Johnny Kelley’s Chipotle commercial, Back to the Start, cleaned house at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. Chipotle was awarded the Film Grand Prix, the Grand Prix for Branded Content and Entertainment, a Gold for Animation in Film Craft, and a Silver for Viral Film. Jealous anyone?
Back to the Start follows a humble farmer who suddenly realizes he has abandoned his roots and has been following the experience of others by mass producing his livestock with hormones and assembly lines. Upon this epiphany, he courageously changes it all back to how it used to be: organic, pure and real. This message of courage should be applied in all industries.
In our respective fields we must also recognize what Chipotle illustrates. Success does not necessarily increase with experience. At times, it can even poison it. In our case, creativity does not necessarily increase with experience.
How many shops pump out their creative like an assembly line? Or produce work to win an award rather than advocate for their client? Or avoid early adaptation of new media and new channels? We’ve all seen it. Experience has defined and constrained what hopefully was our original goal: a product that is organic, pure and real.
Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine, relates the story of Adolphe Quetelet, a 19th Century mathematician. He plotted a number of successful playwrights over the course of their careers. Over time he discovered the playwrights weren’t getting better at writing plays. He mapped it out in a phenomenon of creative output now known as “the inverted U curve.” This curve demonstrated that creativity tends to peak after a few years of work—when we know enough, but not too much.
Lehrer also tells us of Simonton, a psychologists at UC Davis expanding Quetelet’s approach. He has shown that physicists tend to make their discoveries early in their careers, typically before the age of thirty. What is the root of the problem? Knowledge. Younger people are more ignorant and innocent—willing to embrace the radical and go against the grain. However, we are not biologically destined to lose our creativity. We can continue to innovate for our entire careers as long as we work to maintain that perhaps naive perspective from whence we started—the state of mind that makes us courageous in our craft.
Google has courage. In the past 10 years Google launched at least 12 products that have gone up in flames. Google Wave failed to reach shore. Buzz crashed and burned right in front of our eyes. Yet, each failure has propelled them forward.
These same guys who have publicly failed are the same guys who brought us Gmail, Android, Maps and Chrome. I mean let’s face, these are the same guys whose brand has become a verb. These are the same guys sporting these Google Glasses, which may revolutionize our mobile and augmented worlds. Sure it might flop, but it doesn’t matter. Google consistently has the courage to pursue the new, rethink the old and embrace the results.
So you have to ask yourself—when is the last time you really reached for something? Or the last time you failed? When is the last time you embraced a new social medium without first rolling your eyes? Have you redefined your process, your strategy and your vision? Or has experience convinced you that nothing needs to change? Do you have creative courage? If not, perhaps it’s time to go back to the start.