102 | Fostering a creative culture in Tech
52 min listen
For too long B2B has been missing its spark. It's time to change the narrative around creativity in B2B Tech.
Joining us to do just that is Mark Lulsens. A renowned Brand and Creative Consultant and former Global Creative Director at some of the leading FinTech brands.
Tune in as Mark shares how we can nurture creative cultures at scale, and the 5 key principles that can breathe new life into your creative atmosphere.
If you're looking to reinvigorate your approach to creativity, this is the place to start!
View the full transcript here
Jon Busby: Welcome listeners for joining us on another tech marketing podcast episode. We are joined today by Mark Lolsons, who has led create a variety of creative teams across FinTech organizations. Mark, it's a pleasure to have you on today's podcast. You've had a really interesting career history. Um, we were talking about this beforehand.
You've been a motorcycle mechanic, a ski instructor, a yacht skipper, and a film operator. Like Where do I even get started? Like, how did you land in the creative space? Okay.
Mark Lulsens: Well, first of all, thanks for having me on. I'm, I'm really excited about what we're going to be talking about today. So you can also add to that a bank teller, um, also ran an internet cafe for a bit.
Do you remember those things? Um, look, all of that stuff was really early in my career. And it's worth noting that I left school pretty much at 16 and didn't do any further education. So while I had my friends. Going to college and then off to uni, I was trying my hand at various things, didn't really know what I wanted to do.
And when any opportunity presented itself, I was always just a bit of a yes person. Um, I'll give that a go. I'll try that and see what comes of it. How I ended up in the creative space was in my mid twenties. A friend of mine had a film production company. And he said to me, I've got a shoot coming up in...
Dakar in Senegal for a training film for ExxonMobil and I'm a man down, do you fancy coming out and giving me a hand? And I was like, I've never picked up a camera in my life, I don't know how I can possibly help you. And he said, look, I'll just teach you the basics of how to operate a camera in the hotel room the night before and you'll be fine.
And I never really looked back. So that, like the career history and the oddities that some people think of my career history is. It has no relation to what I ended up doing for the past 15 plus years, really. Um, it was me, I mean, you could say that I've learnt various things from those various roles, most notably sailing.
We all know lots of sailing analogies, whether you are a sailor or not. Um, and they're true, and they've certainly helped me in intense situations remain calm and see a way through. But in terms of the other jobs, they were just for fun.
Jon Busby: Yeah. I'd love that idea of, would you say, you know, you being a yes man, like saying yes to more opportunities, would you say that's, that sticks out for me is probably one of the main things that being create, it's important to include when you're creative today because there are just so much opportunity out there, but you've got to open yourself to it.
Um, it's, yeah, I'd love that. Love that. The, um, which of the, which of the roles apart from being a yacht skipper that gave you all those analogies, which one gave you the most inspiration?
Mark Lulsens: Crikey. Um, I would probably say I also went through a phase of trying my hand at running my own companies, um, like a small events company and then, um, a 360 photography company.
And I would say that that made me realize for the first time. The world in which we were in, I suppose now, but certainly then you could just do anything you could set up a limited company overnight. You can make a few phone calls, um, learn a few things pretty quickly and then have a go. And I think that's something that stuck with me for a really long time and is still with me today is just give something a go.
I think we get educated out of creativity. I really believe in that. And famously, Sir Ken Robinson did that TED talk where he talks about that a lot. And, and I think that we get, fear starts to set in. And if you keep a more playful mind and you're just willing to give something a go, it's more likely that you're going to come up with something new.
And something new is what I've pretty much based my career on the last 10 to 15 years. Just the creation of new, whether it's good or bad, just try it. I suppose that leads
Harry Radcliffe: quite nicely into a slightly cheesy question that we got to ask. But how would you kind of define creativity, I suppose? What, what constitutes as creativity to
Mark Lulsens: you?
So I'm going to lean into Sir Ken again. I mean, I see creativity as. The creation of something new with value. So it's really important to decouple creativity just from the arts, because I never saw myself as a creative. Until I was in my late twenties, early thirties, because even when I ask the question now to groups of people, are you creative?
Most people don't put their hands up because they think, well, I'm not a designer. I'm not an artist. I'm not a chef. I'm not a dancer or a musician. So it's important that you just think of creativity as the creation of something new with value. And I think it has two parts to it. Quite simply, there's the idea, but that's not being creative.
And a lot of people think it is. So when they go, when you hear somebody say, I would just really want somebody super creative to help us with this. They're so great at coming up with ideas. That's not creating anything. bins all around the world full of ideas, right? So the first part, yes, you need the idea.
Um, but the second part is the creative process, which is turning it into something real, actually creating something tangible. So that's the way I define it. And I think that, yes, my focus has been in the brand marketing content space. But it doesn't matter whether you're talking to a team in finance or a sales team.
It's the creation of new with value. I'm
Harry Radcliffe: going to have to then follow up and ask, how do you define
Mark Lulsens: value then? So it has to solve a problem or a challenge. So, um, I'm also a lot of people say you need to have a problem or a challenge to solve and that's, that's not true. So I think that let's, let's first of all just look at what are, who are creative people.
