Cannes 2011: Sir Ken Robinson on creativity, imagination, culture and advertising

By Ashwini Gangal , afaqs!, Cannes | In Advertising | June 24, 2011
Sir Ken Robinson's talk received a thunderous applause and standing ovation at the Grand Auditorium on Thursday afternoon.

Some people believe that the best presentations are those delivered without PowerPoint slides and other such artificial audio-video aids. Sir Ken Robinson, author and leading advisor on creativity, education and innovation, proved this at the Grand Auditorium on Thursday, when he launched the Ogilvy and Inspire Series. Accompanying him were Tham Khai Meng, worldwide creative director, Ogilvy and chairperson, Worldwide Creative Council, Ogilvy & Mather, New York, and Miles Young, chief executive officer, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide.

The occasion was doubly special as June 23, 2011 was David Ogilvy's 100th birth anniversary. Meng said, "We're looking for the Ogilvy of today," before handing the spotlight over to Sir Ken Robinson.

Robinson spoke about leading a culture of innovation, tickling the audiences' funny bone all through with his wit and charm. The world, he said, is changing rapidly, and the idea of creativity is responsible for these changes. Saying that David Ogilvy was an iconic representation of creativity, Robinson opined that it is creativity that makes the human race distinct from other species.

Creativity, he said, comes from imagination. "Humans don't see the world directly; we apprehend it through a framework of values and beliefs," he explained. Culture, he went on to add, is the composite of our creativity.

Expressing how awe-struck he is that things have changed so fast in the last decade, Robinson shared a personal example. Recently, when he wanted to update his book, 'Out of Our Minds- Learning to be Creative', first released a decade ago, he ended up re-writing the entire copy. That's how much things had changed.

"The growth will continue exponentially," he predicted, adding, "Digital technology will transform not what we do, but how we do things -- the way we connect to the world around us, communicate with people and view ourselves."

Technology, Robinson said, is getting more and more transformative and pervasive with every passing day. The second change he noticed while re-writing his book is how much the population of the world has grown in the last decade.

"Just like we're evolving technologically, we're evolving culturally. All this evolution will have consequences that we cannot predict," said Robinson, according to whom we must invest in our creative power so that we can try and anticipate where all these changes are taking us. This is why advertising professionals need to work hard.

For the benefit of the ad-folk present, Robinson defined 'creativity' as "the process of having original ideas that have values." Further, he added, "Innovation is nothing but applied creativity." In fact, according to Robinson, everyone can be creative and the "creative professionals versus suits" division in ad agencies is erroneous.

Lastly, he shared some tips for creative professionals in leadership roles in ad agencies. The job of a creative leader, he said, is to create an environment that fosters creative ideas. "It's a bit like controlling the climate -- you have to ensure the climate is conducive to creative ideas."

He ended his inspiring talk by urging advertising professionals to love what they do. "When you do what you're good at with passion, you create great work," he said. Robinson elaborated that being in one's true element was nothing but passionately doing the work that one has a natural aptitude for.

"With respect to human creativity, the advertising industry has ample reason to be optimistic," Robinson signed off, before the odd premature clap rose to a deafening applause within seconds.

To view interviews from Cannes 2011, click here.

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