The Why

Our culture mythologises creativity while, simultaneously, putting up barriers which prevent people from reaching their creative potential.

As much as “innovation” has been put on a pedestal, enshrined in corporate vision statements and funded by private, state and transnational investors, most companies still do the thing they have always done, in the way they have always done it. We keep hanging on to the coattails of the status quo, for good psychological reasons – fear of failure, various biases – but also because most people, most of the time, do not really understand the direct connection between business innovation, imagination and creativity.

We applaud the achievements of star artists, musicians, designers, architects but that is as far as our appreciation, and our understanding of creativity usually go. The process is reduced to admiration of talent and awards for spectacular success. Creativity is for the chosen few. With talent. And special abilities. It’s just not a thing for average people. Right? Wrong.

We celebrate creativity and applaud the achievements of those star artists, designers and entrepreneurs, but when it comes down to it we accept the new and exciting only once it has been well tested by others.

In the meantime, instead of trying the untried, dreaming up the new, we continue to attend fabulous events and reading blog posts by thought leaders, who continue to tell us that innovation is a good thing, and we must all do it. Yay! It really is like putting lipstick on a pig.

It’s a wonderful idiom “putting lipstick on a pig.” Trying to make something that is too difficult and too ugly seem better by pretending that if you put gloss on it, you’ve done the hard work. Lots of effort, lots of shine, but practically no real effect.

Somehow, putting lipstick on the pig has become the central activity to such a degree that we no longer see the pig, just the lipstick.

If a business is to survive the next five years and then thrive for the subsequent decade, assuming it is in an industry that has a future and that it is run by competent professionals, it has to draw on the collective creativity of all of its people, and all of its customers. It has to see fishing in this collective pool of ideas as a strategic asset, not a thing you do on team building weekends. Can you remember the last time when you spent a week working on something completely new, doing things in ways which were different from the usual ways of doing things, connecting with people outside of your normal circle of colleagues?

Creativity is in part about connecting what is in our heads with ideas from “the edge” and seeing patterns and linkages which may not be apparent to anybody else at the time.

What is required are ways to release the inherent creativity of your people and a system which builds on people’s natural strengths by centering on the psychology of individuals and groups. It needs to be simple in its fundamentals, and a “natural” thing to run. The point of innovation thinking is to allow people in your organisation to have insights about what can be done better, with a system in place to inspire them to do so, collect those insights when they come, and work with them.

Creative professionals have very real value to the business world just beyond that boundary line where art and commerce ordinarily meet.

The value which creative professionals can bring to the table, in addition to providing their specialised services, is in assisting executives in being able to look into the future and to train their people to work in this quickened, confusing, rapidly changing digitally transformed context that surrounds us. Creative professionals can answer the call when someone asks “take me, where I haven’t been.”

Creativity is not about finding new ways to put lipstick on a pig but about ways to make the pig a better pig.

This is the reason why I do what I do – or rather a number or reasons, all pulling in the same direction.

This text is an edited version of a talk I have given several times at conferences large and small, including gatherings of hundreds of bankers, and a dozen or so telecommunication executives. The message is always the same – to innovate you need new ideas, to get new ideas you need people and places you do not necessarily meet or see every day, and the best people here are artists and creatives of all kinds.

Some twenty five years ago I started to work on a book of Maori tribal myths and legends. Some twenty three years ago the book was finally published by the New Zealand publishing house of Reed. (The book sold out withing three years but the publisher refused to reprint. That’s a good subject for another discussion about giving customers what they obviously want – or not – and the state of the publishing industry but that’s for another time…)

By the time the book’s stock was exhausted, I had learned that Tauhia Hill, one of the ten people I had talked to, had died. A wonderful bloke who took me for a long walk, told me rich stories of the Kaipara Harbour (the largest and least known of Auckland’s harbours) and paused just long enough for me to take a roll’s worth of portraits under a cabbage tree. (On a twin-lens Rolleiflex 2.8F, I’ll have you know, as were all of the portraits in this book. The landscapes were shot on negative film on an ancient 4×5.) 

Another, Tauranga carver Tuti Tukaokao (below), had promised to carve a wooden casket for the ashes of my father who had died while I was working on the book. Alas, he did not live to fulfill that promise.

Several years later, the truly wonderful Bubbles Mihinui from Roturoa (below), joined her ancestors after a long and distinguished life, as did Te Hau Tutua (featured image at top), a staunch man of great dignity and wide-ranging creativity who told me stories of White Island, the active volcano some two hours’ boat ride off the coast. 

Harold Ashwell from Rakiura has also gone, as has Jacob Hakaraia (below) from the other end of the country, Waitangi. The storytellers have gone to sit by the great bonfire in the sky. Their stories, which are not really their stories but belong to the tribe, the tangata whenua, live on.

They live on for me, too. I received a pounamu (greenstone) pebble from Kath Hemi (below), one of the kuia (elderwomen) whom I visited at hear house near Nelson. (A while ago I heard that she, too, had gone away to tell her stories in the spirit world.) The pebble travelled with me for a month till I finally arrived in Hokitika which, you may not be aware of this vital fact, is the greenstone carving capital of the World. 

