Insight article

A picture paints a thousand words: give creativity some slack

The other day someone relatively unfamiliar with our approach suggested that he wasn’t sure that people with an engineering, technical or analytical mindset would ‘get’ the creative aspect of our work. It might, after all, be deemed ‘fluffy’.

Deep, inner sigh duly heaved.

Those who know us well will understand that the strategic narratives we create for our clients are not just expressed in words. What makes us quite different from other management consultancies is the tremendous emphasis and importance we place on creativity. Every programme we deliver and every Story we construct carries with it a powerful visual identity that forms the basis of an enduring visual campaign. These visual ‘assets’ are not there simply to provide comms teams with material to link future messages back to the master narrative (although this is of course extremely useful). They are there to help bring a Story to life in a way that words alone rarely do. Creativity lies at the heart of every storytelling programme. It’s the emotional soul that drives it and the lens through which people engage with it.

At its most basic level, the visual treatment of the storytelling programme helps people understand the core message of the Story in a simple and memorable way. A picture can convey complex data simply and instantly. Yet it’s more than just a graphic or visual identity. We spend a good deal of time in identifying a ‘big creative idea’ which encapsulates the single, essential message of the Story and captures the emotion of it, moving the audience to find connections between their own experiences and the organisation’s ambition for the future. Whether through film, animation, illustration or photography, expressed as a metaphor or real-life imagery, the creative campaign provides an emotional heartbeat which gives a narrative legs and inspires people far beyond just a purely rational response.

As for that ‘techy’ audience, it’s a complete myth that creativity has no place in their world. You don’t have to be a ‘creative’ type to appreciate creativity. We routinely watch clients from every type of organisation (accountancy and law firms to telecoms, banking and technology companies included) go through the process of aligning behind a set of words, which can be a cathartic moment in itself. Big tick there. Yet it’s when they see the Story in all its technicoloured glory, perhaps supported by a spine-tingling film, that they really ‘get’ the power of the creativity. It’s emotional. Hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck kind of emotional. We’ve watched grown men cry – individuals who are deeply proud of their work and experience an emotional wake-up call when they realise the significance of the contribution they are making. Yup, even leaders from a pharmaceutical R&D client organisation experienced a few wobbling lips when it all came together. Such is the creative magic that we sprinkle.

I defy anyone who says that telecoms engineers or financial analysts do not point at pictures when reading their toddler a bedtime story. Or remember the images of one of their favourite books as a child.  Or go to the cinema. Or appreciate photography or other types of art. Imagery impacts many cognitive processes in the brain: motor control, attention, perception, planning and memory. Athletes and performing artists are often trained to visualise success before they go out and perform, as it can prime the brain for success and increase states of flow. Yes, a picture, whether mental or tangibly real, can stimulate emotions and feelings which may otherwise lie dormant.

Michael Erard describes brilliantly the use of metaphor (both in words and pictures) and how it can help bring meaning to concepts or complex ideas/messages in a very effective way. We completely subscribe to this at The Storytellers from a design point of view. We think, in fact, that we have a supremely powerful approach, which is highly creative in itself. On the one hand we work hard to ensure that the ‘word content’ of a narrative is rooted in reality to give it maximum credibility (simple, clear, human language, with a rational and emotional flow and no management jargon) and which speaks to people’s actual experiences. The design side, however, gives us licence to up the anti and bring these messages to life, and this is where visual metaphor comes into play. We use it to help land those messages with a massive punch. Call it rocket fuel for the brain if you like.

So, my fellow humans, my deeply visual fellow humans, give creativity some slack. You may find that it’s one of the most powerful and inspirational aspects of communication and engagement in the workplace. And that, my friends, will improve the fortunes of your business.

Nailia Tasseel