screen to operate them instead of just text. Desktop publishing, graphic design, printing and music production have Apple to thank for the methods of their use in business. For many years, Apple equipment was the domain of ‘creatives’ because they provided tools that did the job without dictating a way of using them that interfered with your creativity. Now, the products are for all, making the complex easy, allowing more and more people to be creative in ways unimagined just a few years ago. And doing it all in such a cool way.

As readily as Apple incorporated new techniques and invention, they weren’t afraid of dropping them for something better. We call that innovation. Other companies were scared to do it and missed the boat. The first iMac in 1998 shocked the industry by daring not to have a floppy disc drive. The MacBookAir doesn’t have a CD drive. The iPad doesn’t need a mouse or stylus. Our children’s children will find the idea of a ‘mouse’ unusual and quaint thanks to Steve Jobs taking the concept of ‘multitouch’ and making it work, making it easy and making it intuitive.

Steve Jobs personified the idea of the modern creative genius in a way few others do. It’s not too outrageous to say, as some have, that he represents a modern Leonardo Da Vinci by the way he, like Leonardo, recognised that true and powerful creativity is about bringing many disciplines together and getting them to work together.

Will Apple survive and thrive without Jobs? I think the answer is ‘yes’ and the reason is, something that Steve Jobs said a few months ago when asked, what was his greatest product? Was it the iMac, the iPod, iPhone, the iPad or something else? He reply was that the greatest product was in fact Apple itself. I believe he was right.

If Steve Jobs was Apple then the innovation and creativity died with him. But because Apple is Steve Jobs, his vision lives on in the company and we can, as Steve said a few weeks ago, look forward to its greatest moments that are yet to come…

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” 

“The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

– Steve Jobs

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Avoid the comfort zone of the re-release

Beatles illustration 1967 by Ayd Instone

Illustration by Ayd Instone

We’ve all seen them – the Beatles re-releases on CD, iTunes and the Rock Band video game. Don’t think that this is nostalgia. It’s something else, a bigger phenomenon of re-fashioning and re-making pre-existing material for new audiences to make even more money from what’s already been sold. This concept can prove to be, in some ways anti-creative if we’re not careful.

Artistically, the Beatles have inspired many of the great rock bands (and not just artists in the music industry but all sorts of endeavours in business, art, charity, technology and science) and those that have been inspired have gone onto inspire others.

The continued presence of the Beatles is a good thing; it does the same job as they did in the early sixties – everyone else has to rise their game. Otherwise we’d all have no choice but to be still listening to things like Shirley Temple and Frank Ifield.

It’s like how Apple’s iPhone has raised the game in the realm of hand held communication devices. Every phone company now has their own ‘iPhone beater’ smartphone. Their previous tacky, simplistic and overpriced standard phones are just not good enough. Apple, like the Beatles, proved and continue to prove that it can and should be done well.

But there’s a danger. It doesn’t lie with the likes of artists and scientists, most of which continue to push boundaries and create new content. The danger of the nostalgia and re-release industry is that the audience gets soft. They get comfortable with the familiar and don’t try or value new things.

This is why Hollywood constantly makes (inferior) remakes of classic movies. This is why West End and Broadway musicals are re-hashes of old ones, old movies or successful old back-catalogues. This is why people will go and see a performance of a Shakespeare or Pinter play but not a daring new work by a new playwright.

This is why the music industry in is disarray. The biggest selling act of the 90s was the Beatles. The biggest selling album of the 2000s was: you guessed it, the Beatles. The money just keeps coming in. There’s no real need to search for and develop new talent. When Elton John’s contract came up for renewal, all the record labels clamoured to get him to sign with them; he’s a safe bet. Few are prepared to take a chance like George Martin did with the rough, unknown, unproven Beatles in 1962.

Today there is still a healthy gig-going culture with some great bands. In fact, live music is a bigger industry than it’s ever been. But so many of these never each their full potential because they don’t get the wider backing.

