How To Boost Your Creativity and Get Great Ideas with Dave Birss (MDE363)

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Minter Dialogue with Dave Birss

Dave Birss is a public speaker, consultant, educator and multiple-time author. He most recently published How To Get Great Ideas (Nicholas Brealey Nov 2018) and also contributed to several books including volume 2 of Fast Forward Files, Changing Perspective (Harriman House, Mar 2020). In this conversation with Dave, we discuss creativity, how to define it, recognize it, stimulate it. What should someone in a business be doing to nourish it in the team, mental health and creativity and Dave’s experience as a trainer on LinkedIn learning.

Please send me your questions — as an audio file if you’d like — to [email protected] Otherwise, below, you’ll find the show notes and, of course, you are invited to comment. If you liked the podcast, please take a moment to go over to iTunes to rate it.

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Music credit: The jingle at the beginning of the show is courtesy of my friend, Pierre Journel, author of the Guitar Channel. And, the new sign-off music is “A Convinced Man,” a song I co-wrote and recorded with Stephanie Singer back in the late 1980s (please excuse the quality of the sound!).


Transcript of interview with Dave Birss

Using Descript AI

[00:00:45] Minter Dial: This week’s interview is with David  Birss. David’s a public speaker, consultant, educator, and author. He published “How to get great ideas” in November, 2018 and also contributed to “Fast Forward Files, volume two, Changing Perspective.” In this conversation with Dave, we discussed creativity, how to define it, recognize it stimulated, what should someone in a business be doing to nourish it in the team, mental health and creativity and Dave’s experience as a trainer on LinkedIn learning.

[00:01:19] David Birss, so great to have you on the show. I got a chance to listen to you on stage at the nudge festival in Exeter, England last year, and I loved what you’re up to. So you’re an author. You are a man who really lives and breathes and promotes creativity. In your words, Dave, how do you describe yourself?

[00:01:40] Dave Birss: I am a chap. I guess everything that I do, I do so many different things. So, write books, do public speaking. I make films, I teach at universities and do, I consult for companies and everything is under the one banner. And it’s about demystifying creativity and innovation because I don’t know of two subjects that’ve got more BS that surround them than those two subjects. I just feel that I have to get rid of so many misunderstandings and lies.

[00:02:09] Minter Dial: I read somewhere, Oh, I know who it was. It was Tom Goodwin said, “I’m not disappointed at the level of creativity that I see out there. I’m disappointed in the level of imagination.”

[00:02:23] Dave Birss: Yes. That’s interesting because I think in the advertising industry, I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding as to what it is. And I think generally in society there is, when people think that somebody creative as somebody who’s crafty, you know, and it’s, it’s missing out on the fact that actually the biggest part of creativity is the thinking part.

[00:02:41] You know, it’s, it’s, it’s the solving the problems. It’s finding inspiration from different places and bringing it together. You can be incredibly good at craftsmanship. The advertising industry should do both. The advertising industry should have fantastic ideas that solve problems and they should be exceptionally well executed. But these are kind of like two different aspects of creativity. And to be honest, they don’t actually appear that commonly in the one individual.

[00:03:07] Minter Dial: Well, sometimes you need to have complimentary skills. You say problem solving. How would you define creativity if you’re talking to a 10 year old?

[00:03:17]Dave Birss: Creativity is the ability of our brains to come up with something new from existing elements. So I think, I don’t know if like 10 year old would get that, but it’s  very often  taking existing elements, bringing them together to create something new.

[00:03:35] Minter Dial: Then how do you define new? Because there are some people that say, you know, no one can reinvent the wheel or everything has been discussed or thought about somewhere before.

[00:03:45] Dave Birss: Right? This is, this is when it gets difficult because new I, I tend to not. Use that term. And in my book I talk about non-obviousness, and that’s a different thing.

[00:03:58]So for example, we have seen in recent years with Tesla, the idea of electric car that felt like a non-obvious thing in that sense, because the obvious thing with a car is to go with petrol. Actually, the first ever car was electric. It wasn’t petrol. So we look back in time. It’s not something that’s new, but it’s something that that went against the obvious.

[00:04:21] Minter Dial: Well, there’s also an element that it’s the right time for this new, because let’s say the electric car back in its time didn’t have the battery storage and the battery production ability that we have today.

[00:04:33] Dave Birss: Oh yeah, absolutely. So, so there are a time can come when, when all the right pieces are in place for that. You’re absolutely right.

[00:04:40] Minter Dial: Yeah. Because when you’re in a creative space, I mean. Oh, wouldn’t it be great if we could have flying sauces not ready for it yet. So to what extent in your work, Dave, do you look at context for new as well? I mean, we can be creative, but if we’re not ready for it, then who gives a toss.

[00:05:00] Dave Birss: Yeah, I mean, the idea of  new, as you’re saying, it’s kind of like a shortcut that people use. It’s something that, there’s probably a word we should avoid. I very often use the word fresh rather than new. So something that feels as if it’s a, it feels new but isn’t necessarily new. Yeah. I, I’ve, no, I don’t know if I’ve answered your question. What was your question there so I can make sure that I nail it?