Okay. So creative people are all of us. Every single one of us is, is born with creative capacity. It's whether we develop it as we grow older and don't allow that kind of like fear of failure to creep in. But, um, if we think of a creative person as somebody who's just hyper aware, and there's been lots of studies on this, right?
I think, I hope I don't get this wrong, but there was a study Claxton, and he just looked at... What makes a creative person creative? And it's somebody that has a hyper sense of awareness. So they just, they don't overlook anything. And it could be that I'm just going to go for a walk down the road to grab a pint of milk.
And I'm always trying to look at anything, the way the wind's blowing through the trees. Why is that person wearing what they're wearing? Or, you know, that car that just drove past, you know, what is it that makes that just so interesting? Or it might be a sound, it might be um, it might just even be like an event I go to.
I'm just always trying to... take everything in and note it down. And those notes will one day be useful. And that's why I don't think you always need to start with a problem or a challenge. And I'd say that one of the most successful marketing campaigns we made back in Refinitiv, which I might come back to later.
Was from an idea I had about two years before we even got asked to the marketing campaign, and it was something that I've noticed and that I've noticed and parked it and thought one day if we ever get asked that, that's going to work really well. Um, so I think that the, the creative to be a creative, you need to be really aware.
You need to notice things that are interesting. Um, because ultimately we all want to create stopping power in marketing and in brand. So if you are stopped by something, notice it. Secondly. Make sure that you write it down and make the connection to something else later. So when you do have a interesting challenge or there is an opportunity to use that, then use it.
But coming back to your question around value, just make sure that it's delivering something for your business or for the customer specifically. So what is it that they are looking to achieve? What do they need from your business or your service or your product? And as long as you're answering that.
With that new, then you're creating new with value. If you're just creating something that just looks super cool and, or it's a really nice piece of film, but it, there's no message. There's no depth. It's not speaking to your brand platform or your company's purpose or what customers need. It has no value.
There's an interesting
Harry Radcliffe: tension there because a creative person is, as you define them is someone who's going around noticing all sorts of things and I'm creative person is. Not doing that. The reason that an uncreative person is not noticing those things is because they don't recognize them as something with value.
You know, it might, it's not valuable information why this person is wearing that jumper or why that car is, is red or something of the sort. And it's the creative person that is taking in loads of things that seemingly have no value and then manages to get the value out of that in a different way later on, I guess.
Mark Lulsens: But the interesting part to all of this. Is that it's a really easy thing to learn how to do.
Harry Radcliffe: Yeah. I'd love to learn. How does, how does if we have a non creative person listening, how do they go about trying to activate that?
Mark Lulsens: Well, first of all, you don't have any completely non creative people. True, true, true.
But yeah, um, but um, I think that the, the lots of people talk about and, you know, I've spoken to many agencies about this as well. Like what are the tips? What are the tools? What are the tricks to, um, creativity and creating new, something completely new. Um, and really there are, there's so much out there, just Google it, but it all starts with just being aware and noticing things and connecting things.
And anybody can do that. So I would just challenge absolutely anyone to next time, even in your own home, just sit there and just take a minute, just turn everything off and look around you and just see what inspires you. Is it a book cover? Is it a, what is it? When your kids are watching television, just sit with them and watch that.
cartoon, whatever it might be, just take in what is the message, how are they structuring the message, what's the narrative, what's the takeaway, how are they using color in an interesting way. Start being more aware of what's around you. And you don't do it all the time, right? It's exhausting to live your life like that constantly.
But certainly if I'm in a new setting, and in fact just the past week I've been in some new environments that I've never been in in my life. And from the moment I arrived, I was like, I cannot miss a thing because this is just super cool. Everything I'm experiencing is just, it's just different. I might not experience it again.
So just take it all in, you know, I'm still enjoying the situation, but at the same time, I'm just noting down what is it that I'm enjoying and how I might, I'd be able to use that for something
Jon Busby: else. I love that. I mean, one. If we, if we think about our career trajectories, you know, you, some of the different roles that you've done over those years, like one of the biggest changes over the last 10, 20, 30 years, whilst we've all been in existence is the amount of information and data and, and, uh, inspiration that exists out there.
Like, do you see, I'd love that quote by Guy Claxton. Like, do you see, do you find it overwhelming trying to take all of that in? If you're, if you're, if you're sat there in a new experience going, I don't want to miss anything. Like, how do you
Mark Lulsens: prioritize it? Um, now you're going to completely expose me as somebody that actually avoids a lot of what's out there.
Um, I do get really overwhelmed. I don't even know if it's an anxiety. It possibly is. So there's so much content out there now, and I've been surrounded by many people in. My, mainly my job, my career that just have an incredible ability to retain information and part of the reason why I left school. It's so frustrating when
Jon Busby: they can as well, isn't it?
Like when they're suddenly like, how
Mark Lulsens: do you remember that? I know, exactly. I almost look at them like aliens because that's just not me. And that's part of the reason why I left school so young, because I just can't, even if I studied, for example, I just can't retain information very well. Um, so I just, I just avoid it and just try and.
