Why it’s sometimes right to think wrong.

Last week’s report from CERN that scientists had managed to fire particles faster that the speed of light rocked a few quantum physicists back on their heels. Should the results be further verified, the very building blocks of physics and indeed of Einstein’s theory of relativity will be chucked out the window, faster than you can say E=MC2. It got me thinking about the brilliant little book by Paul Arden, ‘Whatever You Think, Think The Opposite’ in which he challenges conventional wisdom in an attempt to unlock astonishing creativity.

Arden, for those of you not familiar with his work, was the Executive Creative Director of Saatchi & Saatchi during its golden era and produced ground-breaking work for British Airways, Silk Cut, The Independent and Inter City. To say he was a bit of a character is like saying Frank Sinatra was a bit of a singer. He famously refused to play football for the Saatchi team because the grass ‘wasn’t the right shade of green’ and on another occasion, when booked to speak at a conference on the subject of ‘creativity’, walked on stage followed by a string quartet playing Beethoven. Arden himself didn’t utter a word, before walking off the other side of the stage.

In his book, ‘Whatever you think…’ he tells the story of coming up with a strapline for the imposing V&A Museum in London. Using the insight that the first thing people look for in a museum is the café (second only to the loo) he presented the Directors with the line ‘An ace caff with quite a nice museum attached’. To their credit, they ran with it and subsequently attracted tens of thousands more visitors than any ‘worthy’ traditional campaign had achieved previously. In the book he also cites the best piece of advice the photographer Richard Avedon ever received as a rookie. The art director at Harper’s Bazaar briefed the young Avedon with just two words: ‘Astonish me.’ As creative thinkers, we might not be able to debunk the accepted laws of physics, but we certainly have it within our power to challenge convention and astonish people with our imagination. What’s the best piece of advice about creativity that you’ve ever received?

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Mike Fleming

Mike is a multi-award winning copywriter and brand strategist. He has over 20 years’ experience writing TV commercials and online films, press advertising, corporate branding and website content. In 2010 he was voted the UK’s most recommended copywriter in an industry client and peer poll and this year was listed in the world’s Top 100 SEO copywriters by Forbes.com contributor, Robert Kim.