On Imagination – Another’s Thoughts

“To see, to hear, means nothing. To recognize (or not to recognize) means everything.” – André Breton

This week’s creativity blog shares another’s perspective. I’m on her email list and this particular email dissertation I found quite interesting. She goes by the name “The Used Life” and is an artist extraordinaire.

Here are some of her thoughts . . . what are some of yours?

I think of my art as an articulation of my inner life. That all of the scenes that take shape in my collage art (and poetry, too) also exist within me. There is a mystery in that which I love: that is, the mystery of human imagination. Indeed, it is a rare occasion when I am able to explain clearly and succinctly what I believe my artwork means. I like not knowing. No, I love not knowing. It is the mystery that makes it meaningful.

It is also, I think, the element of mystery that creates something akin to a mystical or religious experience—the feeling that, when I am creating, I am acting as a conduit, or channel, for “something else”, something almost otherworldly or unreal.

But, what’s the “something else”? What do I think is really happening in those moments, and what is the role of imagination in that process?

First, let me clarify by saying that I don’t define “imagination” as the ability to conjure images at will. That, I think, is a very small part of what comprises our imaginations. Here are some thoughts.

Imagination is a loss of separateness.

It is the recognition of ourselves in another—in another person, in an animal or landscape, in a character from a novel, a scrap of discarded paper, or a cardboard box. I would suggest that this “moment of recognition” is where the feelings of awe, of ecstasy, or even love that often accompany or precede creativity come from.

“Imagination is the outreaching of mind…the bombardment of the conscious mind with ideas, impulses, images and every sort of psychic phenomena welling up from the pre-conscious.” – Rollo May

What psychoanalysts might call a kind of projection, or a “leaky” subconscious. Imagination is the outpouring of inner images onto the outer world, such that a third image—a new image—may be born.

Imagination is a way of perceiving.

Maslow talks a great deal about what it means to see “unitively”, suggesting that many self-actualizing people encounter the world in a manner that allows them to see the sacred in the everyday. In the essay, “Theory Z”, he suggests self-actualizers may be divided broadly into two groups: those who experience episodes of self-transcendence (i.e., artists, poets, musicians, other creators), and those who are more pragmatic thinkers (i.e., businesspeople, entrepreneurs, politicians, scientists).

The difference between them: pragmatic thinkers deal with the here-and-now, operate within the confines of concrete reality. Transcenders are able to perceive the stuff of everyday life within the context of eternity and, as a result, are able to perceive (or feel they are perceiving) the “sacred” or “miraculous”.

What I think: the latter see imaginatively. What Maslow refers to as the perception of eternity is a function of imagination. It is the natural “outreaching of mind”, the involvement of the subconscious, or preconscious, primordial images and the emotions they carry. That’s where those feelings of “eternity,” “otherworldliness,” “surreality,” or even of encountering “the sacred” in the everyday (or in a work of art) come from.

What’s more: children see imaginatively. We were all, at one time, able to see imaginatively without trying…which leads me to my last point.

Our imaginations transform the everyday into the extraordinary.

Without the imaginative encounter—that is, without the fusion of inner and outer worlds—I doubt we would ever be able to perceive the extraordinary. I think we need those subconscious projections, those “leaky” images, impulses, and ideas. They tell us who we are. They help us make meaning. That outpouring of the unreal is what gives reality its shine.

 

Hopefully making a ruckus, one blog post at a time!

Be sure to check out my other blog, Joe’s Journey, for a different kind of playground for creativity, innovation and inspiring stuff.

Wonder What Mr. Data Would Think: Robots Creating Ads? Hmmmm.

Lt. Cmdr. Data of the USS Enterprise

Well, Data, as all Trekkers know, was an Android, not a robot. It was a very sensitive distinction in his day. Yet, one can’t help but wonder what one non-human form of life would think of another non-human form of life creating advertising in the manner humans do.

While humorous, I can just picture Klaatu instructing Gort about a forthcoming ad for NASA’s Artemis IV mission to Jupiter. (Note: Those of you not having a clue as to what I am referring, Google “Day the Earth Stood Still” especially the 1951 version)

Gort

Recently, I read where a reporter from the Wall Street Journal did an article on the role of AI (Artificial Intelligence) writing and redoing advertising. Interesting, I thought, so I made it the focus of this week’s blog post about another aspect of creativity in the early 21st. Century. My thanks to both The Journal and Patrick Coffee for lending credence to this post.

