Monday, 21 January 2013

How to be a Better Creative

This post is the start to a series of simple guides and tips for existing creatives and/or those that would like to either be a creative or be more creative in their work. I hope to share some of my experiences in my quest to better myself and the creative teams that have worked for me. It is biased, because of my experience, towards the digital marketing side of business but I hope that most of the posts will be beneficial to anyone wishing to develop their creative flair in their jobs. 

I've spent quite a fair bit of time being a digital creative, working in creative teams and running a creative agency and have learnt a lot along the way. When I talk at events or guest lecture, I normally theme my topic on enhancing general creativity in business, how to best formulate creative teams or how to run the creative process but I rarely talk about maximising an individuals creativity. 

I am by no means the best creative out there and have always had to balance my time with the operational running of my business. That said, being the creative lead of a small self-owned creative agency has allowed me to take an agile approach to experimenting with the development of both my own and my creatives skills and understanding. Some things I've done clearly assist in making idea machines (not to devalue the humanistic element) whilst others don't help so much.

The actual output of an individuals creative is 75% external factors such such as environment, process and team structure which is why I have in the past focused more on these parts. It means that a company looking to improve its creativity can make the biggest changes to output by just having a more systematic approach to how it runs its business. I will no doubt write more about these parts in the future but at present I want to focus specifically on how you, as a creative, can better your ability. I just wanted to point out the huge effect that any external elements have so you understand that as an individual you can only be at your best if your business is supporting you. 

The thing is, you are are an individual and if you are an employee you are recruited on an individual basis. Despite what many say, there is a definite need for specialist creatives particularly in companies that have a strong consumer brand presence. Creative is either non-existent in a company, is supplied by internal teams or external agencies. Whether you work client side or agency side makes no difference as to your potential to be a good creative. The mis-conception that client staff are not as creative as agency staff is simply because of the external factors the company works them in. I've seen some of the best creatives I've known make the transition from agency to client side and then believe they've lost their creative flair solely based on the environment they work in. On the flip side I know some wonderful creatives that work client side that make a huge difference to the quality of output from the agencies they work with.

Creativity is a set of processes in our brain, formed through a combination of genetics and learnt behaviour. By the time we have finished school and are starting to think about a career direction, a lot of our creative ability has already been formed. Its true that we all have the inherent ability to be creative but it really depends on how you define the term. You could argue that someone buying items in a shop totalling £5.20 that then hands over £10.20 instead of just the £10 is creative as they are solving a personal problem in a creative way. I suppose I define it as a solution to a problem that is a lot more emotionally complex.

I'll tag anything I write that might help in developing personal creativity into 'Creative Guide'. They will include practical advice on learning resources, development approach etc...and some things can be used in an appraisal system you are currently working on with an employer and therefore be developed whilst on paid time.

The single most important thing in being a good creative is about keeping your passion alive for the subject. Its true that 'what a young mind lacks in experience they make up for in passion.' Its a skill in itself to keep that passion alive throughout your career particularly when you start getting into more managerial roles dealing with the managing of people and business operations. It goes without saying that the best creative is therefore one that is experienced with a retained passion for the subject.

I should also make it clear that whilst I have followed some of the academic side of creativity, at the end of the day I run a business. I've taken some good things from lectures, papers and books from academics but the advice I give will only be things I have found to be practical, have implemented myself and have been successful. Most of the the academics are too purist in their approach and when you come to make use of the strategies they discuss they are either too costly, time consuming or even detrimental in conceiving a good simple concept. When you start thinking too much about process rather than the problem you were originally trying to solve you are going backwards.

Anyway, I hope these simple guides help. Please leave questions, comments and share your own advice or tips from your experiences.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

The Problems with Internet Dating

Nb. This is a huge post. I’ve already had a few people say my posts are too long so I promise I’ll do a few more manageable ones later. There’s just quite a lot I have to say about this subject. I use quite a lot of stats in this post. They come from a variety of sources but mostly from Reuters.