Catch, when I catch something, I just make it. Make sense for me and make sure that I can use it or understand it in a certain way. Like I can't doom scroll. I just find it exhausting and a complete waste of time because you will never get to the end of what's out there. You're always going to meet somebody who's seen something cooler or has seen something like a better ad by a different company that you just haven't caught or they know the agency that created the ad and you didn't or it just becomes a little bit overwhelming.
So in answer to your question, like how do I manage. The input is, I try, and I suppose this comes back to the different jobs as well. I try to look for things that other people aren't looking for. So generally, when you talk to, you know, marketers, or I've ran teams of, you know, designers and animators and filmmakers, and they're all looking at pretty much the same forums and following the same things.
I try and look at something. In a different, you know, different place and that obviously when you've got kids that comes from kids. That's an obvious thing to say. It might come from hobbies, it might come from a bit of travel, it might be whatever it is. It might just be a moment of complete peace and calm and tranquility and I just noticed something in that.
Moment of peace rather than in that moment of being overwhelmed by content. Yeah. You just made some
Jon Busby: really interesting points, Mark, around how you, how you define creativity and how you become more creative. How do you do that at scale in a enterprise tech brand or FinTech brand? Like what's the ways that you can bring that process
Mark Lulsens: to life?
Okay. So there's a, there's probably two sides to this. I'm going to answer this. I would say you bring it to life with your talent and resources around you. And you also bring it to life through culture. as well. And I think both quite honestly, um, are misunderstood at the moment. And I've worked for a few different large corporates, but I've got friends and others and the tail seems to be the same.
So why don't I start with just the talent that you've got around you, like look at your resources. And, um, if we're really talking about bringing creativity to the fore, And when we're saying creativity, we can, you can label that as you wish, right? We just talked about it. It can be ideas and problem solving or innovation, call it what you will.
Um, they generally just think of it as a, if, if there's a CMO listening to, to this podcast, for the most part, you'll think. In house versus out of house talent. And I think there's a really big danger in just thinking that way. And my view and what I've tried pretty hard to do over the past few years of my career is look at that as a blended model.
And almost view it as like a collective rather than two separate entities, it's a collective and they've got different value and different energy. And if you view them, the in house and out of house in that way, then you start to think about the creation of content and creativity in a very different way.
And I also think it's dangerous just looking at it really binary, right? In house, out of house. In house, you've obviously got your permanent team, you've got your contractors and you've got your freelance and each three of them have their different value add. Each of those groups have different energy that they're bringing to the table and they all complement each other.
So it's really important to use that mix in the right way and not just thinking, Oh my God, we've got this. deadline next week, let's just go and hire a load of freelancers. Like what are you hiring them for? Why are you hiring them? Why aren't you getting them to do something else? And why isn't it you can extend it and actually put it to a six month contract and get a different certain type of expertise, which we don't have in house.
Similarly, when you look at external agencies, it's quite binary to think of just agencies as one big group. There's obviously very different, many different types of agencies. And I think they just need to be used in the right way, but more importantly. in the right way with your internal team. And so often, and I really, it's really important I make this point because it's something that I've tried so hard to, to, to cut through, but still, um, you know, you can get tripped up, is when you hire an agency, just make sure they really want to partner with you.
Like, and as cheesy as that sounds, like partnership, it is so important that you get that right. If you're going to go and spend 10, 20 grand, a couple hundred grand or a million on an agency, why on earth wouldn't you think, what value can they bring to our internal resource? If you have internal resource, not everyone does, right?
But if you do, what value, what growth can I create within that internal resource? How can I upskill my team? At the same time, how can my internal team upskill that agency as quickly as possible? If that relationship is really effective, both sides win, yet there's still agencies out there that are very protective of their process.
They're very protective of always trying to break the brand and show us how it could be done. And you know, there's the reason why I'm talking to you on this podcast is because you guys just got that right from the minute I met you. And I think that there's few that truly know how to. Make a phone call into the creative team or into the design team and just say, look, we're working with another department and we're working on this, but we really just want your view on it.
And that sort of relationship blurs the lines between internal and external. And that's where I believe the best work can come from. I mean,
Jon Busby: I couldn't agree more. Obviously, I'm going to agree with that, Mark, with that endorsement. Um, but the, you know, some of our most successful projects at every level, we have just been seen as extensions of those team as partners.
Mm-Hmm. , um, yet the, you know, gonna call out like procurement tend to get in the way and just see it as a cost saving exercise in order to get the, the resources in as, as cheap as possible. Like what advice would you give? to external partners, external agencies in order to partner better.
Mark Lulsens: I would tell them to be more authentic in the pitch process. So everyone, look, I'm the one that's always been on the panel that's always given the hardest grilling on partnership, always, because I was, it was my team that I wanted to create opportunity for. So if you're going to go and do an external ad campaign, right, a global ad campaign, you, I want a member of my team, a part of that.
