Category Archives: Observations

How To Be The Most Creative Industry In The World

Today I was reading my favourite creative book, A Day at elBulli: An insight into the ideas, methods and creativity of Ferran Adrià. At elBulli, Ferran’s restaurant, they create food experiences by inventing new ways of cooking and eating that have never been attempted before. The restaurant has 3 Michelin stars, and won “Best Restaurant in the World” four years in a row from 2006–2009. In 2010, Ferran Adrià was awarded “Best Chef of the Decade” by The Restaurant Magazine.

So how does an internationally renowned restaurant continue to innovate year after year? One of elBulli’s secrets is that all ingredients are classified into product families. For example: Fish, Flowers, Fats, Salts, Sausages, Juices, Sauces… These families become lists that a chef can use to make new dishes. She can decide to use a different flower, a different kind of fat, a different condiment, and the dish will be altered.

But it’s not just about the ingredients. The core of their creative process is something they call the Technique-Concept Search. They describe a technique as something that takes a series of ingredients and transforms it. Like how we make omelettes, salads, or sorbets. They are always on the look-out for new ways, new techniques, for making food. Some of their tamer discoveries have included savory ice cream and hot jellies. (Think about it, have you ever had hot Jello before?) In the creation of new concepts and techniques, Ferran’s team uses the following methods: association, inspiration, adaptation, deconstruction, and minimalism. In the book, they often state how difficult it is to describe these methods—especially things like inspiration or minimalism—which are subjective in nature and rely more on experience than following exact instructions.

As a Creative Director with my own set of tools and systems, I couldn’t help relating elBulli’s methods to that of Michael Michalko’s Thinkpak. The Thinkpak is a series of cards used to help push your ideas further, to experiment, to innovate. The cards are variations on the SCAMPER method, a clever acronym derived from Alex Osborn’s 9 principles for manipulating an object. I have listed these principles below, and placed elBulli’s methods in parentheses:

Substitute (ingredient swapping by classification)
Combine (association)
Adapt (adaptation)
Modify/Magnify (see next paragraph below)
Put to another use (inspiration)
Eliminate (minimalism)
Reverse/Rearrange (deconstruction)

Modify and Magnify come into effect when elBulli considers the entire experience through the lens of the guest. How do they experience the food through all of their senses? The chefs think about how the food tastes, of course, but also how it looks, smells, feels (textures), and even how it sounds to their patrons. Lastly, they think about the emotions brought on by the food through memory, association, and the atmosphere at the restaurant. They call these emotions the sixth sense.

elBulli is now closed, but the inspiration and creativity will live on through the elBulli Foundation: a combination museum and think-tank for creative cuisine. Ferran and his team are some of the most creative people in the world, but it is important to remember that they became that way through a conscious process. They created a system to classify common ingredients. They transformed existing cooking techniques and discovered others by adhering to a philosophy of innovation principals very similar to SCAMPER. And finally, they created experiences for the customer that considered every conceivable layer of sensation.

If you want to be the best, most innovative company/business/agency/school/hospital/franchise/corner store/entrepreneur in the world, feel free to adapt these same techniques for your industry.

To sum up, make creative PIE:

  1. Process: Alter your processes (and look for new ones) with tools like the SCAMPER method. What changes have the most promise? What works best?
  2. Ingredients: Categorize and switch up your ‘ingredients’ (the elements that make up your product or service). Mix and match until you have exhausted all possibilities.
  3. Experience: Put yourself in your customers’ shoes (as well as their hats, pants, shirts, skirts, coats, and even underwear). How do they perceive you or your product? How do they feel when they experience it?

Detail from elBullilastWaltz Poster of elBulli's last served meal

Four Apple Pies Overheard

McDonald's

[Scene opens in a booth behind a Man and a Woman talking in a McDonald's restaurant at the intersection of The Queensway & Roncesvalles in Toronto.]

Woman: Do you want an apple pie, babe? I got four of ‘em.

Man: You know this McDonalds has been here for over forty years. This used to be crack central. I live in this nasty area. Go up the street and houses go for eight hundred thousand dollars. You couldn’t GIVE me one of those. You wanna get killed? You wanna get raped and killed? Just walk around here at night.

W: I know. I know. You wanna get out of here.

M: You see that building? A murderer lived there. He raped and murdered two little girls. The cops come knockin’ on all the doors. People ain’t seen nothing. Nobody talks. Nobody cares. You shoulda seen this place forty years ago. You couldn’t give me one of these places. I wanna…

W: You wanna travel around the world.

M: Nah. Just fifteen places. Not the whole world. Just fifteen places.

W: Okay okay.

M: If you wanna do something, if you want something, you gotta fight for it.

W: Like you fight witchor Mom?

M: Nah, not like that. I’m gonna buy my Mom a washer and dryer. And she’s still gonna talk shit about me. Can’t change people. She won’t even do my laundry.

W: I don’t know why you’re gonna do it. The money you spend on the washer and dryer you could pay my credit card.

M: I’m not gonna buy her a washer and dryer. [Pause] Just a washer.