[00:05:23] Minter Dial: Well, the idea of what is new and how do you qualify new? If you have existing elements and you want to make something new, the question I have is then how do you decide what is new to the extent that the electric car already existed?

[00:05:36] Dave Birss: So, so, yeah. Let’s scrap the word new and let’s use the term non-obvious.

[00:05:41] Minter Dial: I’m sure Rohit Bhargava would appreciate that. A hat tip to Mr Non-obvious Trends.

[00:05:46] Dave Birss: Yeah, I mean, being non-obvious is so, so important. If you think of any art movement that’s come around, it’s come from being non-obvious. It’s actually come from being contrarian, which is a very powerful thing, is to do the opposite of what other people are doing. So if you’re doing the same as what other people are doing, you can’t expect to get different results.

[00:06:03] Minter Dial: Well. So part of that need, you need to know what’s happening. Like when you are, let’s say, a great painter, you need to know that the past, we’ve already done cubism.

[00:06:13] So even if you think it’s great and fun, it’s already been done. You want to build on it, and then you need to know what’s happening today in order to do things differently.

[00:06:20] Dave Birss: Yeah, I absolutely, totally agree. And I think when you, when you look at, when you look at things like cubism. Cubism was, it was a reaction against realism, you know?

[00:06:28] And then when we get to pop art. Pop art was a reaction against the painterliness , the focus on the technique, and, and going the other direction and using manufactured techniques to create art. So it’s about turning things on its head is, I think is a really important things to do. And it’s something that businesses should do more of.

[00:06:44] So I’ve got, a session that I do with businesses, which is about helping them find competitive advantage. And a large part of it is looking at the landscape, seeing what everyone is doing, seeing what all the assumptions are, and then turning some of those assumptions on their heads. And that’s where we find the opportunities.

[00:06:59] That’s where you find that the chances to actually elevate yourself in the market and potentially get a stronger grip on a niche of customers rather than maybe the blunderbuss approach.

[00:07:10] Minter Dial: So I love the idea of trying to uncover the assumptions because. That’s not necessarily going to be written on the manuscript or the idea that they were doing. How do you uncover an assumption, Dave?

[00:07:23] Dave Birss: It’s brilliant. I’ve done this exercise with, with companies and I’ve done it with the oil industry a few years ago, and we were looking at what they call well-capping and abandonment, which is basically when you’ve got oil rigs and they’re no longer efficient and economical for them to be sucking oil up through the, through their big pipe, through the big straw into the ground.

[00:07:44] So they have to cap that and it costs millions to cap, an oil well. So to decommission it is millions. So how could they do that in a way that’s different. So I put them through this exercise, which is we’re going to write down every assumption. We’re going to look at, first of all, here’s the organizational assumptions.

[00:08:02] So it’s like these are the people that need to be involved. This is the approval process. We’ve gone to look at the legal assumptions. Okay, so this is the legislation that we have to, we have to look at. We’re going to look at physics. What our assumptions about physics, what are our assumptions about, the people who are working on it.

[00:08:18] And we wrote this stack of cards each week, each group. So there’s like four or five groups. Each of them created a stack of cards. That was really, I mean, there must’ve been like 50, 60 assumptions and this was only 20 minutes they’d had. And I then got them through, go through all the cars and then on the other side of the card to write an opposite of that assumption.

[00:08:38] And then they switched the cards, run their grips again, and then let’s put them into three piles. The first panel was the original assumption is the most correct. Great. Second pile was the opposite of the assumption is at least as correct. And then the third pile was, the original assumption is currently correct, but it shouldn’t be.

[00:08:57] Minter Dial: Wow.

[00:08:58] Dave Birss: And I was, I thought that the first pile, the original assumption is correct, would be the biggest pile. It was the smallest one. And it was absolutely my own mind blowing it. And that was the first time I’d done that exercise was to the oil industry and have now run at quite a few times. And I’m always blown away that the first pile is usually, not always, but usually the smallest is that the assumptions we have, the original assumption is the most correct.

[00:09:23] And then you realize that the other two piles are basically stacks of opportunity for you to look at that and go right from this understanding that we have, this shouldn’t be correct. What are we going to do about it? So what’s our approach going to be? It’s, it’s, an exercise I’ve come up with years ago and it blows my mind every time I do.

[00:09:39] Minter Dial: That’s brilliant. I love how you explained that, and it does sound like a great tapestry for coming up with new ideas. So you wrote the book, and it’s published in November, 2018 by Nicholas Brealey, “How to get great ideas.” As an author in a creative space, creating a new book, how much were you meta in your knowledge that you were talking about great ideas and yet trying to be different in your approach to writing a book?

[00:10:10] Dave Birss: Yeah. I tried not to think about that because I think you can. I could find myself being sucked down a whirlpool. I think when you’re writing a boo, you have to get to a point where it’s just like, bugger it. I’m just, I’m just happy to put it down. Yeah. I need to get my thoughts out. And so I tried not to think about that too much.