There I met Stan McCallum, one of the master carvers, to whom I would entrust the task of making something out of the piece of stone. After several cups of tea and two hours’ discussion of important matters such as world travel and the beginning of the year’s whitebaiting season, he finally set to and produced a suitable work – which, too, is another story except to say that when I visited him seven years later with my then brand new wife he remembered the story, and the stone, and the cups of tea. And picked out a special piece for my wife, of course.

What’s the point of all this? As Sir Paul Reeves wrote in the introduction to the book “Oral history is what one generation wants to share with another. It is the way the truth is enriched and brought into our living experience” and  “History lies in the telling. Mythology or interpretation, and the account of what might have happened, can be gloriously mixed up.” Paul, I call him by his first name as he would insist, has also departed, having lived a big life, full of important stories.

The book, as all books, is enjoying its own life Out There, including delightful, if surprising, encounters  with its author.

Which leaves one question. What stories next?


When we think of public speaking, we often conjure an image of a suit-clad professional, poised behind a podium, eloquently navigating the arcs and troughs of their speech. Yet, this conceptualisation may be misguided. The most riveting public speakers bear a closer resemblance to impassioned singers than they do to competent individuals merely reading those very same words. 

(No, this is not a post about crafting successful presentations. I’ve written about that here, and also here)

I would argue, indeed, that effective public speaking as a discipline is far closer to singing than it is to speaking. Intrigued? Read on.

The similarity between the craft of a vocalist and a master orator is profound, with each leaning on a shared foundation of authenticity, emotion, and practice.

At the very core of music, there’s emotion. Singers have this uncanny ability to evoke the deepest sentiments with just the modulation of their voice. Think of Adele, whose soulful melodies induce nostalgia and longing, or Freddie Mercury, whose vocal pyrotechnics inspire awe and elation. A singer doesn’t just pronounce lyrics; they feel them, exude them, and wrap them in layers of personal experiences and emotions.

Similarly, the crux of an impactful presentation isn’t the words but the emotional journey on which you, the speaker, ask the audience to come along. Just as you wouldn’t be moved by a singer who seemed emotionally disengaged from their song, an audience will not be persuaded or inspired by a speaker who delivers their speech perfectly competently but without emotional investment.

Authenticity: The notes behind the words

There’s an authenticity in the best of singers that transcends technique. Take Bob Dylan, for instance. His voice, if we were to apply traditional standards, isn’t, well, ‘perfect’. Yet, it’s real, raw, and hauntingly authentic, making songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind” timeless anthems. It’s that authenticity, that unvarnished truth, that resonates.

Public speakers stand at a similar crossroads. One can either recite a well-rehearsed speech with precision or one can speak from the heart, connecting with their audience through authenticity. Much like a singer, an effective orator understands that it’s not about hitting every note perfectly—it’s about making the audience feel something genuine.

The Crafting Process: from first draft to the final note

Songwriting isn’t just about penning down lyrics to a predictable rhythm and rhyme. It’s a meticulous process of revisiting, revising, and rehearsing. I’m not personally a great fan of Ed Sheeran, one of the most prolific songwriters of our generation, but what he said about songwriting resonates – it is like “turning on a tap”; the first water to come out might be dirty and unusable, but eventually, it’ll run clear. This metaphor speaks to the iterative nature of creation, be it in songwriting or speech crafting.

Lisa Gerrard, the great Australian singer best known as one half of the duo Dead Can Dance, of whom I am most certainly a fan, talked about “the wound opening” so as the music could come out. 

Similarly, an effective public speaker doesn’t just draft a speech and consider it ready for delivery. The initial draft undergoes multiple revisions, feedback sessions, and rehearsals. Just as a singer tweaks a lyric or melody line to evoke the desired emotion, a speaker refines their rhetoric, pacing, and tone to optimally convey their message.

Rehearsal: Where magic meets mastery

A singer’s rehearsal isn’t just about memorizing lyrics; it’s about understanding the emotion behind each word, the crescendos, and the pauses. It’s where they experiment, fail, learn, and refine. It’s in these rehearsal rooms that icons like Beyoncé transform from artists to legends, crafting performances that remain etched in the annals of music history.

Similarly, the best public speakers understand that rehearsal is where their speech truly takes shape. It’s the space where you can stumble over words without judgment, refine your timing, and work on your body language, which is as important as the words that come out of your mouth. (Some would say even more important…) By the time you step onto the stage, the speech has become an extension of you, much like a song becomes an extension of a singer. It is authentic, impactful, and conveys precisely the message that it needs to convey. What the audience sees and hears, therefore is “You. Just more so.” 

Performance: Interplay of words and emotion

In the end, both singing and public speaking are visceral forms of expression. Just as you wouldn’t be moved by a singer mechanically belting out notes, you wouldn’t be inspired by a speaker who seems detached from their own message. Both crafts demand an delicate balance of technique and emotion, and a masterful dance of preparation and spontaneity, mastery and vulnerability.

So, the next time you’re preparing for a presentation, don’t just ask yourself how it reads; ask yourself how it sings. For in the realm of impactful communication, the heart must lead the way.

My friend Kushtrim Xhakli and I tried to coordinate our diaries a few times before to allow me to speak at his excellent DokuTech gathering in Pristina (Kosovo.) Finally, we managed it. Here is a transcript of my talk, the main point of which was that in the age of machine intelligence, humans need to work together – not against pervasive technology but in order to figure out how to best work with it – and artists point the way to doing this as a matter of practice. A length of rope – passed around the room – served as a prop. The wonderful Dukagjin Muhaxheri added some vital flourishes on his alto. 