W: Well, she could use it. That woman stinks. What, they don’t have showers where she comes from?

M: She is who she is. She’s used to a mansion. She’s used to not having to do nothin’. She doesn’t have to do nothin’. [Man stands up as if to leave] What are you eating?

W: [Woman stands up and gathers her purse] Apple pie. You want some?

M: Nah.

[Couple exits stage right]

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My six year old son is the biggest Indiana Jones fan there is. He has a fedora, a bookbag satchel filled with books on Egypology, a bullwhip, and his own Chachapoyan fertility idol piggy bank.

Then we started watching the Harry Potter movies. He loved them. He began walking around the house with a wooden chopstick for a wand.

Putting him to bed one night, he admitted he was suffering from an internal dilemma: What if he began to like wizardry more than archeology? He really liked Harry Potter, but he was afraid that Indiana Jones would slip away. His mother told him that it was okay. He could like both equally. He didn’t have to have one favourite, he could have as many favourites as he needed. He was so happy by that answer.

Our own minds often compel us to sort, organize, prioritize what we believe to be important. Top ten lists are popular ways of presenting cultural information, and they help us find out how we stack up against our Facebook friends. But remember that it’s your choice. You are in control. If you want to, you can put all your favorite things at the very top of the list: together.

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A camera rarely captures the sweeping emotional largess of a sunset. Especially a tiny non-SLR phone camera. Sometimes the raw image needs a boost. Sometimes an artificial enhancement (HDR) makes the moment feel truer.

Photos taken with an iPhone 4 + Pro HDR by Jason Theodor 2012, all rights reserved.

The 8 Rules of Fire

As I was trying to light a bonfire this evening, using a box of matches and a lot of dry wood, it struck me how difficult it is to get a good fire going. It would flare up and then cool down too fast. The wind would blow out my matches. My initial pieces were far too big. And I did not have any gasoline.

Since I’m still on vacation, and I’m still on a New Year honeymoon, I’m thinking of everything as a metaphor. If fire is personal creative achievement, than here are the 8 Rules of Fire:

20120106-223447.jpg

1. A fire will ONLY catch when the conditions are favourable.

2. Starting a fire from scratch takes planning and organization.

3. Fires require patience.

4. Burning too hot too fast will sometimes make it MORE difficult in the long run together a steady fire going.

5. Choosing the right material and placing it in the right order helps build a better fire.

6. Once the fire is going, it needs to be fed to stay alive.

7. Once a fire is going strong, you can feed it just about anything and it will keep going.

8. Even when a strong fire goes out for a few days, it can be re-ignited using the hot coals and a little fanning.

Photos taken with an iPhone 4 + Pro HDR by Jason Theodor 2012, all rights reserved.

Busy As A Beaver

People like to attribute human-like qualities to animals. This is called anthropomorphism. When we see animals doing things, we imagine that they have a sense of purpose, intelligence, creativity, and self-awareness. We can get angry at animals, like when squirrels raid the bird feeder, or when raccoons eviscerate the garbage pail, as if they were annoying us personally. We watch animals, and when they repeat certain behaviours, we use them in conversation to describe ourselves. As sly as a fox. As stubborn as a mule. As cheeky as a monkey. As busy as a beaver.

Speaking of beavers, did you know that, aside from humans, beavers change the landscape more than any other animal? They cut down trees and brush, they damn rivers and streams, they build huts & lodges as well as large stores of food, they maintain scent mounds to protect their territory, and still have time to teach and play with their kits and yearlings. They truly are busy animals.

Recently I found evidence of a beaver family living in my back yard. As you can see from these images, their ambition often outweighs their talent (the bark is worse than their bite?), but their persistance and hard work leads to a beautiful lodge by the stream. There’s got to be a metaphor in there somewhere.

Photos taken with an iPhone 4 + Hipstamatic by Jason Theodor 2012, all rights reserved.

ETA for the Conferensation of the Year

I few weeks ago I attended TEDx Toronto. It was wonderful to watch the variety of speakers, some of whom offered up life-changing ideas. But there wasn’t enough time to absorb the message before the audience was whisked along to the next speaker. Most, if not all, conferences I have spoken at or attended are like this: next is always right around the corner. Even if you take notes, it’s like watching a dozen sitcoms in a row, and trying to remember all the plot lines when asked which episode was the funniest. Instead of a next next next next next mentality, it would be nice to take a break, to discuss the ramifications of the material presented (like the Q&A after a movie screening at the Toronto International Film Festival).

A few months ago I had an opportunity to sit down with a few smart people (Demi Kandylis, Shawn Pucknell, Scott Suthren, Dré Labre) and we hashed out a preferred model for how a new type of conference could work. We didn’t want it to be completely unstructured, like an un-conference. And we didn’t want it to be a rigid schedule of rapid-fire presentations. We wanted a short, succinct presentation like TED, but then we wanted to have time for a reaction and conversation: a real discussion about what had been said and how it might impact us all.

Conferensation: Another questionable hybrid word (like phygital) that combines the speaking power of a conference with the intimacy and exploration of a conversation.

