Why we should all embrace the 'Back to school' mindset

When 'the cult of busyness' robs us of the space and time to think, we asked six creative leaders to share how they best achieve a creative reset.

Why we should all embrace the 'Back to school' mindset

The summer holiday is over; a seasonal shift marked by a flurry of images of children embarking on a new term on social media. A first day which represents the most delicious of promises; a new start. A chance to reinvent yourself or, at the very least, wear a new blazer at least seven sizes too big for you and supercharge your stationery collection.

For the marketing industries, operating in an ecosystem in which busyness has become a status symbol and social currency in its own right; the opportunity for a fresh start or a creative reset is well overdue.

But, without the benefit of a six week holiday, or the promise of a shiny new lunchbox, how can marketing professionals avoid getting into a rut and becoming slaves to their inboxes? Can the promise of a new term deliver more to the marketing industry than respite from the logistical headache of wrap round holiday care for working parents?

With this in mind, Campaign asked some of the industry’s leading creative thinkers to share their tips for avoiding a life lived on autopilot and achieving the perfect creative flow; and it involves more than just changing your stationery.

Chris Baréz-Brown,

Author, speaker and founder of Upping Your Elvis

Busyness stops the truth of our lives catching up with us"

Much of our life is spent on autopilot. Many of us turn up to work and then the next thing we are conscious of is going home. Days fly by as we are caught up in a maelstrom of activity; summer holidays often included. Busyness has become a badge of honour, a behaviour we are often not actively aware we are doing. It stops the truth of our lives catching up with us.

We have all had the experience of driving a long-distance and when we arrive at the destination, we can't remember large chunks of the journey.

This happens because we are on autopilot.

We need habits in order to survive; but when we are stuck in constant habit loops we lose our shine. It feels like somebody else is living our lives. Back to school is a great moment to pause and think about how to add the mantra "What’s needed here?" into our lives. Because so often what is needed today is not what was needed yesterday. Life, people, work, clients, briefs are constantly growing and changing. We have to be flexible in our outlook and not get too locked into constant routine.

The secret to getting this balance is to be gentle with yourself. We need autopilot to survive. The problem is that it creeps in and takes over too much. Don’t beat yourself up when it takes over; it will.

The key to getting off autopilot more often is to embrace new experiences

"Wake Up!" is a series of human, playful experiments I have designed to do just that. Introduce them into your life one by one over a period of a few days or dip in as feels right for you: "I will help a stranger every day"; "I won’t buy anything beyond food and water"; "On waking I will work out what is my one big thing of the day"… to help people break free of their habits and live a more fulfilled, engaged and creative life.   

Emma de la Fosse,
Chief creative officer, Ogilvy & Mather Group UK

"Take one three-week holiday a year

Steve Harrison used to reward people for taking a two-week holiday. He had noticed in his department that creatives were taking the odd week here and there and using the rest of their holiday allowance for long weekends. And he also noticed the difference in their creative output.

He believed, as do I, that your body and your brain need a proper break from work. That in order to get a fresh perspective, that fresh "Back to school" start, you have to have time to wind down, then rest, to be able to re-charge.  Hard to fit all of that into a three-day trip with RyanAir to the Czech Republic.

Ours is a high pressure, high stress business. We are required to give a lot of ourselves. Creatives especially need the right input to make the right output (we have it written at the bottom of our briefs at Ogilvy, actually).

So, when I am prime minister, I’m going to do like the French and basically shut businesses for the whole of August so that everyone can have a damn good break without feeling guilty.

And do you know what? You may even remember that feeling you haven’t had since childhood – what it is like to be bored. Boredom opens channels. It’s how you end up doing stuff you would not normally consider doing. That’s important for creative people in this business.

While I am waiting to become prime minister, I encourage creatives (and anyone else frankly) at Ogilvy to take one three-week holiday per year. Because not only does it make creative resourcing a whole lot easier when you don’t have most of your staff on an endless round of mini-breaks, it means that you have a crew of bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, shiny-shoed people with new pencil cases coming back into the office ready to give their all.

Chris Pearce,
Chief executive, TMW Unlimited

Bully yourself into a total creative refresh

"Sharpen your pencil, iron your crispy white shirts, set the alarm clock, relish the challenge, listen, be fulfilled, make an impact, take a risk". Sound familiar? Feels like an organisation trying to harness the "Back to school mindset", for sure. Sadly, these were the opening words to the much lampooned and short-lived rebranding of management consultancy PwC to "Monday". Despite an enormous cost and the finest minds design consultancy Wolff Olins had to offer at the time, the global renaming lasted to all of Friday and was promptly consigned to the dustbin of silly rebrands. Which just goes to show that embracing a reset around the "Back to school" theme is not as easy as it looks.