I don't want to just see an agency go and run with it. So I'm the one, you know, that was always give me an example of partnership. What does it mean to you? What does that look like? And let me paint a scenario. And I would just say, look, if you can't back it up when you get the job, if you get hired and you can't back it up, you'll get found out and you just won't last very long because there will be someone like me in the background telling the people that are paying the bills, we're cutting them.
because they gave us this and they're just not delivering on their promise. And obviously from certain views, but they're delivering this really nice, sexy, creative, or they're just, you know, they're getting us the clicks that we want, or we're, you know, getting whatever metric we've assigned to it. And it's like, yeah, but you're missing a huge opportunity here for us to create a long term partnership with this agency.
And not forgetting internally, you've got people with similar skill sets that have invested their careers in our business and they're not benefiting from it because they're not partnering with us. So I would just say if you can't back it up, then just don't say it. And if you don't want to be one of those agencies that do want to work with the internal team, then just be honest about that.
But I've, I've, I've sat in too many, you know, those pitches where they've said all the right things. And I thought I'm going to catch them out and I can't. And then we hire them and it's. They just failed to deliver on the partnership element, still produce interesting work. Don't get me wrong. I've worked with some amazing agencies, but it, that's the bit that always niggles me because I was, I worked in house for growth.
I didn't work there to see everyone else get exciting work and us just do the, you know, run of the mill kind of the reversioning or just the talking heads. You know, everyone wants the exciting work, right?
Jon Busby: I could, I couldn't agree more. Like, so let me ask the same question back the other way. Like what can, uh, enterprises do in order to partner better with their agencies?
Uh, what, what do you think they often fall down
Mark Lulsens: on? That's an interesting one. Okay. So my media thought to that is that the focus on developing the relationship is generally at the marketing to agency level, it's not the in house. Create like quote unquote creative team level. So they just want to, if they see, you know, agencies just won X award or competitors just done this, they want an agency that can come along and just deliver.
And yes, agencies have more resource. Yes, agencies do have, um, you know, specialisms that in house don't have. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that they're equal. I'm saying that coming back to what I said right at the beginning of kind of your question is you need to see them as a collective with different value and energy.
Um, And I would just say, don't forget your internal team that might have been there for one, two, three, or even 10 years. They're also looking for opportunity and growth. And they're the ones investing in your brand every single day. And by the way, yeah, the big campaigns are really cool and fun, but they're also working on those smaller, more specific campaigns.
It might be a small programmatic one, but they can bring that learning to it. Let me just give you a really simple example. There was, um, earlier this year, I had a new writer join my team and there was a, an exercise that the risk business. And at that time, the person who was running the project, um, knew me very well.
And they said, look, we want you to be a part of, you know, helping us manage this particular project with the agency. And I said, that's great, but there's one proviso. And that is that this new writer sits on every single listening session. And by the end of it, there was so much to learn, but by the end of it, they were actually turning to him to say, what do you think of this?
What do you think of that? So it wasn't just even listening. It was actually being a part of the whole agency process, but it was actually suddenly becoming a contributor. And what did that do to that person? If we're talking about growth and personal value, that person then was contributing to something.
And the minute you contribute to something, whether it's a project or a business, you just got more investment in it. So the process. It didn't disrupt the process, by the way, what we're paying the agency to do, it just added to it. Right? So my message to answer your question is just think about what you're buying.
You're buying an ad campaign or you might be buying a piece of messaging, but you also could be buying training, investment in your staff, motivation. inspiration for various team members to learn more.
Jon Busby: I've written all those down by the way, because I think it's brilliant. I think we should add it as part of our service offering.
So those intangibles so often get forgotten about. Um, you know, instead we just look at how quickly can you deliver this creative campaign? What? How can you do it at this cost? Um, https: otter. ai
Easy to forget those intangible elements and the value that they bring to the creative process and the culture really at the
Mark Lulsens: end of it. Yeah, I mean, I, I totally agree with that. And one of the things that, um, again, I've experienced with very few agencies in which you guys have done in the past is when you've asked me or a member of my team out of the blue, can you just show us some of the things that you're working on internally?
No agencies, very few agencies ever ask that. And of course, we're going to be like, yeah, sure. We want to show off what we're doing. You know, especially to an agency that we're partnering with over a long period of time. But so few agencies are willing to go. I wonder what the internal team are doing because nobody can see all the work all the time.
And rather than just focusing, we've been asked to do this brief and that's our outcome. Let's just see what we can learn. And that's aside from the obvious brand training, right? You know, everyone's going to get that what I mean is just the day to day, you know, what sales collateral have you just built last week?
What thought leadership piece have you just put out last month? It'd be really interesting to see how you position that or what, you know, visual expression of the brand you used for that particular piece. And then you're going to learn from it. You'll dial into what we're doing straight away and vice versa.
It just makes sense. Yeah. How do you go
Jon Busby: about, especially with the culture? Um. Absolutely. Absolutely. You know, us, us creatives, I'm going to say us creatives, I'm going to use a very broad reaching term, you know, we can have, we, we have a balance between, um, being confident in our idea and our ability to defend it, um, and our ability to be humble and open minded with feedback, you know, sometimes that can come across as ego, you.