[00:10:25] I had a consideration at the beginning that, because I hate the word creativity, I think the word creativity is more harmful than helpful. Because it’s so many misunderstandings that I was going to do the book without using the word creativity or every time I used it have it crossed out. And, I thought about that as a way of doing it, and then it just felt too forced and it felt as if it felt really quite difficult to come up with words that could replace creativity.

[00:10:54] So instead, I defined what I believed creativity was, as we, as we’ve discussed.

[00:11:00] Minter Dial: So you saw on LinkedIn the identified that there are five top skills that are needed. Ah, this is going to get to, something you know about, of course. One of them was the number one was creativity and the number two was wellbeing.

[00:11:16] Let’s start with the fact that you are now a LinkedIn, accredited, professor or I don’t know what the exact term is. And you’ve got three courses you’re doing applied curiosity. “Leading with intelligent disobedience” and “Practical creativity”, if I’m correct. Tell me what’s been your experience in putting those together and, and executing them with LinkedIn?

[00:11:36] Dave Birss: Yeah, I’ve thought I’ve done two. One of the, the, the one about, where’s the second one you’ve got there are Leading with Intelligent Disobedience. That’s Bob McGannon did that one. He’s, he’s a lovely guy. So it’s, I’ve done, I’ve done two that as a LinkedIn learning instructor, and I’ve got another four that I’m working on for them, and it’s great because we filmed them in California, so it means I get to hang out there, which is nice.

[00:11:57] Yeah, I’m finding that those courses are actually getting quite good feedback from people. Because I’m trying to get rid of the BS. and, and I F I make that very clear up front, and it’s like brainstorms, absolute nonsense. Just, just forget about them. They’re the most unhelpful thing, the lead to adequate ideas if you’re lucky.

[00:12:18] So, and I explain a little bit about that. Yeah. I mean, it’s not only LinkedIn learning. LinkedIn that have done the study finding that creativity’s number one, the World Economic Forum, I think have it in their top two and have had for the last two or three years. And they say that it’s only going to become increasingly important as companies are trying to differentiate themselves and innovate in the market.

[00:12:39] I know in a finding that McKinsey did a study a few years ago that they asked CEOs of companies around the world, Is innovation important to your company? 86% said, yes, innovation is important to the future of our company. And then they said, are you satisfied with your company’s attempts at innovation?

[00:12:54] 6% said yes. So it shows that there’s something broken with innovation, and that’s a lot of my big thing [00:13:00] through all the stuff I do, is to try and find ways of fixing that and helping organizations address that. Yeah.

[00:13:06] Minter Dial: Well, for sure. That goes back to Tom’s statement about the disappointment in the execution of creativity.

[00:13:13] When you’re in a company, you can create a process. Let’s say, let’s forget brainstorming and let’s do your idea of the assumptions, you know, you can come up with a creative idea, but to what extent is mindset the issue in how companies drag to the bottom ideas, shoot them down because I didn’t come up with it.

[00:13:35] And, these other elements that probably quash creativity when they’re not run by Dave Birss?

[00:13:44] Dave Birss: It’s one of the biggest things they have to deal with when I’m consulting with companies is when you’ve got hierarchical system and you’ve got layers within that hierarchy, every single layer of a hierarchy is a layer of fear.

[00:13:55] And people decide that what they have to do is they have to act like lawyers and lawyers are about eliminating [00:14:00] risk and spotting problems, potential problems. Rather than seeing potential and championing potential. So then every single layer, you’ve got fearful people who are scared of the person above them, and they add their own agenda.

[00:14:12] And what happens is the idea gets bashed and bruised and diminished on the way up through the hierarchy. If it ever reaches the decision maker at the top, it’s a surprise. So one of the things that I do is I find ways around back. And I find ways of bypassing that. I mean, Toyota are brilliant at this.

[00:14:30] So every single year they get at least on average across the company, at least three suggestions from every employee across the company. And it’s extraordinary. And the way that they do it is the have suggestion boxes, but it’s for your department. So if you’re a sweeper in a factory, then all the other sweepers together, you’ve got your box where you put your suggestions and these little improvements, not necessarily great big, trying to create the next Airbnb of, of nail polishes.

[00:14:59] But something that is maybe just, you know, it would help here if you had the broom stacks in this way, you know. And what happens is they put their suggestions in on a regular period, a team within that department. Look through the suggestions. And they validate them and they go, right. That’s rubbish. Ooh, there’s something in that. That’s great. And from there it gets passed directly up to the decision maker and the decision makers say “yes.”

[00:15:25] Minter Dial: So where does remuneration, reward, recognition sit in that? Because if I, if I wrote down a three page. Idea about how we should sweep differently and the answer is that’s rubbish. Maybe I’m not going to do it next year. Boy, it didn’t really do me any good. How do you create a system and a mindset and a culture where there’s an ongoing fount of incoming ideas?

[00:15:53] Dave Birss: Well that’s something I love the way they do it in Toyota. It’s actually in your contract. That you have to be constantly coming up with ideas for improvements in your contracts.