The Kinks were a great live band in the early 60s. They played exclusively covers of hits of the day. People booked them and people went to see them because they were a great band. In 1964 when Ray Davies wrote the hit You Really Got Me they embarked on a recording career. Their first three or four albums are pretty mediocre (with the exception of the included singles). But they were allowed to develop and improve and what followed was exceptional. They became one of the defining acts of the era. That’s unlikely to happen now.

It’s the same in publishing. Massive advance payments and marketing budgets are available for the same old thing or the ghost written celebrity memoirs while the new author with the ground breaking novel is either not published or just left to their own devices and baring some miracle, goes unnoticed.

Until very recently Disney was going to do a re-make of the Beatles 1968 animated feature Yellow Submarine. They were going to use the same storyline, the same songs – but make it in 3D, thereby losing the unique charm of the original. Why bother? Why do it when the original is so good? Why not re-paint the Mona Lisa or re-build Stone Henge while you’re at?

Why redo things? Why not do something new? The Beatles never re-trod old ground. In most cases they didn’t even put the singles on their albums as they thought it would be a rip-off for the fans who’d already bought them.

They never did anything the same twice, there was was always a progression, always something different and they moved on fast. So too did everyone else around them.

We should all be more like that. Try new things. Create new and different approaches. Experiment and move forwards, not back. Re-invent ourselves. Take what has gone before an build upon it, improve it where possible and keep going. Yes, there may be a few mistakes along the way, the odd Magical Mystery Tour TV special or Get Back sessions. The occasional Maxwell’s Silver Hammer. But those slight low points of errors in judgement also allow for the great highs of the successes like Something or Hey Jude.

We need to take risks with our creativity, as both creator… and appreciator.

Creativity and the Beatles

This is an extract from my forthcoming book, Creativity and the Beatles.

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Do you use your 9th sense?

iphone 3GSWe’ve all heard of limiting beliefs. It’s when a belief you have about yourself or the world constrains your behavior, cutting you off from other opportunities. We all have our model of how the world works which we belief to be true based on the knowledge we’ve been given.

But what if that knowledge is wrong? Here’s an example.

How many senses does a human being have? Give it a number.

Most people will have said 5: Vision (ophthalmoception), Hearing (audioception), Touch (tactioception), Taste (gustaoception) and Smell (olfacoception). Some people may have said 6 but wouldn’t be able to say what the 6th was. Some would say it was ‘intuition’. Those who did are wrong. ‘Intuition’ is not a sense. A sense is a method of data input into your central processing unit, your brain. Intuition is a conclusion made in the subconscious based on those inputs. It feels magical and otherworldly not because it is, but because it takes input from a lot more than 5 sense.

Anyone who told you we have 5 senses was wrong. We have 9.

This is a great case of accepting a fact as being true when it’s not and then our experience is coloured by that error. To find out what our other senses could be, let’s count the senses an iPhone has. In other words, how many different ways can an iPhone take data in?

The answer as far as I can see is 16. It has a microphone, a touch screen, ambient light sensor, a magnetometer (digital compass), an accelerometer (knows which way up it is), a proximity sensor (knows if it’s next to your ear), a camera, 3G receiver, Wi-Fi receiver, bluetooth receiver, docking port, a home button, two volume buttons, a mute button and an on/off button. 16 ways it can collect sensory data.

So think again, how many do we really have? We have an accelerometer that gives us equilibrioception (our inner ear gives us a sense of balance and of gravity). That’s the 6th. The 7th is thermoception, the sense of temperature. The 8th is nociception, our sense of pain (different to touch) and the 9th is proprioception, the sense of our limbs in relation to each other.

When we’re assessing a situation is it data from all 9 of our senses that are filtered through our perception to give us a feeling of the situation. With us unaware of 4 out of the 9 how can we expect to operate consciously at our peak performance with unbounded creativity?

It makes you wonder what other lies and half-truths are holding back our potential…

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