Like us having a big ego, but you know, I would, I would say it's, we need to, you need to be willing to defend your idea. How do you balance that between, you know, freelancers, external agencies and internal teams, so you don't come across, you know, big egos and, and, and
Mark Lulsens: challenges? Well, I just think that, you know, I mean, effectively you're talking, I guess, a little bit about.
You know, just diversity here, like even cognitive diversity, experience diversity. I think you need a lot of everything in a team, whether it's an internal team or external team. And it's quite easy to go, well, we don't want that sort of to work with that sort of agency or that sort of person. And do you know what?
You need it all and a lot of it. And I've learned so much from, yes, the permanent internal team and freelancers and contractors and small external agencies and global. brand agencies. And across that mix, you've got your classic introvert designer. You've got your very, very confident creative director type.
Um, you've got your super hyper classic intelligence strategist that always loses me. But really when you cut through what they're saying, it's pretty straightforward, but you've got all these different personality types, right? And you've got the person in a room that doesn't share too much because they're quite.
I'm not afraid to, or you've got the person in the room that never stops throwing too many ideas at the table, which also isn't very helpful, but you learn a little bit from everybody. And I think that as long as everything is in balance, then this is what I'm going to come back to. You know, when you just learn from an agency and an agency learns from in house is if you really feel the temperature of a business.
then you as an agency would be more effective anyway. Because somebody internally, I know everyone better than you do, like that you're going to be working with. So I'm going to know that certain person responds really well to a super confident, bold pitch. I know this other person is going to respond really well to quite a lot of pausing.
And quite a lot of time for them to feed back. So it's a matter of just playing the team against the stakeholder, against the project, against the brand and the company in the right way. And that takes time. Um, and that's experience, but that's also just knowing who you're working with. Right? No, completely
Jon Busby: agree.
I think it's a difficult one to go for, right? You know, managing. Using the more negative term, managing ego is difficult throughout a creative process, but really it is about balancing the, your defense of an idea against, against being open minded enough. And I think you're exactly right. Like, some of it comes down to mixing.
the right skills you need in the room to be able to achieve that and making sure you have the mix of skills in the first place
Harry Radcliffe: and the flip side as well because it's like on the one hand yeah there's like this ego of battling your idea but on the other hand i remember one of my first jobs was in radio hardest i've had some pretty difficult jobs and unpleasant jobs and this one was bad.
Get up at six o'clock in the morning. I had to write two pages of a four that were basically all jokes about what was on the news at the time. And the only thing in the news in the time was Brexit. So for six months, I just had to get up. Early and write as many jokes about the same topic as possible and then take them to two of my superiors Who would then read them and not laugh at any of them?
And that's just a really soul crushing experience and over time you get less and less Risk taking you get less and less You know, it's just something you feel sick about so there's Someone might come up with a bad idea one time and how that's responded to is very impactful on whether or not they then vocalize that good idea that they have another time.
So kind of that process is important as well.
Mark Lulsens: Yeah. I mean, you're touching on like creative culture now, which is something that is near and dear to my heart. And I think it's absolutely critical to all of what we've talked about from. When we're talking about who are creative people and what is creativity and ensuring that you can bring those things to the surface, because what one thing that we all know is an absolute certainty is no one knows where the next best idea is going to come from.
So if you don't. then you must create an environment to allow an idea to come from anywhere. But just to be clear, we
Jon Busby: also know how important creative is. Powerful creative can be 10 to 20 times more effective. It's super important as part
Mark Lulsens: of the process. Well, it's important, but so I think that stat might have come from LinkedIn.
Um, and it, but, but the. Important thing is just defining again what it is. So when you talk about creative when we talk about creative in advertising and creative in brand and creative in marketing We're all talking about generally our minds go to visual expression of our brand and ad that's creative But if we're saying that creative is new with value, it's not it's just ideas, right?
It's problem solving. It's ideas. It's innovation It's any it's everywhere. So if we're clearer about what And again, you know, in various companies I've worked for, the minute I start talking about this, they'll be like, yeah, but you're really creative. But you, you guys are all creative in your team. No, no, no.
We, we all are. You know, it's, I love the Picasso quote. We're all born artists. Our challenge is to remain artists as we grow older, right? I define that as like, we're all born creators. We're all born with so many ideas. Everyone knows this, the cheesy example of give a kid a Christmas present at Christmas.
What they play with the box. Why is that? This has got infinite possibilities. The thing inside is probably just got one or two. So the kids are just, you know, ideas are just coming fast and it's very rare. You're going to walk into a. play school and there'll be a kid in the corner of the room at three years old with their arms folded going, I'm just not creative.
I can't play with Lego. I can't play with pens or pencils. So, so I think what we need to do is first of all, just appreciate that creativity is everyone's job. And there are different levels of it. People practice in different ways. And certainly there are people that are better at. Um, you know, strategy, which is also creative as well as design, but it's all our jobs.
And I think the more we can talk about creative culture in organizations at large, not just creative agencies or creative internal teams, quote unquote, um, then it's going to be better for everyone. And you know, there's, there's some, and maybe for another time, but there's just some really simple principles that you can follow literally today.