In late 2021, as states eased pandemic restrictions and consumers began flying again, travel search company Kayak needed a message that would help it stand out against bigger rivals.

Most travel ads focused on “the family reunion space, soft piano music, the get-together on the beach,” said Matthew Clarke, vice president of North American marketing for the Booking Holdings Inc. company. Kayak took a different approach with the “Kayak Deniers” campaign, which went live in January and poked fun at the rise of online conspiracy theories. In one ad, an angry mother insists to her family that Kayak isn’t real, screaming, “Open your eyes!”

Inspiration for the ads came from an unlikely source: artificial intelligence.

Kayak worked with New York advertising agency Supernatural Development LLC, whose internal AI platform combines marketers’ answers to questions about their business with consumer data drawn from social media and market research to suggest campaign strategies, then automatically generates ideas for advertising copy and other marketing materials.

Supernatural’s AI found that Kayak should target its campaign largely toward young, upper-income men, who it said would respond to humor about Americans’ inability to agree on basic facts in politics and pop culture, said Michael Barrett, co-founder and chief strategy officer at Supernatural.

“That gave us a good amount of license to zig where the category was zagging and to be more relevant, more provocative,” Mr. Clarke said of the AI findings.

The campaign has been one of Kayak’s most successful to date in driving brand favorability, Mr. Clarke said.

Marketers have primarily used AI in a creative capacity in services like creative automation, which tests thousands of slight variations on elements such as ad copy and color schemes to determine which combinations will best attract consumers’ attention.

But AI is expected to change marketing practices drastically in coming years thanks to new tools like OpenAI Inc.’s automated language generator GPT-3, which allows algorithms to better understand different languages and produce original text content, said Tom Davenport, distinguished professor of information technology and management at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., who co-wrote a 2019 paper on the subject.

Unilever PLC’s Dollar Shave Club recently began working with AI firm Addition Technologies Inc., whose platform can analyze millions of social-media posts, to help identify themes for use in marketing products that range from razors to wet wipes.

“It’s like having a machine hive mind that you can just keep asking questions because it has completely consumed all comments on the subject,” said Matt Orser, vice president and head of creative at Dollar Shave Club.

Addition also worked with ad agency Droga5 LLC to create an interactive ad campaign for the New York Times that turns headlines from each subscriber’s reading history into a visual “portrait” of that person. Some headlines were too long to fit within the portraits’ design, so Addition programmed its platform to rewrite them in fewer than 50 characters, said a Times spokesman.

AI’s primary benefit for marketers is its ability to quickly complete projects, such as brand strategy briefs, that would take humans days or weeks, giving staffers more time to focus on other work, said Supernatural Chief Creative Officer Paul Caiozzo.

When Signal Messenger LLC, maker of encrypted messaging app Signal, wanted to plan its first major marketing campaign in 2021, it turned to AI marketing consulting firm DumDum LLC.

DumDum invites marketers to discuss their most pressing challenges in brief “thinkathon” sessions, then runs those ideas through an AI platform that matches them with potential solutions based on a growing pool of behavioral data and consumer surveys conducted by DumDum to provide CMOs with outside perspectives.

DumDum presented Signal with several options, and executives chose one that focused on the fact that Signal, unlike many other digital platforms, doesn’t collect user data. They bought several Instagram ads designed to highlight how its parent, Meta Platforms Inc., targets users with their own personal data, said Jun Harada, head of growth and communication at Signal. One post began, “You got this ad because you’re a certified public accountant in an open relationship.”

Facebook responded by shutting down Signal’s ad account, according to Mr. Harada. The move came only days after Apple Inc. announced sweeping data-privacy changes that would upend the digital advertising industry.

When used correctly, AI forces marketers to consider new perspectives and avoid simply repeating approaches that worked in the past, said DumDum founder Nathan Phillips.

“You can create a dance between human and computer that changes the way you think,” Mr. Phillips said.

The idea of AI as a creative partner isn’t new, but most campaigns have positioned it as a gimmick.

In 2018, Toyota Motor Corp.’s Lexus released what it called “the world’s first advert to be scripted entirely by AI.” However, a Lexus spokeswoman described that effort as a “one-off,” and it still needed a human director.

Increased use of AI could potentially eliminate some entry-level marketing jobs, but it will never replace the people required to ensure that content is fit for public consumption and to prevent controversies such as Microsoft Corp.’s anti-Semitic chat bot, said Mr. Davenport, the Babson College professor.

