The key to resilient and game changing creativity

Aaron McFeely, Lead Strategist at Space introduces the agency’s latest work for Glenfiddich and highlights why vulnerability is essential in successful creativity.

Right now, the world is trying to adapt. While the struggle of the climate crisis, COVID or the new generation of equality enlightenment is real, as brands, creatives and individuals, there is an important lesson for us at the center of a challenging time which is fundamental to success.

We have to abandon our attachment to security in order to thrive.

If something has worked well for you in the past, it does not mean it will in the future. To develop a dependency on security is to risk not growing. This was a truth which I learned during a global research project with entrepreneurs, creatives and even people who had dreams and had yet to achieve them.

The most successful of our participants were those who held growth as a fundamental value. They weren’t afraid to challenge the things that most people use for security, often leaving them exposed. These might have been ‘stable’ jobs, approval from family and friends, religious upbringings or political stances to name a few. While these things may seem unshakable to some, they were in fact challengeable to our maverick respondents.

"We can rely on creativity as a tool, and we should cultivate a willingness to be vulnerable as an attitude."
Aaron McFeely, Strategist, Space

Where Next?

This study was carried out with Glenfiddich, who have recently launched their new creative platform, ‘Where Next?’ created by Space. This truth, that vulnerability is the necessary precondition of meaningful growth, was poetically brought to life in our latest ad by the brand’s icon, the stag.

Each year in the wild, the stag loses its antlers leaving it exposed. This is necessary for the stag to grow stronger antlers and continue its journey. This isn’t just a great visual for the brand’s icon and a metaphor for our consumer insight but is true of the brand’s history too. The brand has succeeded throughout its more than 125-year history because of a willingness to take risks, challenge traditions and continuously rewrite its own rulebook. Glenfiddich never stagnates. Where Next? is a mantra of unending growth.

If you can guarantee one thing, it’s that if you think the world will stay the same just to suit your security, you’re wrong. Change is inevitable and the better you are at being uncomfortable, the less threat change poses to you. As a matter of fact, with the right mindset it presents opportunity.

Creativity is how we can adapt our businesses, ideas, and selves, especially in challenging times, but new solutions shouldn’t be judged on yesterday’s climate. Unfamiliarity is common with new ways of working, bold ideas and new channels and they aren’t always tried and tested. During unstable times the question that people want answering is, “will this work?” The reality is that while we can make educated guesses on which risks to take, we cannot be certain of a new idea’s success. The certainty is that not taking risks to grow is the thing that won’t work.

Why is vulnerability so important?

Vulnerability is essential in successful creativity. This notion has gained popularity over the last few years through the top five TED Talk by Dr. Brené Brown. She proposes that vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity. In a piece of research conducted through 13,000 personal accounts, the unifying condition of any creativity or growth was knowing that you will feel exposed but going with it anyway.

So, why is vulnerability so important?

Embracing vulnerability leads you to navigate the dark, to challenge and adapt. Going with what you know has worked in the past leads to convention and familiar safety.

To put a more personal spin on things, if you aren’t taking risks it’s probably because you’re afraid other people will see you fail.

The fact is, as creatives or businesses we often seek validation before we look for growth. Simply being aware of this is not enough, you have to make active choices to move towards discomfort, be critical and ask why you kill ideas before your peers see them. It is the willingness to face exposure and vulnerability that will result in growth.

This doesn’t mean being unreasonably foolhardy. Picasso famously said, “you must learn the rules like a pro, before you can break them like an artist”. Having a core understanding of who you are and what you offer before dedicating a third of your thought on how you can use that to innovate is just good practice. The key is to not allow the two thirds of security to dominate when the going is good. Risk taking should be part of your values and culture if you want to grow.

No matter how many challenges the world forces upon us, the biggest risk is to never take a risk. We can rely on creativity as a tool, and we should cultivate a willingness to be vulnerable as an attitude. That way we can always answer the infinite question: Where Next?

Key take outs

  • Dependency on security alone takes growth off the agenda.
  • Change is inevitable; getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is a great way to prepare.
  • Have you ever asked yourself why you’re holding back? Fearing people seeing you fail is failing before you try.
  • Creativity & growth requires vulnerability. If you feel exposed, judged and alone in your ideas, that might be because you’re getting it right.

This article originally appeared as a guest piece on Creativebrief.

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