[00:16:01] So, so it’s not something that’s negotiable. As well as that the people at the top of the company go down and speak to the people, everyone in the company. So the, the leaders are seen throughout the company. I think that’s really important. But I find working in creative industries, and I’ve, I’ve worked in, as well as advertising, design, broadcast, music, film, I’ve, I found that recognition is absolutely vital. And it’s better than the words. So the traditional thing for companies to do is to say, come up with an idea. We’ve got a 500 pound voucher for whatever, or you know, you can win a holiday. And what happens when you try to motivate people to think differently is that actually works against you because when you have something of financial worth as a reward, people go from A to B as quickly as possible.

[00:16:52] That’s not what you want to do. When you want people to think, come up with ideas, you want them to explore A, F, N, L, X. B. You want them to, to get them moving around in different places, to explore, explore the landscape. And the way you do that is through recognition, not reward. And that’s why the creative industries have award shows, because that’s a form of recognition and that forces people to try harder.

[00:17:20] And to be going for what is a better idea rather than being, it’s about being effective rather than efficient.

[00:17:27] Minter Dial: Well, so I want to get that in a second, but w when we started off talking, Dave, we were talking about how there are two mindsets. There’s the one of, I’m a creative, the other one’s the executor and it’s hard to have both.

[00:17:36] And at some level the creative is the A to B to G to Z and back. And the linear mindset A, B, C, D is the one who executes. Do you agree with?

[00:17:47] Dave Birss: I totally agree. And I, it’s absolutely vital. I did debate a few years ago, in the advertising industry. I’m out of the advertising industry now, but over for 10 years, but when I was in the industry, I had a debate, which was about, generalists versus specialists. And I believe that generalist is more important because it’s important that we have as much as broad input as possible so that we can, we’ve got more to draw on when it comes to solving problems

[00:18:15] Minter Dial: where we can say diversity is a, another angle to the same story?

[00:18:18] Dave Birss: Absolutely. I, ah, I’m frustrated with the corporate, route for diversity about trying to get. As many people that that look different or have different number of limbs or, or, or, balancing the sexes into the workplace and think that they’ve done the job. And I talk about this in the book is that, is that diversity is only the first step.

[00:18:38] And I’m not seeing companies talk about the second step, which is what I call divergency. And that’s the ability of an organization to embrace that difference rather than to take somebody who’s different, use the cookie cutter mold and basically turn them into a white middle class, university educated individual, rather than somebody who’s got all this beautiful difference that they can bring.

[00:18:58] And companies eliminate the difference. And the difference is, is the strength. And, and the companies that understand how to embrace that difference, which requires more managerial effort, I’ve got to say.

[00:19:10] Minter Dial: Sure.

[00:19:11] Dave Birss: The companies understand the importance of that and the importance of putting that effort in are the ones who will really benefit from it.

[00:19:17] Minter Dial: So I’m going to give you a list of things that I think kill creativity in an organization, and you’re going to have to pick. Your selection out of them. So, efficiency, you mentioned before, performance, lack of time, ego, and the last one, fear.

[00:19:38] Dave Birss: Yes.

[00:19:39] Minter Dial: Of that list, which stands on top. And, and do you ha be number two and three.

[00:19:45] Dave Birss: Well, well, fear is the big thing that kills creativity and, and fear in so many different ways. I think anyone, you know, the people that say, Oh, no, no, not me. I’m not creative. It’s because they’ve got fear of expressing themselves or looking foolish in front of their colleagues, or a fear of not being able to come up with an idea when somebody is clicking the fingers and going, come on ideas.

[00:20:03]So the fear is always the thing that, that stops. And in fact, it happened to me in my career early on in my career. I moved from being an art director to a copywriter. And I got…

[00:20:15] Minter Dial: …That’s a big difference!

[00:20:16] Dave Birss: Yeah. I got an art director to come in and work with me, and this guy had won awards and he seems like, Oh wow, this guy’s amazing.

[00:20:22] He came in and I immediately knew it was a mistake when we worked in our first brief and he starts doing cool ideas and I blurt something out and he goes, he laughs at me. He goes, that’s stupid. Don’t be an idiot. Right. And keep going. Another idea, more ideas now, like, as I said something else, he’s like, Oh, right, right.

[00:20:41] That’s rubbish. What, what were this.  actually, I think that that’s quite good. Well, should we work with that? And he said, “no, that was rubbish. Your judgment is awful.” Come on. I did. And so this went on that I’ve just been constantly attacked from the first hour I was working with them.

[00:20:55] Minter Dial: Can’t wait to have him in a brainstorming session.

[00:20:57] Dave Birss: Oh geez. I ended up, I get sacked but a month later I get sacked because I couldn’t do my job anymore. I’d got to this point where I was so scared to express. An idea that it couldn’t come up with an idea, and I thought that he’d broken my brain because I’d never felt like this before. I could not actually come up with an idea.