That will help you foster a better creative culture
Jon Busby: in your firm. Well, let's dive into some of those principles. I mean, firstly, I'm going to say I couldn't agree more. You know, I, having worked in the creative agency side now for 15 years, uh, and I started life out as a developer, right? So I didn't have, I've never had the word creative in my job title.
Um, I've never, I've never been part of an art direction team or a copywriting team, um, but I would argue all the time, everything we do is creative. I just have creative ways of putting different software packages together to achieve an outcome that hasn't been achieved before. Um, and so I, I think you have to look at it from absolutely every angle and make sure you're, you're piecing it together.
So yeah, firstly, could not, could not agree with that point more mark, but let's dive into some of those. Principles because I think it's I think it's gonna be important for our listeners to understand. So, you know, how would you How do you define those those different pillars if you will?
Mark Lulsens: So the Best place to start is really looking at which I did quite a few years ago now.
What are the things that get in the way? of create creative thought ideation um, and actually I think harry you just it might be something that you touched on as well is that When you have an idea, how can you make sure that it's effective and people will listen? Um, and so the the five the five kind of barriers if you like that can get in the way of it I'm sure many people will come up with more but I think the key ones are That we don't value cognitive diversity enough So that's numero uno.
And by the way, there's like books on each of these, um, that I could, you know, maybe recommend later. But, um, cognitive diversity is really important. We're, we're good. And again, I'm going to just confuse everyone now by just bringing it back to creative teams, quote unquote, internal agencies. Um, but when you surround yourself with people that may be looking at the same, you know, we talked about it earlier, you know, doing scrolling the same things or listening to the same podcast or looking at the same links, you're generally going to come up with similar ideas.
Generally, if you allow for cognitive diversity and then, and just allow yourself to listen to somebody else's opinion that might have joined the firm yesterday. And this isn't their area of expertise. You might just hear something new. The second one is like, we don't feel safe to share ideas. And, um, and Harry, this is like your point about if you're constantly sharing ideas and you get battered and battered down and battered down, that's going to wear thin, right?
Um, and some people just don't feel safe enough to share the idea. And there's a couple of reasons why that is the case. One is because you might sound silly. We've all been in a room when everybody goes, got any ideas? And I, I know that the best idea is not being spoken because they're just too afraid to share it because they might sound silly.
Another one is we don't, we don't like sharing ideas. Because what happens if you've got a great idea and you share it? It's not yours anymore. It's suddenly shared and somebody else is going to contribute to that idea, aren't they? And you don't want that. You want it to be all yours so you can take all the credit.
Um, so we, that's why we might not feel safe to share. And, you know, there's, there's another one here, which is really about ideas aren't diverse enough. And that's about that noticing piece I spoke about earlier. Just notice everything. Don't just look inside your sector and your competitors. You know, your ideas need to be diverse and you may have heard of recombinant creativity, but that's where you like leap across to a completely different industry for inspiration.
And that's where really interesting ideas can start to come from. And there's the fear of failure, right? Not being brave. That also kills creative culture, just not being brave enough. And Data, which might come on to later, but data is in my view, absolutely killing it. Um, and we're not always great at selling ideas.
So, so they're the five things that kind of like get in the way. Now, if those things are stopping everybody joining in the party of ideation and stopping the best idea show itself, then what does a healthy creative culture look like? Or what are the principles to foster creativity? And I'll just list like the five and then if you want to dive into any, but one is we, we treasure cognitive diversity.
If you think about that every day you go into work, we treasure cognitive diversity. You're going to be listening to more people irrespective of their job title and how much they're paid. You're just going to listen more. The second one is we're playful and search for inspiration. And I think play is really important.
You know, I hope, um, if any of my teams listen to this, um, they'll, they'll feel that I was always playful. We laughed a lot. And again, there's studies, by the way, smiling and laughter increases creativity by like X amount. So you need to be playful, be silly. You don't need to be serious to solve serious problems.
That's not my quote, that's Google's, but you don't need to be serious to solve serious problems. So be playful. And the third one is we need to generously share and receive ideas. So it's all very well being somebody that can come up with ideas and share them. But you also need to receive them with open arms and allow them to breathe.
So quite often, an idea is shared and quite quickly, I'm sure that we've all done it. I've done it so many times. You say, that'll never work. Haven't got enough money. That'll never work. I've done it before. You know, that'll never work. I've seen a competitor do it. And quite quickly, within a microsecond, our brains have calculated that the idea that somebody's thought about for quite some time is never going to work.
And we just allow it to breathe. If we allow it to breathe, there could be something in it, which is an ember that we can turn into something interesting. And the fourth one is just prepare to be wrong. This comes back to Sir Ken Robinson, but you need to be prepared to be wrong to create anything new.
And today, back to data, we're not prepared to be wrong anymore. We want the guarantees it's going to work. We want the data. We want the charts. We want the numbers. You know, there's still a huge role for gut instincts and human intuition. And lastly, the fifth one is we effectively share our vision. So you need to make sure the best ideas in the world don't sell themselves.
You need to stand up for it. You spoke about this, John, you need to stand up for your idea, but you also need to listen, you know, you need to take in that feedback and make sure the stakeholders are listening, but stand up for it. And if you really believe in it and articulate it effectively. Then you will be heard.
