Inspiration often comes from unexpected places, but maybe not on Zoom

Ottobre 5, 20204 Minuti

Years ago, to inaugurate our new studios in Via Tortona, we organised the exhibition “Casualit Creative”. We invited artists, photographers and printers to display pieces that were created in part through accidents or mistakes. It was a pr success but more importantly it demonstrated that great ideas are often the result of spontaneous, unpredictable moments. The big agencies I directed in the past were very compartmentalised. Creative teams were organised based on clients or categories. There were designers that worked exclusively on FMCG and others that specialised in luxury consumables. Some were assigned to work on a single product brand, often for years. From a business standpoint it made sense. It’s a cost effective way to run an agency but it often leads to creative burnout and mediocre work. Innovation is a risky business and is rarely compatible with efficiency. Founding my own agency meant that I no longer had to answer to shareholders and could finally do things differently. At Smith Lumen we involve several designers at the start of a project, at times as many as half a dozen. They work for a few days and then we review. The results are always impressive. No one person could ever achieve the same breadth of exploration. We don’t do this to increase the odds of stumbling upon a solution. The real benefit is seeing how one person’s approach can spark new ideas in others, in much the same way that mistakes often lead us in new directions. Our minds don’t operate directly on the information we have stored in our brain. We process it through associations that have been formed by our own personal experiences. When we bring together a diverse group of people it exposes each one of them to new points of view. An idea might be born in the mind of one person but it is often others that have helped them to “think outside the box”. This culture of diversity and collaboration is present throughout our agency and no doubt many great ideas have been born through casual discussions in the coffee lounge. But now I go to our studio and see a big, empty, silent space that not so long ago was filled with activity and conversation. My people continue to collaborate and create great work. Business is good and I am amazed at how well they work together in isolation. Smart-working does have its advantages. It ensures everyone’s wellbeing, avoids having to commute and it saves me money on coffee. Apparently it seems to be a very efficient way to do things. Forty years ago at 3M, Art Fry dropped in to an adjoining office to say hello to a fellow employee from a different department. His name was Spencer Silver and he started complaining about how a low-tack adhesive he’d developed had just been rejected by management. Fry began using it to keep paper bookmarks from falling out of his bible. The rest is history. I wonder if they had both been smartworking, would “Postit” notes ever have been invented?

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Drew Smith

An award winning designer and an expert in consumer brand management, NPD and packaging design with over twenty years of experience. Canadian by birth, he has been the Creative Director of several leading international consultancies and is a graduate of Art Center College of Design and Sheridan College, School of Visual Arts.