Ad industry leaders agreed that AI will supplement, not supplant, human ingenuity. “While [AI] can unlock the creative capacity of people by making their work more efficient and effective, sometimes we need to throw logic out the window and fall back on our intuition,” said Rob Reilly, global chief creative officer at ad giant WPP PLC.

More creative firms will begin using AI tools in the coming years, but most will not position themselves as AI-driven businesses, because CMOs aren’t particularly concerned with the process as long as the resulting campaigns are successful, said Mr. Caiozzo of Supernatural.

“AI is just the tool that is freeing me to do my job,” he said. “Most people don’t care how you bake the bread.”

Like it or not, AI is here to stay and will only adjust and modernize the ad industry for years to come.

 

Notes:

Sources: The Wall Street Journal and Patrick Coffee. Appeared in the August 11, 2022, print edition as ‘Robots Turn Creative as AI Helps Drive Ad Campaigns.’

 

Hopefully making a ruckus, one blog post at a time!

Be sure to check out my other blog, Joe’s Journey, for a different kind of playground for creativity, innovation and inspiring stuff.

 

 

Nurture Creativity By Building Supportive Environment

Every so often I run across articles on some aspect of creativity. This week I found an article on nurturing creativity by building a supportive environment. It’s a recent study co-authored by professors from Rice University here in Houston and the Barcelona School of Management in Spain. I’ve reflected the study’s findings here in this blog post.

Creativity in children develops their spirits. Playing at or with almost anything spurs their creativity. (I wish this could be said about most adults.) Coaxing creativity from adults is more challenging. Creativity in adults enriches productivity — especially at the office.

Creativity is where ideas come from; ideas form the basis for innovation. In an increasingly competitive world economy, it’s innovation that allows businesses to survive and thrive. This makes creativity a prized commodity in the job market. For managers, cultivating creativity in their workforce is a crucial professional skill. (Note: Yet I think creativity is still a very undervalued skill, if not misunderstood.)

Current academic research takes a more holistic look. By studying the interaction between the character traits of the worker or the team, the leader or the supervisor, and the prevailing atmosphere at the workplace, researchers are unveiling new insights.

Studies show, for example, that the benefits of benevolent leadership expand when workers recognize creativity as an important component of their role. Not only that, creativity is highest in employees who experience high levels of both positive and negative moods and feel supported by their supervisors. Other research finds that leaders who empower their workers get a greater payback in creativity.

To explore these findings further, *Zhou and Hoever developed a typology that sorts out research about workplace creativity based on interactions between the worker (which they call the “actor”) and the workplace (which they call “context”).

The best-case scenario is a positive actor in a positive context, a mix that is synergistic for creativity. Worst case: When a positive actor languishes in a negative context or, similarly, when a negative actor stews in a positive context. At the extreme end of possibility, a negative actor in a negative context is downright antagonistic to creativity, Zhou and Hoever found.

There’s one final type of employee-workplace interaction: the “configurational” experience, which includes factors that are neutral in shaping creativity, but, when combined with other factors, cause a kind of chemical reaction that boosts or blocks creativity.

Zhou’s research serves up some bad news and good news for managers. Choosing and hiring employees who are creative is not enough, it turns out. If your workplace is discouraging, creativity will wither in almost anyone. On the brighter side, cultivate a nurturing environment and creative tendrils may sprout even in the most no-nonsense workers. Best of all, good managers can build a nurturing greenhouse environment. Practically speaking, it means that companies can and should train supervisors to cultivate creativity in their management choices. (Hmmm, wonder what an 8-year old supervisor would do!)

Plenty of research gaps remain, however. To fill them, Zhou has outlined an ambitious agenda for future research, including a close look at the impact of workplaces on collective creativity; exploring as-yet unidentified factors in workers and work settings that spark creative thinking; and seeking ways to vanquish the effects of unsupportive environments.

Making creativity happen at work, in other words, isn’t child’s play. It is, in fact, hard work, especially if the environment is less than stimulating.

——

*Identifying the best circumstances to make creativity bloom is one of the driving questions in this study by Rice Business Professor Jing Zhou and colleague Inga J. Hoever, a professor at the Barcelona School of Management in Spain.

 

Hopefully making a ruckus, one blog post at a time!

Be sure to check out my other blog, Joe’s Journey, for a different kind of playground for creativity, innovation and inspiring stuff.