The link to the video is a little down this page.

You’d be excused for thinking I’ll be talking about NFTs and digital collectibles, which is what Collectico does – we are making NFTs into boring, every day tools for business. But no. Instead, with your permission, I’d like to do a little social experiment which I think will be a lot more fun and a lot more useful. OK? 

So here’s a provocative little statement: in the future, the real and the authentic and the human will have premium value.

Do you agree? Do we agree that somehow there is inherent high value in stuff made by people? More so that stuff that’s made by machines? It’s a sweeping statement, I know, but I only have twenty minutes here so allow me some shortcuts!

Actually, that’s not quite right. The real, the authentic and the human already have premium value, and have done so for a very long time. In the future, that value will just increase, probably exponentially, as most commonplace things get commoditised.

My oldest friend on this green Earth is an Australian photographer by the name of Emmanuel Santos. Back in the day, when we were both young fellas, I went off into commercial and editorial photography while Emmanuel has stuck to making a living from the sale of prints and portfolios. Now, forty years later, Emmanuel keeps producing beautiful work and keeps satisfying the passions of collectors in Europe, Asia, Australia and elsewhere. Meanwhile, I have reinvented myself professionally four times in the last twenty years. I’ve not shot any commercial work for ten years, as the digital revolution turned the market upside down and made it unviable for many working professionals to stay in that business. 

My world is the broadly understood creative industry which has been through an incredible transformation. Now it seems we are just entering the next phase, where we will define the nature of creativity itself, and how human creativity, aided by powerful technology, will pull and stretch meaning of the word itself well beyond what we had been used to.

I have no idea what our world will look like in a decade. It’s not hard to imagine, however, what it will look like if we don’t look after the human element. Dystopia has many potential forms but one common denominator: if we don’t pay attention to the human, we get dehumanised by the process, by default. 

So I’m here to talk about the all important human connections and how those are good for us individually, and good for us on a community level. And about the expanding role of artists in all of this excitement. And how keeping things authentic and human will be good for business. 

We love analogue, human-made things even if we’re not necessarily aware of the reasons. Sales of vinyl have been growing rapidly for more than a decade, and not just to nostalgic boomers like me. Sales of things made in someone’s workshop – handicrafts and objects made by professional craftspeople – are doing well, both in the real world and online. 

Hand-made jewellery, furniture and chef’s knives are prized possessions. Of course, anything can be made as a cheaper copy but I love my hand-made damascene steel knives and wouldn’t trade them for anything. Actually, I’m rather convinced that, pretty soon, we will have a labelling system in place. Something along the lines of “Human-made”. 

We will have labelling of objects and experiences to set them apart from those not made by people. This will start as a social movement, build into pressure groups, and then in short order be written into regulation – in those countries where people matter, of course. We will see labels establishing the human-made provenance of objects and experiences, and proving their special value. 

Why? That question itself is fascinating – why would we prefer one thing over another, simply because it is made by humans, if both look more or less the same and have the same function? As I will say a few times today, there’s research that says, we love the connection we feel with the makers of a thing made with care and attention. 

So we’re here to talk about human connections and new ideas, and keeping things real. So let’s talk about unexpected ideas. Who loves surprises? 

We love the unexpected and the surprising. It’s good to know that surprise is an important building block of everything we take in under the general umbrella of creativity and innovation. 

New ideas come from new connections between ideas. Much like when a musician composes a new piece or improvises on the spot – hi (Name) – she has a set number of notes at her disposal. The intervals, the pauses, the arpeggios, all are building blocks that are hers to use, and to create something new, all she has to do is line them up in a new order. That, of course, only sounds simple. Incidentally, we have a set number of thoughts every day, and most of them are exactly the same, day in, day out. Not ideal if we want to keep generating new ideas. 

I work with a neuroscientist on one of my projects, and she tells me that there are any number of studies that have demonstrated, elegantly, that new ideas are recombinations of existing ideas in ways we hadn’t thought of before. Those may be our own ideas, or someone else’s, of course. What works really well, is random input from unexpected directions. All you have to do is be open to it, as a matter of practice. Random words, for example, are in fact a very effective thinking tool. So, of course, is input from strangers.

So here’s a thought. When was the last time you talked – really talked – to someone from outside of your own bubble? Not just chitchat or business networking that has a few simple goals. But delved into a conversation of what really makes you tick, and how you might be able to help each other in ways that may not be immediately obvious.

Staying in bubbles of course has an air of comfort and familiarity but those are qualities we cannot rely on any more. Comfort and familiarity lead to a reduction of horizons, not an expansion of them. Columbus did not head out over the horizon because he wanted to stay comfortable. Actually, he wanted to get rich. That’s another story.

So this is our experiment. We have been passing the end of this rope around the room. Please keep passing it, while hanging on to it. The rope has a finite length – we’re not going to tie everyone up in knots. I’ll hang on to the bitter end (that’s a nautical term, by the way) and will tell you what it’s all for when we’re done. OK? Up for a game? Good.