[00:21:16] I get fired on the Friday morning. On the Friday afternoon, I went to see another creative director with my portfolio and the desperate attempt to actually sit, stay in the industry, and the guy liked my portfolio and he said, look, can I test you? Just spend an hour. I’ll give you a brief. I just want to see it was that great?

[00:21:32] Okay. Give me the brief, give me two briefs. And he said, right, you get an hour. I want some ideas on that. And I drew up the ideas. So I art directed them. I sketch them up and they wrote the copy for them because I can write the both and give my selection for each brief in an hour and he’s could not believe what I had done in the time.

[00:21:51] And I went from this point of having been everything being dammed up and me not being able to let anything out to suddenly the dam Gates were open and I felt free again. I felt myself again, and that guy totally changed my career because the faith that he had in me totally transformed me from having been broken to no being liberated again.

[00:22:13] So fear is, I found it personally. I’ve been through it, so I understand when other people are scared.

[00:22:18] Minter Dial: I think there’s also the issue of fear above and the inability to accept, I’m fearful that this guy is going to replace me, or that also has a quashing effect. I mean, outside of this, arsehole, who you were dealing with. There’s that notion of, of not wanting to let the other one underneath us breathe.

[00:22:34] Dave Birss: Yeah. Oh, there’s so much of that when you’ve got David Ogilvy action. Oh, it makes it sense if I’m obsessed with advertising, it’s just, I’m not, it’s just that that’s been a lot of my input for 20 years of my life. But David Ogilvy said that if you hire a company of people who have got less skills than you, you know that that’s.

[00:22:53] Because you’re afraid of them elevating themselves, then you’re going to create small company. So it has whole things. If you create [00:23:00] a company, if you, if you hire dwarves, you end up with a small company. If you hire people who are better than you, end up with a company of giants. It was kind of a, the feel of it, and I think still a very, very true thing.

[00:23:12] Minter Dial: There’s a term we haven’t used yet, but I’m, I just was interested in, I wanted to look at your expression on your face as I say it: when somebody says, “think out of the box!” How do you react?

[00:23:21] Dave Birss: Oh, could you see my eyes rolling there? I mean, it’s a Holy crap. I, yeah, I just, it’s a cliche and I find that I tried, I always tried to avoid cliches because they’re obvious and I’m always trying to go for the known obvious, I guess.

[00:23:33] And that’s so, so, so that’s the reason why I kind of balk at it. There is a truth behind it, but, we have to watch what the boxes, because. It’s actually about thinking outside other people’s boxes. It’s your colleagues, where they think the limitations are…

[00:23:50] Minter Dial: The assumptions.

[00:23:51] Dave Birss: Yeah. Their assumptions. And it’s, and you have to, that’s why people are scared because they know that if they think outside their colleagues boxes, that’s when they’re going to have problems. but you had your list there. there was one that I want to say is, I think that time sheets, and this efficiency thing of, of making sure that people are utilized 93% and all this kind of nonsense.

[00:24:18] I think that that’s been one of the biggest poisons in business. I think that, there’s sort of a get shit done movement, I think is a problem. I think that this, this approach that you’re trying to fit in so much in a certain amount of time has led to doing rather than thinking, and I think thinking is where the power is. Doing is commoditizable and I fear for people who get trapped into this timesheet system, which is totally focused on doing.

[00:24:47] It’s totally focused on, on, on how many keystrokes you can do in an hour. Yeah. so, so. I think that we’ve had a terrible, terrible problem of, efficiency rather than effectiveness. And I think that that is something that kills ideas and organizations absolutely smothers people so that they’ve not got the time, the freedom, the flexibility or the mental space to come up with ideas that are going to be of any value to the company.

[00:25:17] Minter Dial: If LinkedIn and these other organizations are mentioning creativity as being such a sought after skill, soft skill in business. What, how much do you think that can be driven by the scare of AI? Where we say that creativity is one of the human things that AI will never do?

[00:25:40] Dave Birss: I mean, I don’t agree that, that, I think that AI can do forms of creativity.

[00:25:45] So I’m not a believer that’s a purely human trait. Because creativity isn’t one thing. This is one big misunderstanding we have that creativity is a skill is one thing that you’re able to tick this box and see this person’s creative. This person isn’t, there are  so many facets of creativity.

[00:26:02] It’s a portfolio of skills that go all the way through from the ability to find new information, seek information out, the ability to remember information. The ability to synthesize that information and find a use for it. So being able to turn that into an analogy that you can learn from and apply to this, the ability to then sort of generate ideas, but combining elements, the ability to take that and refine it.

[00:26:26] All these are all different skills, totally different skills. So there are parts of it that computers are obviously far better than humans at. So particularly when it comes to storing information that is actually a creative skill. Because without that skill, we cannot come up with ideas. And one of the problems that we have is that there’s something called the Google effect so that when people go online, they start typing and the do a search and then they don’t remember what they’ve searched.

[00:26:54] They don’t remember the results. Because with the Google effect means that if it is stored on a computer or on an internet, you don’t need to remember it because you can search for it later. That means that it’s not in your head, which means that it can’t help you when you’re trying to come up with ideas.

