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Cannes perspectives: Creativity in a Straitjacket

Healthcare creatives have to undertake Houdini-like feats on a daily basis, to escape the complexities facing them, but, unlike Houdini, they can't rely on illusions

Perrott...“Houdini became more than a master of illusion, much more than an escape artist”
Perrott...“Houdini became more than a master of illusion, much more than an escape artist”

A crowd gathers on a street corner.

People shuffle and jostle to watch a guy with sleeves rolled up and nothing more in his hand than a $10 bill donated from a spectator’s wallet. Artfully, he folds it over and over and, seemingly impossibly, over again. He offers it to a teenage boy to see whether he can tear it.

He can’t.

He places it on the sidewalk and asks the biggest man watching to stand on the folded currency. Heel first, to really use his weight, he gives it a good grind into the pavement.

Then the showman picks it up. 

Holding the tightly folded $10 bill gracefully between his thumb and forefinger, he displays it to the eager crowd and pulls out a red felt-tip pen. He writes the name of the man who originally gave him the bill next to its ornate numeral ten. 

He asks a young woman to hold out her hands, cupped in front of her.

Then he pulls out a pair of scissors and cuts the tightly folded $10 bill into shreds, dropping them all carefully into the woman’s hands. He finds the now small piece where he wrote the man’s name, and asks that man to keep it clenched in his fist. He asks the woman to pour the cut-up bill into his own cupped hands.

Yes, the man confirms, he is still tightly gripping the little piece in his fist.

Now the showman shakes his own cupped hands and slowly opens them to reveal the unfolded $10 bill, with one cut corner. 

He asks the man to show the piece he is still holding. It’s the missing corner and it fits perfectly.

The crowd applauds. 

Not finished, the showman takes the corner section, places it in the middle of the bill and folds it again and again. 

This time he gives it to the man who unfolds it in front of the crowd. . . and reveals a perfectly legal $10 bill. The clincher? Turning it over, it shows the owner’s name. Now the crowd roars… unbelievable!

"Yeah, so what?" I hear you say.  "Seen it a million times."

But have you? Sleight of hand. Levitation. All masteries of audience expectations that never fail to amaze. Crowning them is perhaps the greatest imaginative feat of them all, by the Great Houdini himself: the miraculous escape from a straitjacket. 

Houdini, never satisfied with his achievements, continually added levels of impossible barriers. He set the bar so high that others, in their failure to follow, realised how incredible he was. And in so doing, he became more than a master of the illusion, much more than an escape artist.   

In healthcare communications, our every day is filled with similar requests to soar beyond restrictions and barriers in order to creatively solve myriad medical, health and pharma problems. There is a minefield of rules and regulations presenting obstacles that a normal person in any normal life would gladly avoid.

Instead of a single-minded solution, the average creative has to negotiate a swamp of complicated regulatory barriers, loaded with yet more restrictions and legal demands, all designed to prevent misleading consumers and patients or misrepresenting professional leaders and their integrity. 

Once the average healthcare creative has been able to manoeuvre their way through those layers of restriction, many succumb to the ease of defeat.

But not all healthcare creatives remain tethered by these constraints. Driven by the challenge, motivated by the fear of mediocrity, there are the ones who do something incredible to escape the straitjacket of industry complexities. 

They produce magic. And, unlike the illusionists, this is for real.

A Cannes hidden treasure? The local people in the back-street eateries.
I have an hour in Cannes, I must…make that hour feel like two.
Most memorable Cannes experience? Being mistaken for someone famous.
Most underrated Cannes experience? Is there one?


Jeremy Perrott is global chief creative officer at McCann Health