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Why No Risk = No Creativity


No more hiding behind financial crises, says Laura Swinton

Why No Risk = No Creativity

Creativity, it’s a risky business. Doing something that’s never been attempted before inevitably means heading into the unknown. You can’t be sure of success until a project is underway. As cat lover and Anglo-convert T.S. Eliot put it “Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go”. The idea that truly great creative is formed in the crucible of chance and cojones isn’t exactly new, but it’s been on my mind quite a bit this week thanks to a visit with 4Creative.

On Friday, I headed over to the Channel 4 HQ in London’s Victoria to meet with Chris Bovill and John Allison, who head up the broadcaster’s in-house agency 4Creative. The conversation was pretty broad-ranging (giant fists, tortoises, glory holes, the usual really) but what really stuck with me was the conversation about the channel’s ‘Born Risky’ campaign. Innovation, creativity and experimentation have been part of Channel 4’s remit since its inception – they’re built into its DNA. As such the creative team were charged with communicating that with the viewing public and also C4 employees. Once the boys started talking about how the ‘Born Risky’ ethos filters into everything they do, how they are pushed to take things further, how they are able to play with risk in different ways… well the enthusiasm was palpable. This is what creatives look like when they’re let off the leash. 

It’s not that John and Chris are strangers to creative risk-taking – they’re the creative team behind the much-loved Skoda Cake spot. I had no idea that prior to shooting the ad, there had been no practice run. There was no guarantee that the edible car was even possible, that it wouldn’t crumble into a heap as marzipan layers were piled atop rocky road panels laid across sponge cakes. The sensible, risk-free thing to do would have been to create the whole thing in CG… but instead the production team channelled their inner domestic gods and goddesses to whip the car together for real. And it worked. It would have been a lovely animation or miniature model, no doubt, but instead the creative, clients and production held hands, closed their eyes and took a jump into the unknown. And the end result is so much more than just ‘lovely’. It’s brilliant.

Even the most rigorously planned project carries an element of risk – but while that might leave the outside chance of calamity it also allows wiggle room for serendipity. Creativity is so much more than a product to sell. It’s not just what happens at the end of a process. It IS the process. The growing desire for certainty among clients  (and the increasing willingness of among some accounts teams to appease them).

Last week I head two very different conversations with two directors who were in very different psychological places following the completion of their most recent projects. One enthused about the spontaneity and unexpected magic to emerge from his highly choreographed, set pieces. It was, he said, all about being flexible, responding creatively moment-to-moment… all very Daoist. The other director had been pushed to very edge of his expansive patience as every decision was subjected to tortured deliberation from an unwieldy hierarchy risk-averse committee. Poor bloke.

We all know directors who have been pre-prodded to death, collateral damage in the race to reduce risk, but fear of the unknown hampers all parts of the industry. Sure that young filmmaker might be the next Dougal Wilson, but he’s never shot a dishwasher before so we’ll stick with the old dude we usually use. We could take a chance on this hungry young graduate, but instead we’ll insist they have experience, shutting the industry off to anyone who can’t afford the merry-go-round of unpaid internships. 

As luck would have it, just as I sat down to write this article LBB's Peach pulled out the 'Game of Chance' CV she had created when she was freshly graduated and new to London...

Over the past few years, fear and conservatism seem to have taken over from risk and creativity – the inevitable result of recession, perhaps. But now new growth is starting to emerge – according to a few people I’ve spoken to even in Spain, one of the countries that suffered the most dramatically, is undergoing a bit of a comeback. The financial crisis can no longer be used as an excuse. 

I’m not advocating taking a punt on blind chance – unless the potential pay-off is too big to ignore – but the freedom to react to unexpected opportunities and the progress that’s made when someone manages to pull off something utterly novel, make risk – calculated or otherwise – creativity’s constant, antagonistic companion. The Loki to creativity’s Thor, if you will.

And, since this week saw France celebrate Bastille Day, I’ll leave you with a thought from Henri Matisse: “la créativité prend du courage”.

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LBB Editorial, Wed, 16 Jul 2014 16:51:27 GMT