Connecting with strangers and getting inspired by them is standard operating procedure for a category of human from whom the rest of humanity has, and can continue to learn about creativity in everyday life. They connect with others to come up with new ways of seeing things. That category is of course artists. And artists have a lot more to give than just their art. They operate according to different rules and on different frequencies. Sometimes stereotypically so. We know this, right?

Now it just so happens that business has been waking up to the fact that creativity is a good a valuable thing and employees should have more of it. All of these articles incidentally, as well meaning as they are, are missing the main bloody point. Creativity is not a skill. It is the soil from which skills grow. But be that as it may.

So, what they usually do is bring in me or someone like me, to run a creative thinking workshop. Which is all well and good – the people have fun, they enjoy the new mental connections they make on the inside, and the human connections on the outside, I get paid, but it usually turns out that such short term engagements really do not move the creativity needle long term. 

So what does the company do? They run another creative thinking workshop the next year, once the L&D cycle has come around again. This happens not because the people who run those businesses are dumb but because they’re acting according to an established script. Soft skill training in February, hard skills through the Spring and then a nice creative thinking workshop just before the Summer holidays. 

None of that makes sense in today’s world. Acting according to scripts set up years ago by well-meaning HR directors, and fulfilled conscientiously ever since, no longer makes sense. Creative thinking of people needs more than a creative thinking workshop. It needs a makeover, in order to get dramatically different results. 

Makeovers require bravery, and bravery doesn’t say “oh we’ll run another creative thinking workshop because that’s what fits into the annual programme.” The annual programme needs changing. And as we have seen, who are the people from whom we can learn about change and about brave, different, new thinking? That’s right, artists. 

By accessing the raw imagination power of artists we are able to envision aspects of business, and of life, that escape traditional practices. The mental process required to imagine situations, run scenarios and quickly assess options is the daily practice of creative professionals. Meanwhile, the “future of work” has been an area under constant examination and development for a long time, but, unfortunately, much of the effort has been expended from the perspective of logic, analysis and deduction – which is what business does naturally. It’s designed to do that.

In today’s VUCA world – in this world that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, deduction is not enough, and if people continue to search for solutions through reason alone they will be disappointed. We need to rely a lot more on the powers of induction, imagination and creative exploration – and we need to learn how to do that as fast as we can, so we need to learn together, with and from each-other. Kids do that naturally, right? We need to be more like kids.

Importantly, we should be learning from people you’ve never met, whose thoughts are not like your thoughts. And who are the best teachers of imagination and creative exploration? Right again, artists, musicians, performers. 

We can assume that within a few short years we will be using AI like we use other tech. Seamlessly and without giving it much of a thought as interfaces built for specific jobs do the interfacing between us and AI. And of course, those of us who are best at figuring out how to work with these things will advance furthest, fastest. AI will compress the time it takes to succeed, and of course it will also compress the time it takes to fail. 

This is a simplification but, considering the general level of concern out there, we may now be tempted to think that this dynamic requires of us to become even more competitive and even more mercenary and even more of a rat in the rat race. That may work for a few, as it has done thus far, but for the many, I suspect, the way to figuring out a modus vivendi in this changed reality is to work together – not against pervasive technology but in order to figure out how to work with it. In new, creative ways which, importantly, we cannot easily figure out just yet. 

So we need to learn how play jazz with our lives. How to improvise and figure things out as we go. Humans can be very good at this. With the right teachers. 

There’s a ton of research that says that being merely exposed to the process of art being made kicks up the creativity quotient in people. Now what if, instead of giving them another creative thinking workshop, you would actually offer them an opportunity to connect with real artists, doing real art, over extended periods of time? What would happen if you took a working artist and installed her or him right in the living tissue of a company? The office, the warehouse, the factory floor? That’s exactly what we’re doing with Art in a Place of Work.

Why? It has been demonstrated again and again and again, over many decades, that exposure to art stimulates people’s thinking by getting them to walk down different neural paths. That is not exactly a new idea so I really don’t understand why it is not becoming standard practice for forward-thinking companies everywhere, not just in the Silicon Valley. 

How’s the rope passing going? This is a demonstration of a key aspect of connecting, and that is courage. It takes courage to walk up to a stranger and start to chat. So this little exercise has just made this easier. The ice has been broken – you’re all my good rope people. Ropeys. 

All Ropeys belong to the Ropey club and are automatically empowered to talk to any other Ropey about anything at all, provided that is a real, authentic and human conversation. People talking. Not just business executives. Not just startup founders. Not just students. Not just investors. You’re meeting to see what the other has under his or her skin. OK Ropeys? Happy with that?  

Now can one Ropey please stand up. Just one. Excellent, very brave. OK, you are now the The Keeper and Sharer of the Rope. This is a very important job so pay attention. Thank you. Now, your job, Keeper and Sharer of the Rope, is to gather all Ropeys at the end of this session. Yes Ropeys, you need to keep holding on to the Rope, then cut the rope into individual pieces so every Ropey ends up with a length of it. Now if you can tie a fancy knot, you can all do so, or just simply fold up the rope and put it in your top pocket so it’s visible. We will convene tonight and it will be then that we will find out why The Network of the Rope is an important thing and why we should all talk to these other random humans. Right now we don’t know. We can’t know. And that is very, very exciting. Because will find out, and it may lead us to some cool places.

There are few things I love more in my work than structured unstructured discovery. 