And I'd say that's probably one of the biggest learning curves I've been on in my, you know, professional creative corporate career is just the art of pitching and listening and understanding feedback and then selling ideas. And people come to me and say, Oh, we've got this pitch coming up. Can you do it for us?
Because you can always sell the idea. And another phrase that I use a lot is we're all salespeople. Anybody that comes up with any idea. In any role is a salesperson, and if you don't think you're a salesperson, you're probably not going to get your idea
Jon Busby: heard. I don't want to stop you throughout those because they are absolutely beautiful.
Those, um, you're just on so many different levels, Mark, because, you know, you have, I've always when we organize our teams, you know, we. I think it's important that creative idea can come from anyone, irrespective of that hippo effect of the highest paid opinion in the room. Um, you know, some of some of the best ideas for creative campaigns for processes for, you know, might even be something to do with how we manage our finances have come from brand new junior members of staff.
And I also love the idea of crossing disciplines. Can we think about if we if you all think about our teams right now and I get Bet we've all got an example of this. I think of the most valuable team member that you have, and they've probably worked either in multiple industries or multiple roles. Um, you know, they might have moved from being a client, from client services to, um, you know, support, through to project management or something different.
So, you know, we need to embrace that, uh, diversity more and encourage that, that crossover, I think. I don't, I just don't think we do it enough. And I'm a big
Harry Radcliffe: fan of bringing the silliness into our meetings and stuff like that. That's, uh... That's exciting. I'll be using that.
Jon Busby: Yeah. I mean, how do you, there's so much I could dig into here, but how do you manage that?
Let's use silliness as an example, right? Um, you know, because I agree, I think laughter and, and being playful, you know, I did a course at university a long, long time ago now, um, called Creativity and Entrepreneurship, and the first two weeks of this was literally just spent playing with Lego and toys, and we thought, how much of our fees are we paying to play with Lego and toys?
But I remember reflecting on that on about week six going, holy shit. Like I like I have got a completely different view on the world now to when I started this you know, I'm I'm I remember actually going back and speaking to the individual lecturer about this because it Absolutely changed my viewpoint on the world.
So how do you explain? Bringing that creativity and does not use the word creativity. How do you? How do you explain bringing playfulness into the workplace when you might be having to pitch to the C suite? Like, how do you cross that divide where you have to be serious and playful at the same time?
Mark Lulsens: You do it, look, you've got to be measured.
You know, um, you, you can't walk into a C suite pitch, um, you know, or, you know, like being too light hearted and playful because they're not going to think that you're taking it seriously enough. But at the same time, I do think that playfulness, um, and being slightly comedic. Disarms people in a corporate environment.
I mean, right. So they're not used to it. Look, the companies I've worked for have been predominantly in the financial space, the financial sector and fintechs. And it's pretty serious. And there's some really intelligent people doing some very complex things. When you can come along and be slightly lighthearted.
Or especially doing what we were doing, right? If you're talking to somebody about, you know, um, might be a new piece of messaging or a new ad campaign, or we're, you know, redesigning their brand for them instantly, you've got their attention because it might be slightly more interesting than all the spreadsheets they were looking at in the morning, for example, but once you've got their attention, just have some fun with it.
I'll never forget when I, back to when I first picked up, you know, the video camera, one of the first things that I was taught was that just never. Never, like, never let it be lost on you that when people working with you, because they're shooting a film, it's probably going to be the most exciting thing they do that week, that month or that year, never let that be lost on you.
And it never really has. So again, it's like slightly easier if we're just talking about the. You know, the design space, the ad space, the marketing space, because it should inherently be a little bit more playful and fun anyway. So I think you've got more license to be more playful and light hearted. But truly, you know, when I'm working with the team, I really do try and make an effort to start every, every single meeting off, every call off, every ideation session off, being playful.
laughing, just getting that energy through your body because it will just open your mind up to something else, something different.
Jon Busby: Yeah, I completely agree. So you mentioned an interesting point there, which was, um, being measured. Um, and we've talked, we've flirted with data a few times throughout today's discussion, you know, with the focus on data with the introduction now on artificial intelligence, yet we couldn't get through a podcast without mentioning it.
Um, we do know how important Has really enabling creativity. So how do you balance creative instincts, data and AI and all of this together in order to stop it getting in the way of the creative process
Mark Lulsens: in its simplest terms? I just never use the phrase data driven anything, so I don't think it should be.
I really do believe in data and the power of it, but I believe in data influencing not driving. In my world, I can't speak to everybody that might be listening here and all of the different roles that you have in the agency, but for me in my world and for us to keep You know, we're talking about playfulness.
We're talking about searching for inspiration. We're talking about diversity of thought. For all those things to happen, you cannot start from a place of just number crunching. And you cannot also put the fear of God in your teams. And so whatever idea you come up with, it will be market tested because I don't believe in that for the most part, either.
So for me, like, yes, I'm always keen to see the analytics of a campaign. Yes, when we're doing A, B, C, D testing, I want to see which one's performing well. Why is it performing well? We all know that's ambiguous. But at the very least, I like looking at the data and understanding it and getting... a data and insights team to walk me through, what am I actually looking at here?