The opening line of a recent blog on the independent site read ‘We’re all going crazy for internet dating!’ That line might go some way in explaining the number of crazy people you may need to get through to find a good date.

Four years ago I found myself single for the first time in my adult life at the ripe old age of 29. I had also just moved into a new area and didn’t know anyone outside of work. As many will tell you, those that have been single for a long time find it more difficult to adjust to being with someone whereas those, like me, that have been in relationships a long time find it hard to adjust to being single. I have to admit that it was a new, very lonely experience for me, particularly as I had a child in my last relationship. I'd gone from hectic family life to being totally alone. At that time I knew that I wanted to be in another relationship and believed the easiest way to do so, considering my circumstances, would be to give internet dating a try.

Over the last 4 years I have been on and off different dating sites, resulting in a numerous amount of dates that have varied from the nicest of people to the most crazy I’d ever met. Some of these crazier dates verged on being serious enough to get the police involved.

One of the obvious mutually interesting discussions you can have with any date is about internet dating itself. I found it fascinating as to what women thought about it and the experiences they'd previously had. It often felt like smokers talking about smoking; you could be total strangers and found yourself talking about something you hated but still carried on with because you couldn’t see an alternative way. My experiences, my feelings and these discussions I had with dates really made me consider why the current way of internet dating could be more problematic than problem solving.

With more people single in their middle age, more breakdowns of marriage and both males and females working endless hours in pursuit of careers, any technology that can assist in the search and recommendation of a prospective partner has got to be a good thing, right? Well it seems like a lot of people think so, with an estimated 80% of single people in Europe and the US trying online dating. The revenue generated from internet dating in the US alone equates to over $1 Billion dollars, with 40 million registered internet daters from the 54 million estimated single people.

So if the large population of singletons has a demand for these services and the internet dating companies are supplying them what is the problem? The real problem stems from the complex set of human requirements involved when you are looking for someone and how the websites manage or more often mismanage the mechanics of delivering these requirements. Regardless if we are aware of it, as users we follow the intangible rule sets given to us by the sites in interacting with potential partners. This bends our normal behaviour to interact in a way that often brings out the worst possibilities of meeting someone. It’s therefore as much our own fault as the dating site owners but we are being educated to think that what we are doing is normal…well it must be if the majority of the population is doing it.  The over-engineering by the companies of their offerings has gone past the point of helping.

It is quite clear why these companies have done these things. It is a competitive market so they all need to appear to differentiate themselves and also add that little something extra. There are two major things that all the providers of these services have in common. The first is that they are trying to make money and the second is that the quicker they are at finding you a long-term partner the less money they will make. Therefore these companies have the following impossible dilemma; their customers needs are quite the opposite of their own. In fact only 10% of new users leave in the first 3 months and 95% of the same leavers haven’t met anyone. It just clarifies that internet dating isn’t the quick fix a lot think it might be.

So what are the problems of internet dating at present? There are quite a few if you ask me. I can’t cover them all so will focus on the main ones. I haven’t been on or even heard of every dating site in the world so these are problems that only exist in the sites I’ve had experience with (Chemistry, Match, Match Affinity, eHarmony, Plenty of Fish and Zoosk) but I can imagine most of the problems I’ll go into apply for the majority of other sites as well. I only state problems for the genuine, normal minded person looking for love. Those not fitting into this bracket may find the problems I list beneficial.

Aesthetic commodity selling
Some sites are more genuine than others in this way but the crux of it is that a large part of our attraction is based on physical looks. With most sites wanting to emphasise the huge number of members they have, they will display page-by-page of a huge number of photos side by side. When your photo is listed amongst hundreds of others you literally become a fish in the sea. The ‘plenty of fish in the sea’ saying is more of an enlightening of the truth so I don’t feel the problem lies here. The problem is that by the sites making this the primary focus of search, we start short-listing entirely based on looks.

Successful couples that had been together over 20 years were asked what was the most important thing that first attracted them to their partner.  Only 23% believed it was looks. In contrast 89% of us select a first internet date based on looks.