[00:27:11] So technology can actually have a, a bad effect on humans and is having a bad effect on humans, I believe. I believe that, that as humans are outsourcing their memories, their processing power, and potentially their decision making through AI, algorithms that weakens our brain. And we know that the stuff that we don’t use in our brain gets pruned.

[00:27:33] So what does that say for the future of humanity? If these really, really important parts of, of human intellect are actually going to diminish? I have a concern about that. but I, I don’t think that, I don’t think that people will migrate towards creative stuff as long as organizations run the way they currently run, which is this hierarchical thing with fear that’s more focused on process.

[00:28:01]Minter Dial: When you were mentioning the chap on the Friday afternoon who salvaged  you,if you will, one thing stuck out, which is you, he told you to do something creative and then you had to explain it. So talking about skills, one of my observations is your ability to contextualize a creative output so that you get it, seems to be an extremely important skill, especially in business, because you know, let’s say if I draw a pink dot and, you know, Picasso does a pig pink dot, his probably looks more valuable because the context is he did it. If you can present the context around it, how much do you think that presentation of the context around your creative idea is an invaluable skill for creatives?

[00:28:46] Dave Birss: Oh, hugely. In fact, that’s one of the courses that I’m going to be doing for our LinkedIn Learning this year, which is how to present your ideas in a way that gives them the best chance of success. So the thing is that if you have an idea and you set up an organization to get fantastic ideas of your employees, yet you have bad judgment of the top that kills the ideas, then you may as well not have had the ideas in the first place. All of that other effort has gone to waste.

[00:29:16] And people in business don’t know how to judge. They really don’t. They don’t. I explain to companies, I do workshops on judgment explain to people in business the neuroscience of judgment, and we tend to think that all our thinking is done in the meatball on top of our necks. But actually our second brain, it’s not what you’d think a man’s second brain would be, but it’s a few inches higher.

[00:29:41] It’s our gut and our gut has got more neurons in it than a hamster has in its entire body. And. What it deals with is threat. So anything that your brain looks at and goes, Oh, that doesn’t fit into my existing understanding, activates this, which means that. If it’s something…

[00:30:02] Minter Dial: This being the gut.

[00:30:03] Dave Birss: Yeah, the gut. Yes. Sorry, that’s bad for radio and podcasts. I pointed at my stomach. I’m sorry about that. I need to, I need subtitles for this. so imagination socio, your, your, your gut activates. And, and of course, that’s where the fight and flight movement, it releases all sorts of chemicals into our systems. Give us the energy to, to get away from stuff.

[00:30:24] And our bodies of course, were designed in this 300-350,000 years or so that humans have been around according to currently what anthropologists believe now, that we were designed to be running from wild beasts. So we see something that doesn’t fit in with our understanding, our comfort of the situation. And it’s a wolf that’s coming towards us. We are not going to say right, Ogg. what do you think we should do? Hm? Hello. If we climb this tree, yeah, but if you climb the tree, the wheels are going to stay there and when we’re going to get hungry. And you know, maybe, all right. What about if we dug a hole?

[00:31:00] No, no. You’re just gonna run. You’re gonna run to the safety of where everyone else is.

[00:31:04] Minter Dial: Hopefully  you can run faster than the person beside you.

[00:31:07] Dave Birss: And, and the office environment has really only been around for about three or four generations. We’ve not evolved for it. And there still are these low level risks. And in fact, there’s probably a higher. Constant background level radiation of risk in the office than there ever was on the prairies. So in the office, it’s not great for people because of that level of risk that’s constantly there, which means that people are in that blinkered state because our gut reacts in that way. At this point, dear listener, I’m putting my hands beside my eyes as if they’re blinkers for a heart. and this creates a sense of judgment that when people feel butterflies in their stomach, they automatically put their hand up and say, no, but if there’s something that’s new and valuable is also going to break your paradigm.

[00:31:56] It’s also going to be out with your current understanding. It’s also going to have lots of questions about what this went wrong? How would we actually do this? All of these things that will make your gut respond. That means if you all was just, when your gut responds that you put your hand up and say no, that means you’re saying no to the right stuff as well.

[00:32:12] And this context, this giving people the context, I show companies how with it when they’re doing creative projects or innovation projects, how to set criteria at the very beginning. So it helps us judge, using wise criteria at the end, and these criteria by setting them at the beginning. The help us all the way through the process.

[00:32:33] And then when it comes to presenting them, we’re able to say these are the criteria we all agreed to, we all agreed to at the beginning. And here’s how they tick that off. And what you’re doing is you’re taking the context, the understanding of the problem, and then you’re showing the client how to judge by giving them the criteria again.

[00:32:49] And then you show your work. And it’s been working for a lot of the companies I’ve been working for.

[00:32:54] Minter Dial: So once you have that information, sometimes the guts good, sometimes it gets not so good. I want to finish on Dave on just one last area, which comes from my observation, my silly thought process that says that when I observe a creative artist, typically the blues come to mind.