That said, I do believe that using a short summer break to re-assess and refresh can have enormous benefits for marketers. A chance to re-engage with seemingly intractable problems. An opportunity to shine new light on the day job. Or maybe that determination to challenge the toxic assumptions that plague every organisation. For me, the trick is how to recapture a sense of newness and inspiration. For as Jason Fried and David Hansson point out in their lively book Rework – Change the Way You Work Forever, inspiration has a shelf life. Whereas ideas can be immortal the muse of inspiration is fleeting. "When you’re high on inspiration, you can get two weeks of work done in 24 hours. Inspiration is a time machine in that way".  So create your own inspiration "time machine". Set yourself a new goal. Change the way you get to work. Rearrange your office space. Read a new book. It’s the one time of the year to jolt, crash, cajole or bully yourself into a total creative refresh…

Sue Daun,
Executive creative Director at Interbrand

One of the best ways to stay fresh is to get away from the computer and go experience, see, or do something that will inspire you. A child like curiosity is an essential part of a good creative’s make-up. The need for every business to encourage this behaviour is key, but for more longstanding businesses this often goes against everything they feel is appropriate. Sending the creatives off to seemingly have fun is not work, surely?

Keeping creatives confined to the working "rules" of the business is not really good for business. If a creative is too quiet, or the work pace is too slow, or our brains are not fed with difficult creative challenges, then creativity can stall. A busy creative is a better creative. During a quieter month ask the team to throw a party. It’s not just a way to get the creative juices flowing but brilliant for team building and the morale of the whole agency. Host talks with inspiring speakers who have a range of skills and interest; our Utopian Night events have featured people such as Greg Wallace, Mary Portas and Gregory Doran from The Royal Shakespeare Company which all fired up the team’s imagination. When "work" stops, new learning starts.

Just changing the working dynamic can also do wonders for creativity. Agencies should be planning and thinking one step ahead to ensure their teams are fired up with new challenges throughout their working week. Throw in a new way of working, mix up the teams, enrich them with new blood, interns and creative mavericks. Ask creatives to stretch the client categories or help with tackling a difficult problem for another team.

This shift and turn always makes us look in new directions and force us to think differently. And we all know a change is as good as a rest, much like new term at school.

Fiona Scott,
Chief executive of Psona

Have a real break and empty your head of all the detail that is clogging the brain. I have a strict policy of not looking at emails when I’m on holiday. It’s the devil’s spawn. Dipping in, means you never switch off or give yourself space to think. Instead, I give a few key people my personal mobile, so if it’s too hot to handle in the office, they can call…. However, they rarely do. This leaves me free to steal inspirational ideas from different cultures and apply them to Psona. This summer my visit to Noma in Denmark has made me see building client relationships with fresh eyes as their front of house service is award winning. 

Fill the agency with fresh thinkers: My eldest son is 16 and, like all mums, it was my job to help him find a placement by tapping up some friends. Therefore, it was only fair that we opened our doors to some placements too. We had at least one placement in each week of the holidays and whole-heartedly committed to them, complete with a buddy system and timetable. These savvy 16-year-olds have reaffirmed to me the importance of having different generations in the office and taking the time to listen to what they have to say. 

A new uniform: I’ve been loving the summer relaxed vibe, all dresses and sliders. But approaching our last quarter, summer is over, clients are back and I mean business. So, I have been investing in some new wardrobe staples for back to school season. My jacket is on and I’m firmly back. Bring it on!

Larah Davis,
wellness coach and founder of Ibiza Retreats

"Embrace the power of the digital detox"

Each year we are seeing a growing number of business executives attending our retreats. They often arrive burnt out and exhausted and are actively seeking practical solutions for stress reduction.  Some are also looking to uncover more meaningful and purposeful career paths and need time to reflect and restore.

These days, people both in and out of the boardroom are exposed to a constant barrage of bleeps, news feeds and notifications 24/7. Subsequently our sympathetic nervous systems are continuously being overstimulated and are in a permanent state of fight, flight or freeze. So, it’s vital for our health and wellness to know how to switch off and to tune into the para sympathetic nervous system, which enables us to rest, digest and restore.

We use practical methods through workshops, yoga, meditation and good nutrition to nourish the nervous system, reboot adrenals and kidneys and calm the racing mind. With just a few days of digitally detoxing, we see a huge change in our business clients particularly. They leave feeling calm, centred and with tools and techniques to help them filter and manage their daily lives.

By giving yourself a chance to restore, inspiration returns, self esteem rises and you feel more empowered. And with an anxiety-free, calm, clear mind, creativity flows far more easily.