Change and values – the new normal of creative curiosity

Recently, Wunderman EMEA CEO Mel Edwards wrote a piece on Campaign. The topic: gender equality in a creative sector. In the article Mel refers to the film industry, inspired by actor and director Samantha Morton.

The article contains a video with Samantha and Jefferson Hack of Dazed & Confused Magazine, who launched a Females First programme. The video was shot at the occasion of the Cannes Lions where Jefferson interviewed Samantha on stage.

At the end both also touch upon the topic of creativity.

Revaluing creativity

Creativity: a human phenomenon that unites us all. In its purest form it knows no gender, culture or limits. In practice it is often shaped and defined by values. Creativity and values are closely connected. They are not always easy to describe, even if there are gazillions of books, papers and essays written about creativity and values. Both aren’t even a thing at all.

Towards the end of the video Samantha Morton calls creativity a life force and then says something that struck me: the word creative is changing so much because what we see as creative now. Whether you’re using a computer, writing, taking a photograph or communicating with your voice: it’s all part of that same [creative] ‘wheel’.

As an example of that different view on creativity she brings in mind how a child might have been worrying its parents 20 years ago because it was coding while now we understand that this is creativity too. It’s essentially a revaluation of creativity, a different perspective.

Curiosity, creativity and the relativity of values

You know that child because you were that child. Maybe not coding but making drawings in the sand at the beach, collecting some branches to build a dream castle or simply looking at the moon and imagining what it would see if it had eyes.

Often productivity, efficiency and the cult of ‘busy’ stand in the way of creativity. Maybe you know the feeling of those moments when it feels as if we’re doing meaningless things instead of something ‘useful’. And when apparently meaningless things, finding fertile soil in taking some distance from ‘busy’, become ideas and turn out to be very creative and valuable in a later stage. Like that child that was just coding and maybe invented something we all take for granted now.

The curiosity of a child is probably a little romanticised and – rightfully – seen as something that can get gradually suffocated by (too strict) inner voices of norms, moral, duty and culture. Inner voices telling us what to do, think and feel. Inner voices that define what ‘we’ value – and impact our capability to be curious.

Albert Einstein is often quoted as having said that “It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education”. Maybe it is. And maybe our views on the innocence of the curious child are sometimes a bit too romantic.

But this is for sure: creativity needs curiosity. It needs the ability to ask questions, to be open for the world outside us, for what makes people tick, for the ‘why’ behind each ‘what’… It needs a receptive attitude regarding change and requires us to question norms, conventions and values. Think out of the box. Dare to be different when it makes sense, when it offers an answer to the right questions.

Change, human values and brand values – emotional connections

Essentially change is a lot about values. Some values seem very hard to change and have become – unconscious – beliefs, convictions and bias. Maybe it’s here where gender inequality partially lives, for instance.

There’s a popular saying: “times change, values don’t”. It’s rather deterministic. Values do change and if they don’t it’s regularly about a won’t instead of a can’t. Values tell where we’ve been and where we want to go just like stories.

Some values have changed dramatically in recent years, maybe not always for the better, depending on how you look at it. There’s a flip side to each coin. Even if many essential values of consumers have remained the same they also value different things, depending on many factors. These are the evolutions which sometimes take us by surprise and are found in research such as the annual Global Trends Survey by Ipsos MORI (example from the 2015 edition: “I measure my success by the things I own”) and lots of trend watching.

For businesses changing values are challenging and disrupting. They also challenge our brand values. Do we align our values with the values of a changing consumer? Or do we dare to make a stand and challenge some of these values as some brands have done? And how and where can we turn them into relevance and business/customer value instead of challenges?

Values are important for us, as marketers and as consumers. If we look deep into the reality of marketing today, values are a crucial emotional component in the relational context where loyalty has been on the decrease and consumers often value relationships less or differently. Change and values are both highly emotional, connecting and in many case conflicting, leading to more change and to creative innovation.

Revaluing value – the new norm(al)

It is often said that the true strength of a brand lies in common and shared values. At the same time it’s safe to say that we live in a world where values are more pressured and diverse than ever, in all areas of society. Consumers challenge the values of brands and look at responsibility, transparency, morality and the discrepancies between the values brands claim they cherish and the ways they act upon these claims.

Philosopher Friedrich-Willem Nietzsche put the revaluation of values (Die Umwertung aller Werte) central in his philosophy, emphasizing the reality of values and the need to question the accepted, the norm, the why behind the values relentlessly.

This brings me back to creativity, curiosity and gender inequality. They have one thing in common: the will, braveness and capacity of questioning. Because we live in times where change is even more than the only constant. Questioning the norm and asking questions in the broadest sense are the creative curiosity, the will to open up and listen to what people say.

Questioning and revaluing is the new normal. And even that is relative. And an open question. What’s your answer?