Consider the following simple romantic scenario. You see an average looking stranger standing near you at a bar talking to their friends. You pay no attention until you overhear them talking about something of importance to you. The stranger sees things the same way as you so you turn to pay attention. The stranger notices you, smiles and you engage in conversation. Only after interacting with them have you found them attractive…an impossible scenario with internet dating. It is however, possible to go through these romantic feelings after the selection process, by which time you may well have skipped past the romantic stranger in the story above. This was because there were 40 other photos on a page alongside theirs and 10 were better looking.

Lies, deceit and telling you what you want to hear
I’m guessing its not a new concept to anyone that people lie about certain things with apparently 53% of us doing so just on our CV/resume or linkedin profiles but for some reason a lot of us are still a little na├»ve about it when viewing profiles. People are trying to sell themselves. Trying to better their competitors, men lie most about their age, height and income whereas women lie most about their age, weight and physical build. 

Why?? Some people realise its all about getting that first date and go to stupid extents to bend the truth. Some totally fabricate it because they are trying to escape the reality of their lives….I really don’t know! 

I’ve personally experienced this problem many times. I’ve met a woman that had pictures from 10 years ago and lied about her age, an enormous woman that looked like she had eaten the slender girl in her pictures for breakfast and a couple of women that have totally fabricated their entire life stories to such detail that as a rational person you believe them. After all…why on earth would they bother!

Stranger danger
It took me a while to realise the reason why I was meeting a higher percentage of odd people dating than I’ve ever met in the rest of my life. Its simply because when you are internet dating you are quite obviously meeting a stranger. 

In the rest of our lives we typically meet friends and sometimes, even dates through friends. By default when you do this you are likely to meet someone your friend considers a friend. It is unlikely that a good friend has many odd friends let alone would want to introduce you to them. 

As we get older and go through our friendship cycles the chance of meeting odd people become smaller and smaller and our expectations follow suit. That’s why it becomes a bit of a shock at first when you meet your first random odd-ball.  It really can put you off internet dating for good and might go some way in explaining the 10% of people leaving within 3 months.

You also need to be aware of sites that use this problem as selling point.  ‘My single friend’ for example claims to be more genuine because friends of the dater write the profiles. This might help to a certain extent but taking the above into consideration an odd person may have an odd friend and friends are actually more likely to write a glowing report of a person than they would of themselves. It’s also not too difficult to fake a friend (it only requires for another email address to be registered).

Also the sites don’t want to publicise it as much as they do their success stories and weddings but it goes without saying that there are some dangerous people out there without good intention. I’ve heard some quite serious accounts of things that have happened to people I have met.

Out and about
When you get to the point of going for your first date you start to think about where to go, what to do and what time to do it. 74% of people in UK go to a pub or bar for a drink on the first date.

The problem that some seem to have with doing this is the timing. I mean it’s likely to be a weekend night or at least an evening so there is plenty of time to keep going.  Drinking seems an obvious way to calm the nerves and to get to a point where we feel more comfortable in being ourselves but the date can then sometimes go a little further than maybe we would have liked.

I was surprised to find out that in the US 33% of women have sex on their first internet date. It’s not for me to tell anyone what they can or cannot do and I think its fine if two consenting adults want to have sex after a first date…its just that more often than not, when friends of mine have done so they were either 1) drunk and regret it or 2) they believed something would carry-on after. This means the other person was clearly telling them what they wanted to hear in order to get them into bed. The ironic thing is the number one reason I hear from everyone as a reason to date online as opposed to meeting someone naturally is ‘I’d rather meet someone sober online than meet someone drunk out in a bar’.

Too much typing, not enough meeting
A lot of people cite ‘lack of time’ as being a reason for not meeting someone but then have to spend a huge amount of time searching, short-listing and then writing to people. The right amount of mail contact before a first date is unique to each individual. There is a need to feel balance between spending the time to check if someone is normal but also wanting to make something more real. 