You don’t look for something, you just look. And keep looking until you find the thing you’re meant to be looking for and then work with that. That is the nature of discovery. You don’t know what you’re looking for until you start to get an idea of it. Again, much like looking for a new tune in music – you have the same notes as everyone else and you’re looking for a new way to arrange them. Artists, again, point the way.

There’s this one aspect of art that doesn’t get talked about often enough, and I think it’s actually key. It’s the fundamental value of art, and artists, in this time and throughout time. Because you see, artists answer “of course I will”, when we ask  “Take me where I haven’t been…” – and that is exactly where all of us going, right now.

Thank you, and thank you Dukagjin Muhaxheri for the delicious accompaniment.

What kills creativity and, importantly, how can it be preserved and enhanced? In the series of articles examining creativity in the work place, here is a neuroscience perspective in a guest post by Dominika Pikul, an Art in a Place of Work partner. 

Teaching creativity and enhancing creative thinking are the most useful things you can do in your organization, if it is at all interested in coming up with new solutions to solve problems. Oh, that would be every organization…

George Land was a trailblazing researcher, inventor and founder of an institute to study the enhancement of creative performance. In the 1960s, NASA asked him to to assess the creative potential of its engineers and scientists, to measure their divergent – non-linear, out of the box thinking, Land designed a series of tests which typically involved asking participants to come up with as many different ideas or solutions as possible in response to a given prompt or question, within a set time limit.

The Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (also developed during the 1960s, by other researchers and commonlty used to test for creativity) involves asking participants to come up with as many uses as possible for a common object, such as a paperclip or a brick. A typical answer for a glass jar would be a candy holder, a pencil cup or a paper weight if filled with sand. A less typical answer: a prison for snails, a space helmet for a teddy bear or a device to extinguish candles. You get the picture. But Land didn’t stop there, as his study bumped up against the crucial age-old question – where does creativity come from? Is it nature or nurture? What Land’s researchers found, has not sat comfortably with education experts ever since.

To answer this question, with NASA’s help, Land administered tests of creative thinking to both children and adults, to measure their respective creative thinking abilities. The results of the study were surprising. It turned out that creativity declines dramatically as children progress through the education system. While 98% of 5-year-olds were able to think creatively, only 30% of 10-year-olds, and only 12% of adults were able to do the same.

Since then these results have often been cited as evidence that our educational systems and societal structures may be stifling creativity. As a result, learning experts such as Sir Ken Robinson (**cite) have repeatedly sounded alarm bells, calling for substantial revision to our education systems. Such claims may be considered controversial but one thing is certain: we are all born creatives!

What happens as we grow older? Yes, most experts agree that the education system takes its toll on creativity. The great writer Ursula Le Guin put is most elegantly: “The creative adult is the child who has survived.” But that is not all there is, or at least it’s not quite as simple as that. Neuroscience research has been demonstrating that the explanation lies in the brain itself, and the clues as to potential fixes to our loss of creative thinking abilities can also be found there.


What kills creativity lies not in the number of cells adults and children have; that number stays the same throughout life. The secret lies in connectivity between those cells and whether such connetivity is retained and grown – or not.

When you are born, your brain develops at an extremely rapid speed. Synapses, connections between neurons, are formed at an astonishing rate. By the age of two, a child has over one hundred trillion of those, double the number of an adult. What comes next is the process of neuronal pruning as unnecessary connections between neurons are eliminated. What is deemed as unnecessary? The connections you don’t use. Hebbian synaptic plasticity theory tells us, when two neurons are repeatedly activated together, the connection between them becomes stronger. Over time, this repeated firing and strengthening of synapses can lead to the formation of neural networks, which are the basis for learning and memory. If those synapses are not used for a while, they are discarded. Simply put – use it or lose it!

As neuroscientist David Eagleman writes in his book “The Brain: The story of you”, “in a sense, the process of becoming who you are is defined by carving back the possibilities that were already present. You become who you are not because of what grows in your brain, but because of what is being removed”.


How does this knowledge help us foster creativity? Let’s see…

So, we know we are born creative, therefore creativity is not reserved only for artists, writers, musicians, and inventors. We all possess it, at least to begin with.

There is a distinguishing feature, however, that all those people have in common. They are always painting, writing, inventing or making music – they are practicing their creativity! By engaging regularly in their chosen creative activities, individuals can develop a range of skills and habits that can enhance their ability to think. Here, too, practice makes perfect and repeated work on generating new ideas leads to, well, being able to generate new ideas more rapidly and more efficiently. Corpus collosum, that fat piece of “neural rope” which connects the two hemispheres of the brain, has been found to be substantially fatter in musicians! Combine this with critical, analytical skills which we get taught in later life and your ability to solve problems increases.

Further, the ability to “think out of the box” (divergent thinking) is one of the key components of creativity. To foster creativity, we must train ourselves to move away from what have been deemed “correct answers” and start to explore multiple solutions to a given problem. This can lead to breakthroughs and innovations which likely would not have been possible through more traditional, convergent thinking approaches. Artists have often commented on the need to experiment, and to learn from the process of experimentation so as to expand their field of expertise. Picasso put it simply “Go and do the things you can’t. That is how you get to do them.”

