I recently had the pleasure of attending the home-grown Guns or Knives “You are dumber than you think” workshop which took place at this years’ Cannes Lions. I learned about “Shoshin”, the Japanese art of employing “a beginner’s mind” rather than being beset with “expert mindset”. Despite the oxymoronic-sounding nature of “disadvantageous expertise”, the proof is in the pudding with IQ levels increasing worldwide but creativity levels decreasing. Being someone who has changed it up over the course of my career, I hope that this has helped me to keep the fresh eyes necessary for a better understanding of what makes for good creativity.
When I was in school trying to understand my career guidance counsellor, Mr. Lynch’s advice that I would most probably “fall” into something, I honestly didn’t get it. I thought I needed to be a defined “insert title here” – someone of recognisable, reputable employment. This was reinforced when I went travelling and had to fill out entry forms into various different countries over the course of a year that all demanded “Occupation”. I felt completely rudderless. Thus, I embarked on a postgrad in PR to follow up my arts
Starting out in PR in 2005, Facebook was Mark Zuckerberg’s number one baby and Twitter but a glint in Jack Dorsey’s eye. I had previously worked as a “license auditor” in SAP, a “global accountant” in HP and a short stint as a secondary school German teacher in my old alma mater. Yes, they were all as boring as they sound so I was looking for something new. I only lasted a year, soon realising that I had no burning desire to schmooze and would prefer to pay for my ad space, but it did lead me to my chosen career path: advertising. No disrespect to the hardworking men and women of PR, it’s a tough task trying to get something for nothing day in, day out.
Turned out Mr. Lynch was right but rather than falling into any one area, I’ve found myself perhaps deliberately shifting from one to another, taking in the full gambit of ad agency life. After PR, I did a stint in above-the-line, followed by digital. Now I find my myself in the thick of activations, experiential and retail. All in an effort to get a rounder view of this thing we call ‘advertising’. And in so doing, I would hope that my eclectic experience can bring some learnings to the gang; not just in an expanded repertoire of knowledge but also in the form of what we diligently refer to on CVs and in interviews as transferrable skills. You know the type. Multi-tasking often teeters at the top of that list. Working in digital for the last five years, I often found myself envious of those I saw as having “real” or “hard” skills such as programming or graphic design; client service falling very definitely on the softer side. But what I love about it is that it’s so malleable as a career. I have been in Guns or Knives a sum total of 6 weeks but am already immersed in some exciting projects.
I’ve recently learned that there’s a specific term for people like me. Those born between 1977-1983 that is (although there does seem to be some debate about that date range). It’s Xennials. We all love yet another marketing demographic huh? In internet folklore, Xennials are those that span the gap between Gen X and Millennials, i.e. we’re old enough to have experienced an internet-free childhood but young enough to have spent our working lives online. When I heard this, I could relate. Working in digital for the last 5 years, I had real moments of bewilderment akin to that out-of-body experience only those who have lived abroad in a foreign speaking country will understand. I still remember the first time I saw a “computher” (pronounced with a Kerry accent, true to my roots) and was scared to touch it for real fear I would somehow cause it to explode.
Blink author, Malcolm Gladwell’s has a theory around task segmentation in the brain and how we allow ourselves to be lazy about specific tasks when we know someone else will pick up the slack. E.g. Because my husband always did the driving and navigating, he became my “human GPS”. It’s why I only passed my driving test last year and have a rubbish sense of direction. Don’t you love when a handy psychological theory comes along to absolve you of personal responsibility? But in industry terms, we rely on specific people in different departments (strategy, creative, tech etc.) to do the thinking in a certain capacity when in reality, it’s a team effort. So in an effort to harness the power of my unruly subconscious and keep it creative, I’ll try to keep “Shoshin”-ing away, both in career and in life. Never forgetting the learnings of my previous experience but keeping a beginner’s mind – always open to learning exciting new skills.