[00:33:14] And if the survey, the LinkedIn showed that wellbeing is number two criteria soft skill to promote in companies, what’s your relationship with mental health? Not wellbeing, mental health with creativity. Because I feel somehow that knowing the blues is how you can be creative, but tell me differently.

[00:33:38] Dave Birss: You’re a fair fellow guitarist. I mean, we both, we both play the blues. But, yeah,to me it’s not about mental health. It’s about difference. And the thing is that the people, when we look at artists and we go, well, Vanguard was, he was crazy and he cut off his ear and these people suffered from depression and these, these people who are obsessive compulsive and all the rest, whatever, we want to sort of pin on them.

[00:34:01] Yeah. It’s the people who do things that are more creative, I guess. And  as an industry, they choose or whatever, I feel that these are people who have difficulty conforming, they’ve got difficulty fitting in with this idea of a norm. I certainly do. I, I’ve got a real problem with that, so I, I cannot do the, the shirt and tie and suit thing.

[00:34:24] I’ve never been able to feel comfortable in that idea, that idea of conforming and looking at other people and acting like other people with something that I could not do. Therefore, all it was left for me to do because I was on the periphery, was to do stuff that was more in the creative industries. So I think that difference is what it’s all about.

[00:34:44] And as somebody who’s been bipolar, so in my twenties, I was bipolar and, and I went into that. It was transformative and a beautiful experience for me, so I don’t, don’t ever feel sorry for me having gone through that, it was the thing that made me what I am.

[00:34:59] Minter Dial: You wouldn’t wish it on people too?

[00:35:02] Dave Birss: You know, no, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. However, if you ask most people who’ve had bipolarism “would you want me to take it away?” most of them would say “no,” because the mania is so beautiful. You think in three dimensions you, you feel like…

[00:35:16] Minter Dial: It sounds like LSD?

[00:35:17] Dave Birss: It does. Yeah. Yeah. I actually think that there’s a, there’s a real closeness there. I think that you, you feel like a God because you are a God, your brain operates in a way that is non-mortal, you know, we’re, I think the thing when people talk about LSD is the feel that a veil has been lifted and they feel there’s another dimension there that could be the, tend to define a spiritual book can be seen as trans, transgressing the limits of time and space and things like which is a beautiful thing.

[00:35:46] I’ve never taken LSD, but I’m up for it.

[00:35:49] Minter Dial: But watch this space!.

[00:35:51] Dave Birss: Yeah. Wow. Psychedelic space here. It’s actually, it’s a really good book on this. Michael Pollan wrote a really good book about, about psychedelics. I highly recommend it

[00:36:00] Minter Dial: Change Your Mind!

[00:36:00] Dave Birss: And totally change your, totally change the way you think about it and the way you see drugs, all drugs as bad things. You can see that there’s huge positives in it.

[00:36:09] Minter Dial: How to change your mind.

[00:36:10] Dave Birss: Yeah. Yeah. Brilliant book. But for me in bipolarism, we know when I went into these manic states, It. It was incredible. I was having more than one thought at a time. I would have energy that would last for days. I’d be writing poetry, I’d be writing songs, I’d be painting.

[00:36:25] I just had to have output in some way because my brain just was just all over the place. It was amazing, and I needed to get it out of me and I went into that as somebody who was such a procrastinator, somebody who didn’t have huge ambition. And because I went through that and felt that I could change the world, I came out of it feeling I could change the world and I still believe I can.

[00:36:49] Minter Dial: It sounded like you intentionally went into it. How did it come about?

[00:36:54] Dave Birss: No, it wasn’t intentional at all. I was actually working as a session musician at the time, so it was, I was doing a lot of touring and, and, I was on a ferry coming back from, from Northern Ireland when I had my first episode.

[00:37:07] And on this ferry. I was reading “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” which is actually about a person who goes through a bit of a breakdown. And, I just wanted to get up in my seat and just tell everyone how important it is to just love everyone. And you know, this incredibly sort of trippy, big love experience that, that I could see the connectedness. I had this pulled back image where I could see the world really clearly.

[00:37:33] Minter Dial: These are all things one might do in a trip, which is quite extraordinary the way you describe it.

[00:37:39] Dave Birss: Yeah, I mean it was very much, I totally agree. I think, I think it was very close to having a trip and I in that book, because it was all, I had I that book and a pencil there in the margins of that book, I just wrote down all this stuff that was coming to me and in that experience, that would be in 1992 I invented Facebook. I actually did, I wrote down this idea of a network of people using this new thing called the internet, and it was, I look back and it’s like, geez, that is Facebook. That is Facebook right there.

[00:38:11] Minter Dial: Sign it! So Dave, in terms of dealing with mental health and creativity and organization, do you have any final words on how to manage that? Because you know, maybe you’re in an industry that attracts people who are non-conformists and, and have that creative bug. Yet in a business, we have to bring the number in. At the end of the month, we have processes, we have reporting to shareholders and all this. So that kind of pressure that I was mentioning before, my laundry list of things that can hurt creativity. What would be your word on how to manage mental health and creativity in a corporate environment?