In the past companies, you know, there was always the brand monitor survey and there were so many metrics, but I was always fascinated by seeing that survey and understanding, you know, the quantitative and qualitative results of that. And how can that influence what we do next? I didn't ignore it. It influences the work.
And the reason why is because I really believe in the power of human intuition, gut instinct. And it's been proven. There are so many stories out there in the ad industry where adverts were tested and they completely bombed when they were being tested. And then they, somebody senior enough to said, we're doing it anyway.
And it became the most famous ad ever. So we just got to be really careful what, who we're asking, what we're asking them, what metrics we're looking at, how we're. deciphering those metrics. I was listening to um, just the other day one of your recent podcasts and you, one of you made this exact point that you can slice the data in our world to validate whatever point you're trying to validate.
So let's just understand the power of it. And in fact, it really struck me. I was, I was at an Adobe conference, must've been, it was before COVID. And everyone was talking about, you know, data, data, data, data, data. And somebody stood up on stage and they just like counted it by just spending the whole time talking about.
gut instinct, like, and also just not forgetting, as an agency, you should understand the business. If you're internal, you should understand the business and understand personas and understand the customer. By the way, We have billions of bits of data in our minds that nobody can talk about because it's not on a spreadsheet.
But there's billions of bits of data which are going through our brains, calculating the creative, the ad line, all the time. You know, what, what, what, um... You know, different format are we going to use? What platform are we going to use? Why are we going to use it? What's that event space look like? What are we going to do?
We're just doing all that subconsciously. But because we are not a spreadsheet or a pie chart, or we're not a number in a cell, it's kind of dismissed. And I've, I've had this conversation with every level in the organization, every level. And I'm like, for this one, we're putting it out. You've just got to see what happens, and then we'll learn from it.
Rather than the data driving the creative, if that makes sense. I,
Jon Busby: I, I mean, if you've ever seen Rory, you must have seen Rory, Rory Sutherland speak, right? And he talks about, um, You know, his alchemy kind of tour, if you will, but the best example that he always uses is his son going out on a Friday night.
Like, why are you going out? It's like, I'm going out to get lucky. It's like, well, what's your KPIs? Like, what's your, what's your, uh, how are you going to measure it? What's the data behind it? And actually we just all need, we all need that leap of faith occasionally. Like that, the Cadbury's advert is one of the best examples.
I was thinking exactly the same thing. Yeah, like who would have, can you imagine that pitch? Like we want to have a gorilla play a drum set. To some Phil Collins and everyone would have been like, you're mad and yet it's, you know, blowing the doors off every, every KPI you can imagine and, and beyond. Um, and we're still talking about it now, 20 years later, so it's crazy.
Mark Lulsens: The one that I was thinking of was the, um, beginners ad. The horses down the wave that absolutely bombed when it was tested before we went out, they were like, it's never going to work
Jon Busby: and now, well, of course, that also had the iconic soundtrack of left field, right? If we remember back those days, so
Mark Lulsens: just the point being that if you've got, if you're hiring, look, it just comes back to talent.
It comes back to an effective creative culture. Yeah. If as an organization, as a CMO, if head of brand, whoever you are, if you're paying a lot of salaries and you're paying decent salaries. Just listen to the people that you're paying a salary to, and you mentioned the HIPAA effect earlier. I think also we just need to be quite clear with like listeners as well, is that the HIPAA effect can crush a culture by everyone just being petrified of the highest paid person's opinion, knowing that that would just trump everything.
It can be really crushing to teams, but you still need somebody to make the decision somewhere. All you ever ask for is that it's just an informed decision before they make it. And then you can feel like your job is done, right? You feel valued because you feel heard. And I suppose that's really about people just receiving ideas generously, right?
And effectively sharing your vision back to the culture piece.
Jon Busby: I love that. So mark, we've covered so many diverse subjects today. I think like just to summarize a bit of the language you've been using, you know, we talked about being a yes man that helps you be more creative at the beginning. You know, I loved this language where we're talking, we, you used about, you know, removing the fear and having that playful mindset.
Like I think one of the problems today, especially now being much more data driven is that we don't, uh, we understand our own limits more than we used to. And I think if I, if there's any piece of advice I would give based on everything you've said here, which has been truly inspiring, it would be, you know, forget your limits for a moment and, and go out there and, and learn the camera in a hotel room the night before shoot, um, you know, push yourself outside your comfort zone to, to do it.
So Mark, it's been a real pleasure to have you on today's podcast. If you could give marketers one. piece of feedback to get some heart back in their campaigns. What piece of advice would you give them to, to all
Mark Lulsens: of our listeners? Make it as emotive and as human as possible. That's it. And that's, that's what I've done, or I've tried to do as much as I possibly can.
I think in the FinTech space specifically, it's cold out there and it's pretty uninspiring. And if you can use language and sound and your visual expression in the right way to create a more human connection, then it will cut through. It will have stopping power.
Harry Radcliffe: Thank you so much for coming on
Mark Lulsens: today.
It's been great. Thanks guys.