Divergent thinking is a fundamental skill and research has shown that it can be developed and enhanced through various techniques which include brainstorming (if done correctly), mind mapping, and various creative exercises. Listening to music has also been shown to increase divergent thinking. There is more to it than just turning on the local radio station, of course, but it is something that can be easily integrated into daily life to enhance creative cognition in various settings, whether at home or at work.

Lastly – remember the “use it or lose it” rule? Creativity needs to be cultivated and refined on a regular basis. As painters are always painting and writers always writing – you should also engage in creative activities regularly. Set aside dedicated time for creative activities of your choice. It can be writing or drawing sketches to visualize material you just read. Interestingly, walking and daydreaming have both been shows to be a remarkably effective cognitive enhancers, so go for a walk and let your mind wonder for a change, without listening to that business podcast or feeling like you are wasting your time if you are not consuming another audio book. Consistency yields results, and before you know it, you’ll end up with unexpected, creative outcomes that exceed many of your expectations.


Land, G., “The failure of success”, TEDxTuscon

Eagleman, D. “The brain: the story of you”. New York : Pantheon Books, 2015

Pierce, D. “What Neuroscience Teaches Us About Fostering Creativity”

On the importance of art in business:

Without constant investment in developing the creativity of staff, companies will stagnate and eventually fail. Yet, while business leaders have been lauding the importance of creativity for a long time, and despite widespread recognition of its importance in business, many companies struggle to effectively nurture it in their employees. 

The routine of corporate life can dull the sharpness of people’s creativity over time. Further, those employees who are naturally highly creative are often easily bored and require challenges to keep their energies engaged. Not having enough of such stimulus can lead to burnout and ultimately result in them quitting, determined to find more stimulating work. (Lack of sufficiently engaging challenges has been one of the factors in the current “Great Resignation”.) Talented individuals seek out opportunities to work for firms that offer them a chance to be part of interesting projects and to participate in an environment that fosters creative thinking – companies that are perceived as creative and innovative naturally attract higher-grade recruits. In contrast, companies that fail to prioritise creativity risk being seen as stagnant and unattractive to top talent.

All this makes it all the more important for companies to emphasise creativity in their L&D, recruitment and retention strategies. But how can companies foster creativity in their employees? One proven approach is to provide extended periods of interaction with working artists. Such interactions, lasting weeks rather than hours, can have a measurable impact on the creativity of staff and ultimately improve the performance of the company as a whole. It is not enough to pay lip-service to creativity. An occasional “creative thinking” workshop or brainstorming session is worse than useless as it has the effect of appearing to be useful while actually having practically zero effect on either individual creativity or team engagement. A waste of everyone’s time and effort, really. To truly foster creativity in employees, companies must create a culture that values, encourages and rewards creative thinking. This means providing resources for professional development, recognising and celebrating creative achievements, and encouraging collaboration and experimentation. Such a culture also makes allowances for the fact that most experiments are learnings, and often they simply provide another demonstration of assumptions being wrong and goals needing to be reassessed.

The benefits of working with artists are multifaceted but there is one fundamental common denominator: artists usually possess a unique perspective on work and working methods and their ways of thinking can stimulate new ideas and approaches to problem-solving. By exposing employees to these different ways of thinking, companies can break down the routine and structure that often stifles creativity in the workplace or ameliorate anxieties, such as resistance to accepting new technologies as vital tools. Noah Weinstein, senior creative programs manager at Autodesk defines this ability like this – “Artists are great explorers and discoverers when it comes to using technology.”

A single workshop will likely not be enough to produce lasting change in a company’s culture, so some leaders have begun to experiment with longer-term engagements with artists. These residencies, which last for several weeks, allow employees to work alongside artists and either observe or, at times, participate in a range of artistic activities, from painting and sculpture to music and dance. The results of these longer-term engagements can be far more impressive than those of shorter workshops. In a recent study published in the Journal of Business Research, researchers found that employees who participated in extended artist residencies showed a significant increase in their levels of creativity and innovation. This increase was not just self-reported; the researchers were able to measure the impact of the residencies using a variety of objective metrics, including patent filings and new product launches.

Of course, we must to note that not all artists are equally effective at stimulating creativity in the workplace. Companies must carefully select the artists with whom they work, and design the engagement to fit the specific needs of their employees. It is also important to recognise that these engagements are not a panacea for all of a company’s problems; creativity is the fuel that powers innovation but is just one of the factors that contribute to success in business.

The evidence suggests that extended periods of interaction with working artists can have a measurable impact on the creativity of staff in companies. By breaking down the routine and structure of corporate life and exposing employees to new ways of thinking, companies can foster a culture of innovation that will pay dividends in the long run. It’s time for more companies to recognise the value of working with artists and to invest in the creative potential of their employees.


To say that NFTs are overpriced jpgs purchased with magic internet money by fools drunk on their crypto windfalls is to misunderstand – or wilfully ignore – a fundamental shift now underway, in how brand relationships will be built from this time on. Conceptual ecosystems are the next wave of strategic brand development.

For the first time really, brands can connect into areas that only touch on their primary activity. With relative ease, and at a cost much reduced as compared to previous options, brands will become activity hubs and not just “sellers of stuff”, and their upstream suppliers, cross-sell partners and ambassadors will be hooked up with fans of the product. Concepts such as “food”, “glamour” and, of course, “sex” will see connections tied across disciplines in order to build communities where until not long ago there were only loose groups of enthusiasts.