[00:38:52] Dave Birss: It’s hard when more and more of the creative industries are trying to go for this productivity thing. And I suffered from it just before I quit the industry in 2010. That was my last job was all about the productivity. And when you’re doing that, I think it’s really bad for your mental health as well, because you need the space. You also need the inputs. You need to have the input. If you want to have the output. And if you’re not, get the time to get the input, you start becoming derivative, you start getting caught in ruts, and that’s what happens a lot.

[00:39:20] And, wahoo, yeah. So, when you’re, in that space, I think it’s really important to actually make time for yourself, to give yourself the input to give yourself space. A lot of people in the creative industry since I quit, have come to me and said that they don’t feel fulfilled in their job anymore because it’s just, we want you to do stuff, do stuff, do stuff.

[00:39:44] It’s all this productivity stuff. Again, this productivity poison. and I tell them to take up a hobby to set themselves a project, to do something outside that’s going to fulfill them. If their day job isn’t fulfilling them, they have to find some form of fulfillment outside. And I’m just sitting in watching Netflix doesn’t necessarily do that. You have to have something where you feel as if you’re contributing in some way more.

[00:40:10] Minter Dial: My tack on that, Dave, is to add meaningfulness into your day. So if that’s sometimes listening to a great rendition of Traviata or, or I’m doing a dental or a fiddle that you really enjoy that brings you some kind of enjoyment or something that’s meaningful to you, then that’s how you can compensate. But ideally, as an organization, we ought to be taking more pains to induce some more meaningfulness into what we’re doing. So for an advertising agency where all we’re doing are helping a soap manufacturer sell more spuds. Besides that, how do you add more meaningfulness into it? Cause just making clean bods just doesn’t cut it.

[00:40:53] Dave Birss: Well, it used to be before the productivity poison really took root. It used to be in agencies that I was in. We would have projects that we would collectively do and these projects could be pro bono things, doing things for charities. there is one of the things that I, help to do. An Ogilvy, one of my copywriters came to me who was fantastic, who this idea of taking the skills of the agency and taking them out into the community.

[00:41:17] And I just loved that. so I managed to get the board to give me permission to go ahead and do this, and we started up a popup shop, that this be, 13 years ago or something like that. So we started a popup shop. Where members of the agency would go and people from the community who had businesses would come and ask for advice, and it made people feel as if they were achieving something.

[00:41:38] All the staff who went in that came back feeling as if they had a renewed sense of purpose and saw the importance in the skills that they could actually offer people because they didn’t get that from their day job.

[00:41:48] Minter Dial: It reminds me of Google’s 20% off. You need to introduce those periods of air. To aerate, to inform, to explore, and then you’re going to come back and you do so much better.

[00:42:02] Dave Birss: Oh, absolutely. I mean, the Stefan Sagmeister is every eight years or something. It might even be less than that. He shuts down the agency for one year, totally shuts down the agency for a year, and everyone goes off. And in that year, they go and do projects and those projects feed them for the next seven years. And I think that that’s phenomenal.

[00:42:21] Minter Dial: And that’s an outside of the box idea.

[00:42:23] Dave Birss: Yeah, and that’s something that I recommend. There’s something that I nearly did in an agency a few years ago, and it was making sure that every single creative, particularly cause folks in my department did something voluntary, worked someplace else one day a month.

[00:42:40] So one day a month they had to go and be a hospital porter or work in a cancer research shop. Go and sort of pick fruit in the field, do something that’s different; assist a plumber because that’s feeding their mind and getting them to understand their audiences, audiences, it gives them context for what they’re doing. And for a lot of that stuff, it can give them meaning, purpose, or feel that they’re actually doing something, improving themselves, helping society and communities. Cause as much as I’m an atheist. I, I have a problem with the decline of the church because the church give community. And support networks.

[00:43:13] And I feel that that’s one of the things that’s leading to isolation and people and loneliness and depression and all of that stuff. So, so I, I feel as if we need to be doing something to build community back up again. And that’s why there’s the popup shop idea that we did was all about the community.

[00:43:29] I think that’s an important thing to focus on. That’s a great way to finish, Dave. So how can anybody find about including your last project with a Fast Forward Future, and your books and, and track down what you’re up to, read your writings and all that? What’s the best way? I think the best way to spell my name correctly.

[00:43:45] so, so my, my surname, I’m, I’m always Dave on online. And my surname is bursts, which is, the police would say Bravo, India, Romeo Sierra, Sierra, BIRSS. if you Google me, you’ll just find me. You’ll find my site, davebirss.com you’ll find me on LinkedIn. Please connect with me. I’d love to, I’d love to have a conversation with you because it’s all about community.

[00:44:05] Minter Dial: Thank you so much, Dave.

[00:44:06] Dave Birss: Thank you.

[00:44:10] Minter Dial: Thanks for having listened to this recording of the to dialogue show. You’ll find the show notes and other blog posts on Minter, dial.com if you enjoyed the show, please head over to iTunes to give a rating and review and to finish. Here’s a song I wrote with Stephanie singer, A Convinced Man.

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