In March we welcomed Anthony Burrill and Chris Barez-Brown to the YCN Library. Both had recently published books and shared their learnings on the process of developing ideas.
For another installment in our Two’s Company event series, we turned our attention to the topic of ideas and where they come from. We heard from two complementary creative thinkers about the processes, sources and rituals that have fuelled their imaginations and, in turn, their professional practice.
First to speak was graphic artist Anthony Burrill. His bold, graphic style and unmistakable wordsmithery have helped a range of organisations, from Apple to Hermès and The New York Times. We've been lucky enough to work with Anthony ourselves, on a series of "You Can Now" type treatments. Anthony had just finished a book on the art of creative problem solving called Make It Now!
Following Anthony was Chris Barez-Brown, Co-Founder of social enterprise Street Wisdom and the renowned creative leadership consultancy Upping Your Elvis. Chris helps people and businesses to reconnect with themselves and find their creative spark. With four books under his belt (all available to borrow from the YCN Lending Library), Chris also regularly writes for publications including The Guardian and Fast Company. His most recent publication Wake Up! was released in December and contains a series of experiments to help people live more conscious and creative lives.
Here’s what we learnt.
Don’t think, feel
Chris asked the audience where they usually get their best ideas. People quickly piped up with, “the shower”, “walking” and “before bed”. These answers are typical, explained Chris, and that no one ever says they get their best ideas while thinking hard at their desk.
This is because creative ideas don’t come from the conscious brain, which is where logical thinking, rationalising and data-based decision making takes place. In fact, creativity comes from our subconscious, where we process intuition and feeling. “My client's’ problem is never that they don’t know how to think. It’s that they don’t know how to feel,” said Chris. “Creativity is all about feeling your way through stuff.”
Anthony added that inspiration can come from the simplest things. He used the example of the inside pattern of an envelope, which is quite beautiful in its intricacy; and emphasised the importance of being present and hyper-aware of your surroundings, so that you don’t miss any tiny inspiring moments. He has always collected pieces of type or printed ephemera in his sketchbooks, such as newspaper clippings and receipts, which has helped inform his graphic sensibility.
Chris also believes creativity is about being present and trying to resist living life on autopilot. Subconscious breakthroughs can be encouraged by simply doing more. “Make things real,” implored Chris, rather than sitting around talking and analysing. It can also help to get outside, or do any other activity that helps you relax and have fun.
Reassuringly for the rest of us, even a talent like Anthony can become anxious when confronted with the blank page. He said the best thing to do is not try too hard. “I try to tap into an energy stream where it almost feels like someone else is doing the thinking for me, and I try not to over-analyse things. My typical approach is to take a brief, get a good grasp of what they’re looking for, and then go away and do something totally different for a while,” he said. “It’s all about 'thinking by not thinking’ and trusting in your subconscious.”
Chris also talked about fear being one of the biggest inhibitors of creativity. “If you really want to become a great creative, it’s about overcoming that fear and doing things in a more visceral way so that you learn to express more,” he said.
Start by trying to become aware of what happens to you when you get nervous. Then you can find ways to help you flow with the feelings and use them positively, rather than see them as a threat. For example, if you tend to have a “freeze” response to anxiety, breathing exercises can help re-balance and center yourself.
Luckily, creativity is something that we can all become better at. Chris explains that it is just like a muscle and that he has seen plenty of evidence to suggest it’s something that can be developed with practice.
Be true to yourself
Anthony stressed that you’ll only do great work when you believe in what you are doing and put yourself into the project. This is when ideas will flow. For this reason, Anthony strives to only work with brands that he is stimulated by and has some kind of connection to. “You don’t want to waste your precious time on something you’re not really interested in,” he said.
His advice is to never try and be something you are not, because you can only be creative when you’re being one hundred percent you. “The more you can trust yourself and trust your intuition the better,” said Anthony.
The best way to find out who you are as a creative is start doing things for yourself. “It’s about making your own work and trying to exist outside of the commercial stuff.” Chris agreed, “I love the idea of spending more time creating for the self as well as for the money.”
Location:72 Rivington St,
London, EC2A 3AY,
Start:22nd March, 2017 at 6:30pm
End:22nd March, 2017 at 8:30pm