For example, a Bosch or a Whirlpool or a Samsung can position the products of its kitchen appliance division at the centre of a conceptual ecosystem called “food and cooking.” Yes, of course, appliance and cookware manufacturers have been trying various formats around this idea for years. The Whirlpool Cooking Academy is one good example, as is the co-publishing of cookbooks by barbecue makers. This, however, is an opportunity to connect not a few people but a whole lot of them, not physically present to one locale like a cooking school or connected with a physical object like a cookbook (and I love cookbooks) but distributed globally with no reliance on physical artefacts. They are not encumbered by the limitations of physical deliveries but rather empowered to weave together elements of the physical and the virtual in different combinations, as innovative ideas dictate and according to branding strategies yet to be devised.

Conceptual ecosystems can be built around consumer durables just as logically as around FMCG, alcoholic and non-also drinks as around sport and fitness brands. Food and cooking, however, is where this experiment will play out soonest, and with greatest impact, and here is why. Food is by far the most universal of all human experiences, and kitchen appliances appliances come in all types and at every price point. The appliances used the most – cooktops, ovens, fridges – have the broadest reach so, likely, will form the hubs around which such ecosystems will be built, though there are of course outliers which have one specialised function only but whose cultural significance overshadows their narrow scope of functionality.

The best examples of the second group are rice cookers (in most Asian countries) and coffee makers (for pretty much everybody who loves coffee anywhere.) The cultural importance of rice cookers in, say, Japan, and coffee makers in Italy and other countries of the Mediterranean, cannot be overstated.

So, let’s imagine what such a conceptual ecosystem might look like and how might NFTs drive its creation and empower ongoing relevance and growth.

Primary drivers of behaviours often fall into the category of “culture” which has grown around its objects over time. We drink espresso from tiny cups. They are adorned with the livery of the coffee roaster because, back in the day, they used to be adorned with intricate glazes to reflect the pricey nature of the drink inside. Same reason for their size, going all the way back to the deserts of the Middle East, and bedouins pouring the precious liquid into tiny cups for their honoured guests.

I tend to wax lyrical about espresso cups, forgive me, but they are a particularly elegant example.

Now, imagine that Kenwood, or Bialetti or Breville or any other producer of high-end coffee makers decides that they are going to play the game of extending their conceptual ecosystem beyond putting art on their cups, say, as has been done by Illy with excellent results.

Imagine, the brand gurus decide that the idea of “coffee culture” can, and must, be extended beyond portraying smiling plantation workers in exotic locations on their retail shop walls. This has been done by Tchibo and countless others to the point where the merchandising materials are interchangeable save for the company logos.

Imagine, someone came up with the idea that the conceptual ecosystem of “coffee culture” can, and must, be extended far more broadly, and unified under one large umbrella. If they follow Steve Jobs’ famous adage that everything is a remix, then they will soon realise that the remixing needs to take in far broader scope than has been done so far.

And here is where NFTs come in. Because there is nothing fans love more than being rewarded for their fandom and incentivised to grow it.

Imagine, a coffee giant called Galactic Coffee were to decide to play this game. How might they begin? Well, if you purchased one of their special edition coffee makers (the Black Hole, the Milky Way, the Ursa Major) you would be given a corresponding NFT which would give you the usual promotional access to a range of discounts, special merch purchases, and so on. That is where loyalty programmes usually end, but for Galactic Coffee that would be just the start. Their endgame would be a global community of enthusiastic, engaged fans, all working hard to make their belonging to this club a rewarding and fun activity. An activity that reached well beyond the mid-afternoon espresso pick-me-up, and connected coffee lovers regardless of whether they drank their double espresso at three in the morning or a flat white at breakfast.

NFTs’ most usually overlooked aspect, ignored by branding and marketing people, is an ability to build a global community. Having a community is of course a brand director’s wet dream, as they know that no advertising spend can match the power of an engaged cohort of passionate fans.

So, in its inestimable wisdom and with deep insight gained form reading this article, Galactic Coffee would start with a vision of a global club, whose members all carried their membership cards in the form of NFTs (and traded their various collectible versions.) The tokens would serve to unlock access to special events tailored to the tastes of various subsets of the membership body – from “Chamber Music at the Uffizi” (the flat white crowd) to“Rock Around Midnight” (the 3 a.m. double espresso hit) – all powered by Galactic Coffee. They would run the ultimate in User Generated Content programmes – where the community would figure them out for itself, with little or no input from the company. Before you ask, no, NFC membership cards could not offer any of that functionality given that they are physical objects, tied to a particular hardware ecosystem, with its geographic limitations. And they don’t get accepted in the metaverse.

Seriously, the list of activities, projects and off-shoots that could be grown with the NFTs at the centre is limited only by the imagination of those starting the programme. Whoever places the right pebble in the right place, will watch an avalanche build before too long. Ultimately, if grown large enough, the community would end up running its own economy – further incentivising people to come in and existing members to stay engaged.

It would be an interesting question to consider at which point the company might care to engage the community’s leaders in more formal ways, whether or not they might even be interested, and if such an approach and the resulting change in status of the leaders might not have precisely the opposite effect to what was desired. If business is 90% psychology, then community building is 99%.

