Sunday, November 23, 2008

What went down in China

I wrote this for Ad Age but I don't think it ever made its way to the site. That's the beauty of having my own blog to bring life to my thoughts.

As four American students from the University of Oregon collaborating with four Chinese students at the One Show China Workshop in Shanghai, we experienced extreme culture shock of the creative process.

Blessed to work with Chinese students who had beautiful production skills, we learned a little about advertising, but a lot about process and teamwork.

In one day we went from American superstars, willing victims of the Chinese student paparazzi, to American rebels, fighting for the process of concept development.

It takes one brave soul to start a trend. In our team we had to push the idea of concept development. A beautiful design communicates little unless it stems from a larger concept. It turned out that working around the language barrier was not our most difficult challenge; instead, it was selling the University of Oregon’s idea of the “creative strategist.”

This was a workshop on teamwork and process development. In teaching the Chinese students about the way we work, we taught ourselves about our own creative process. While walking others through our process of idea generation, strategy formation, concept development, more idea generation then execution, we realized the importance of each step in the process. Good work is not developed by randomly bobbing for apples in a bucket of ice-cold water. Instead, good work comes from a strong concept that speaks to the truth of a brand.

Lacking Chinese language skills made us to revert to primitive communication methods. When forced to exchange ideas through hand motions and grunts, we realized that communication is strongest in its simplest form. A thumbs up implies good and a smile indicates happiness. Knowing that every sentence of our presentation would be translated into Chinese forced us to keep this simplicity in presentation dialogue. Each sentence had to be concise, succinct and strong. Imagine if we always crafted our words with such care, knowing that they must be translated before they will be fully understood.

Amidst all the pointing and hand motions, we learned to trust our guts. Humans are blessed with the gift of intuition. However, we often listen to logic over our heart, thinking our hunches are unjustified. Yet, when you boil human communication down to its fundamentals, most of it is nonverbal. We know laughter implies joy and whispering in a corner is never a good sign for teamwork.

What if we applied this level of intuition to our work during the creative process? We know a bad idea when we hear one but often have a hard time letting go of it. We birth an idea then try to write a back-story to make our idea fit the concept. We tell ourselves the back-story that we created justifies our idea. However, when you step back and look at the idea, you often find it doesn’t make sense. Your gut tells you the work isn’t good, but the heart tells you not to throw your baby down the river. We must learn to listen to our guts and know when to let go.

Through this workshop we found purpose and passion. Our trip was a lesson in communication, teamwork and cultural understanding. We realized we do this because we love it. We want to change the world and need an outlet to talk to the masses. Advertising can do more than sell products; it can create ideas that cross cultures and unite citizens.

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