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Creativity Squared: Looking for the ‘Why’ with Jared Wicker and Elaine Li



The creative duo from Howatson + Company on the power of the Notes function on their phones and the importance of insight in execution

Creativity Squared: Looking for the ‘Why’ with Jared Wicker and Elaine Li

Jared and Elaine are an award-winning creative team with almost a decade of experience across a handful of countries, making weird and wonderful things. Things like helping people dream about beer volcanos for Coors, raising money for Red Cross with a giant burnt Xmas tree, designing chicken-flavoured nail polish for KFC, and helping sassy seniors brag about their vaginas for Carefree.
In the five short months they’ve been at Howatson+Company, their work has only gotten more curious –  putting an internet wormhole into a book to hijack the iPhone launch, writing a love song to the internet for Belong, and even blowing up giant Pinterest boards in the outback for a personal loans company.

In her spare time, Elaine is a photography influencer on Instagram at @lielaine, and has recently gotten in to the world of NFT’s. In his spare time, Jared eats too many burritos.


What kind of creative person are you?

Jared> A very distracted one. The answer to this question changes day to day to day, based on whatever weird impulse springs into my head. One day, I’m making fake fail videos, the next Covid Christmas cards or Insta accounts based on one dumb joke. That’s the cool thing about this job. You’re taught to think in a million different ways.

But it doesn’t happen by chance. I’m also a very disciplined creative person. I go for runs, long walks and do my best to give my brain space to be weird and out there.

Which means I’m usually the one throwing weird shit at Elaine, and she’s the one methodically breaking down why most of it is shit. She gives my distracted creative energy some purpose.
Elaine> Untrue. Jared’s creative energy is exactly what every creative needs. I wish I had a weird brain like his. Being a Capricorn I tend to be quite logical and practical. I don’t think my brain is creative by nature, but I’ve always enjoyed doing artsy things like photography and spending hours ‘designing’ my myspace and xanga pages. (This was way back in the day of course.) 


How do you judge the creativity of a piece of work?
Jared> The most beautiful ideas always have a why. At least in our line of work. A reason can make even the most ridiculous or intergalactically stupid ideas (which are kind of our thing)... kind of beautiful. 
Elaine> A good piece of advertising work needs to have just as good insight as the execution. You can make the most beautiful piece of work, but if it lacks insight, it’s not gonna stick.
Jared> I call it the “poetry” of an idea. Does it sing with purpose? Great. Now we have permission to make it weird. The industry is doing some pretty awesome things right now. But I often think it does a lot of looking inward. The wider creative industry is exploding with tools like TikTok and meme communities giving everyone permission to make things. It’s just what you do now. Which is pretty exciting.  
Elaine> Totally. I freakin’ love TikTok. Not because it’s another social platform for advertisers, but because there’s so much creativity on there from everyday people.


Tell us about how you like to make creative work
Jared> I have ADHD, which means it takes sheer force of will to just get my head around a brief. So I usually go on a looooong walk to run to let it sit with me. And I write down any and every thought I can. The “notes” section in my phone is a dark and chaotic antechamber for tens of thousands of them. After that, Elaine and I get together and share every dumb thought we had. There are a lot of them.

So if we run out of actual good ideas... we do a thing where we take the dumbest ideas and try our best to make it work. Usually locked in a room for the night with a bottle of wine. Delirium can be surprisingly helpful. 
Elaine> I usually start with dissecting the brief as much as I can, and ask lots of questions. I’d write down any first thoughts, dive into some research, then start brainstorming. Like Jared, the key is to write down any and all kinds of thoughts. The great thing about being in a partnership is that no matter what stupid idea you have, it can always spark something smart in your partner’s brain. Which might actually lead to making it real.
In the past, I’ve tried all kinds of brainstorming tools, like mind maps and graphs and whatnot. But I always come back to Notes on my phone. It’s just super easy.


What external factors have shaped you and what can make or break a creative project?
Jared> I’ve always known that I wanted to make things, but I never had the patience to get good at anything. So I made shitty things every single chance I could. In high school, for extra credit, I wrote a sexual love song to Abraham Lincoln and performed it in class on a poorly tuned guitar. In college, I made ridiculous invitations to my house parties on iMovie, that usually involved bad costumes and binge drinking. I learned early on that I’m not a fine artist, but I’m pretty good at making people see the world in new ways.

It’s important to realise what you’re not good at, and not let ego get in the way. That’s usually what breaks an idea. A culture that values know-it-all-ness and expertise instead of fun honesty where you’re all trying to figure it out together. 
Elaine> I grew up in Hong Kong and went to a local school with a “Teaching to the test” curriculum. Meaning you go to school to do well in exams, not necessarily actually learn things. I think because school was so rigid, I wanted to find ways to escape. Creating things became an outlet for me. I started photography at the age of 12, and took photos of whatever I found interesting. It was a hobby I enjoyed doing (and am still doing), which actually helped me become more observant of people and places. In a weird way it has also made me notice small details and pick up random insights which is helpful when we’re working on an ad campaign.

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Howatson+Company, Wed, 10 Nov 2021 14:23:00 GMT