I can say in my experience, it doesn’t matter how long you chat online for, you will never know what someone is like until you meet. I mean, if someone really was an axe-murderer they are not going to tell you in advance are they? The other problem with chatting for too long is you start to build up false expectations of how your date will be.

Multiple dating
I’m sure a lot of us have heard a few ‘old-wives tales’ about people that have done the 14 dates in 14 days. The thing is, if this were possible then it wouldn’t be a bad thing and isn’t considered multiple dating. Multiple dating is when you make the commitment to continue dating i.e. seeing them again whilst also continuing to see other people. Even after understanding the definition, I don’t think multiple dating is wrong providing the person you are dating knows this is the intention. The problem comes when one person multiple dates whilst the other believes they are the only one. 

Apart from the deceit, particularly if having sexual relationships with multiple dates, multiple daters are unlikely to be focused exclusively on committing to one person. Some people are doing this for sex, some for self worth but most are actually quite genuinely looking for ‘the one’ and taking a ‘get out of jail’ and ‘try before you buy’ approach. So if one date doesn’t work out many others exist. The sad truth is its unlikely that any will work out causing problems to everyone involved. Although its not very common with women, 53% of males multiple date.

Where’s the romance gone
There’s something quite romantic about meeting someone in a natural way. Even the toughest of us secretly long for a romantic story of meeting and that first meet has been the romantic focus of many a romantic comedy. All of my past relationships had a story behind them, meeting someone on the snow whilst boarding, a girl on a train I met when all the seats were taken, a girl I adored from Uni that took 7 years to find…It really doesn’t hold the same appeal for me to say ‘This is the girl I got to know from 

While its inevitable that this will be the case if you meet someone internet dating it’s another reason why we shouldn’t be delving into long conversations online. Use the site to find someone then have as much of the initial relationship in the real-world as possible.

The laws of attraction
Although I’m not soppy enough to believe that there is just one person out there for us I do believe some people are better suited than others. What I strongly disagree with is that I can be matched to them people through a website search. 

The sites that take this approach are using more and more intelligent ways to try to match that includes genetic algorithms (an evolution of your own matching criteria influenced by your activity). This means, for example, that although I might say I want to meet 30 year old blondes, if the site sees I’m clicking a lot of 40 year old brunettes it will start to include more of this type of match.

The point is, I don’t know either consciously or subconsciously what a successful match is for me. If I did I probably wouldn’t be single. We are human. We have irrational brains. The thought processes used and emotions shown in attraction and love are too complex for any human to program into a computer. As individuals we are so unique that you could argue that not even successful couples know the real complexities as to what initially attracted them to their partners.

It’s not actually the sites mechanics that are at fault. It is the marketing messaging of these sites that convince you to think that by being clever they are more likely to find you a perfect match.

Yes your details are almost public. I can’t see how the same people that are so fussy about who sees what on social networking are happy for millions of their preferred sex to see the most intimate details about themselves including their feelings on relationships, what they are looking for in a partner and their private stats. Its all too common these days for you to find people you know on one of the sites and then find out things even you didn’t know about them. 

In terms of the companies selling data to 3rd parties, some will never do this and some have opt-in/out options but I can tell you after joining the biggest sites and opting out of any comms I have still had a whole load of emails from other more promiscuous sites and spammers…someone clearly divulged that I was at least dating.

So reflecting on the problems and why they exist you can see that they mostly relate to this conflict of interest between what a dater wants and what the companies supplying the services want. They want to show that they have as many members as possible so commoditise you. The only barrier to membership is the fee so any nutter with the money can join. They want you to stay within the realms of their platform as much as possible so entice you onto the site with notifications and dating matches by email. They are quite happy for members to multiple date and even happier to get all your lovely valuable details. Heck, most of the sites even sent me special offers for becoming a member again after I’d stated the reason for leaving was because I’d met someone on their site.

I wish everyone luck in their dating experiences whether online or offline and hope you find the one that completes you so you'll never have to delve back into this horrible dating mess again :)