Then, if we take this further, to reflect what is already happening in the NFT world albeit only in a limited way, the next logical step would be to build a community of communities. Coffee lovers, wine lovers, lovers of Italian food and passionate fans of Renaissance art would be able to mix and mingle, and build value together, on the back of their respective communities enabled by for example, Bialetti, the consorzio Chianti Classico (a wine industry group), the paste maker Barilla and one of the globally recognised museum brands which are, in reality, publishing brands but that’s for another article.

“ProbablyNothing” is a favourite expression among NFT enthusiasts. As you can imagine, it means of course an event that is “AlmostCertainlySomething.” Two such events have occurred in the last few days, signifying that this nascent technology, known primarily for making ape owners substantially better off, is about to enter popular consciousness in ways that point squarely towards broad adoption at a retail level.

Over the last twelve months or so, a long line of “weak signals” emanating from over the NFT near future horizon have been getting stronger. Porsche has dipped its toes (expensive tyres?) in the water, netting 30+ Ether for charity from the sale of a drawing (as NFT and original art) by its exterior design chief. While we’re on the subject of cars, Lloyds Auctions is releasing muscle car NFTs including the Aussie classic Holden Torana A9X (be still my heart.) Playboy has released – can we call it a brood – of bunnies (of the long-eared kind) and Australian Open is selling championship points as an NFT accompanied by the physical tennis ball (in an attractive, handcrafted case, apparently.) It’s getting pleasantly hot out there, but we are not quite at retail level adoption – or have not been so far. That is going to be changing very quickly over the coming months, thanks to two weak signals that are very strong indeed.

Arguments over NFTs’ aesthetic appeal and social signalling value aside, two touchpoints are key to adoption and UX friction needs to be minimised in both of those for mass adoption to come running faster than a throng of Poms chasing a cheese round down a hill.

The first touchpoint is “how do I buy these things?” Right now, this means dealing with all of the intrinsic “delights” of a crypto wallet. If you have one, it probably means you’re a nerd and you find the delights actually less of a pain. For “crypto civilians” this is a major barrier to entry. Making the purchasing process simple and, ideally, dovetailed into their existing financial arrangements, will certainly entice “normal” people into the arena. (Yes, of course, one needs a wallet. The barrier to entry is the level of anxiety in setting one up.)

The second is “what do I do with it?” Yes, you can put the picture up as your social media mug, assuming the NFT you’ve bought is of the profile picture kind. But that functionality is not going to get millions of people excited, and getting millions of people excited about NFTs is the generally accepted definition of “mass adoption.” (Plus, profile pictures are, really, merely scratching the surface of what NFTs can be used for.) Of course, if your NFT happens to be of the Aussie Open-winning backwards lob by Djokovic (OK, maybe not Djokovic) then in all honesty, displaying it to your mates on a phone screen is not going to have quite the intended show-off value.

Around a month ago, as I was setting up Urban Symphony, I described the project to my friend Matthias Röder – musician and culture-tech entrepreneur. He got it immediately, and remarked in passing “I’d love to throw that on my big-ass TV and just immerse myself in the projection.” Of course he would, and that is indeed the intended use case for the art, if I may mix vocabularies from the worlds of art and business.

And so, to the two very strong weak signals. Coinbase has just partnered up with MasterCard to enable customers to purchase NFTs with their credit cards and Samsung has announced that a number of its 2022 smart TVs will have NFT functionality built in. So, yeah, #ProbablyNothing, and Matthias will soon be able to throw Urban Symphony up on his super-sized monitor straight from his wallet.

OK, so this is going to require regular updates with those signals coming in thick and fast now. For the sake of brevity and efficiency, I’ll just be posting the links down here:

Walmart to sell virtual goods and NFTs

The US tax man has already figured out how to tax NFT-related income

The AP is launching its own photo NFT marketplace on Ethereum sidechain Polygon, which will feature Pulitzer Prize-winning shots.

Celebrities are hopping onto the NFT train

When the big consultancies write about it with an air of breathless fascination, it is “most certainly something.”

Crypto is no longer required to purchase NFTs on the world’s largest marketplace

Shopify flows merchants to sell NFTs directly through their storefronts

Back in the day, when it was normal for artists to collaborate and present their work in public, and nobody carried an iPhone because they did not exist, my old pal, guitar virtuoso Nigel Gavin and I worked together on a series of gallery / festival gigs where he improvised his (awesome) guitar loops / jazzy feel / ambient music to a projection of my photographs. The result was an experience in sight and sound that took the audience on inward journeys of a meditative kind. It worked well.

Now the swelling wave of digital art is upon us. So, Nigel and I are getting the band back together and creating a new sight and sound experience, powered by NFTs, streaming technology and other such good and exciting things. The name of the project is as it was then – Urban Symphony – at which link you will find a quickly evolving project site..

(With thanks to Chris Rea for the title idea for this post..)

The fabulous Stephanie McGann Jantzen is one of the leading voices in the Fireside community and it was a pleasure to chat to her about Boma Global, the Sonophilia Foundation, creativity, politics, leadership, play and the very serious role which art and the artists have to play in this, defining, moment in human history. You can pack a lot into an hour…

Have a listen HERE

“To survive we need food, sex, and creativity – and you need the last one to get either of the first two, so we know which is most important!”

I did a thing with the Sonophilia Foundation. It was a lot of fun!

Check it out HERE