Observation should be followed by application. In other words, if you tell me your concept (observation), then show me how to use it in my life (application). In my creative workshops, I split the class into smaller groups and ask them to tackle specific problems, which are then presented back to everyone. Can this model be duplicated in a conference? Can a conference become a conversation?

We’ll soon find out. Next Friday, October 14th, marks the first ETA (Emerging Technology and Advertising).

We invited 7 diverse and challenging speakers (see above) to break us out of the echo chamber, as well as creative and strategic leaders in the advertising universe to lend their thoughts and opinions. Each speaker presents on a challenging topic (for roughly half-an-hour), ending with a challenge to the audience (like, “How might agencies be transformed if consumers paid for the ads?”). The speaker then joins the audience for a 20 minute discussion about this challenge. All the speakers will be participating with the audience all day, distributed and sitting at the various attendees tables, and participating directly with the attendees in the conversations.

And I get the enviable job of hosting the entire day: introducing the event, the speakers, interviewing some of them, and posing the questions to the crowd.

If you are interested in the future of advertising, but are sick of the marketing echo chamber of social media experts and phygital services, you don’t want to miss this ETA. How does magic, neuroscience, graffiti, home broadcasting studios, memes, or culture interact with the latest technology? How will this play out for companies, brands, consumers, and ad agencies? These topics (and more!) will be presented and discussed.

Join David-Michel Davies, Derrick de Kerckhove, Joshua Harris, Christie Nicholson, Evan Roth, Marco Tempest, Faris Yakob, 99 other attendees, and me, your host Jason Theodor, for the Emerging Technology and Advertising conferensation of the year.

This Friday, October 14, 2011. Tickets are limited.

The Incandescent Dims

ideasonIn this Modern Age we have grown accustomed to the increasingly rapid pace of technological advancement. Computers are obsolete before you get them out of the store. Media formats morph and adapt and fragment. Some objects evolve and other products die. The technology graveyard is littered with Cassette tapes, Laserdisc Players, 8-Tracks, Betamax VCRs, and most recently HD DVDs.

But certain objects have been stable for so long that seeing them suddenly get sucked into this vortex of change is disconcerting. Take the age-old light bulb for example: it has been around since the late 1800s. It’s iconic bulbous pear shape has been used to represent everything from light and electricity to ideas and insight. It is sad to watch it’s inevitable eradication as the compact fluorescent moves in like an heroic invading army, sporting it’s energy efficient soft-serve swirl-shaped tubes.

In homage to the dimming of the incandescent, here are some Ideas On Light Bulbs to stick in your socket:

  1. A Greener System Preferences
    Recently, I upgraded my MacBook Pro to OS X 10.5.7. I went to change my Screen Saver settings when I noticed that the Energy Saver icon was no longer the old incandescent light bulb (see below) …
    OS X Leopard System Preferences Old Lightbulb
    … but rather a new compact fluorescent light(see below again). I’m actually surprised Apple didn’t do this sooner.OS X Leopard System Preferences New Lightbulb
  2. Wikipedia Plays Favourites
    Wikipedia tries not to play favourites, but the incandescent bulb has a much bigger picture in its article as opposed to the CFL. The former was invented in the early 1800s, with 22 different inventors lined up to take credit before Edison got involved. Obviously he was a much better marketer than the rest. The modern CFL was invented in 1976 by a GE engineer with the amazing name of Ed Hammer (who just happens to do his own podcasts). The company patented the invention and shelved it, thinking CFLs would be too expensive to manufacture.
  3. Light Bulb Jokes for Dimwits
    Not too many inventions have spawned an entire industry of bad jokes. “How many ‘blanks’ does it take to screw in a light bulb?” is almost as prevalent as “A ‘blank’ and a ‘blank’ walk into a bar…” My personal favourite:

    How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb? One— but it has to want to change.

    The CFL doesn’t have a great humourous legacy yet. The only joke I could find was political in nature, and directed at conservative radio talk-show hosts, which is a pretty easy target.

  4. The EUREKA Moment is Obscured
    The familiar icon of the light bulb going off above someone’s head will eventually seem as quaint and distant a memory as the phonograph. It first appeared in Felix the Cat cartoons in the 1920s, and has continued to this day. TV Tropes has a long list of Idea Bulbs including parodies and alterations. Here is a 1935 Betty Boop variation where Grampy, at the 4:00 mark, puts on a thinking cap and the bulb is lit when he comes up with a brilliant plan to make music.
  5. A Soft Serving of Bulb Art
    The strange newness of the CFL has inspired artists to create work that mocks the new form or honours the old.
    ice-cream-fluorescent-light-bulb-whippy
    Mixco’s Whippy

    Bulb 2.0 by Felix Stark
    Felix Stark’s Bulb 2.0

  6. In Plain English
  7. Lee LeFever compares the old light bulbs with the gradual extinction of the Video Cassette Recorder (VCR).

  8. Bulb?
    Some words, like ‘record album’ lose their original meaning. Eventually people will ask where the word ‘bulb’ came from. They won’t remember the pear-shaped glass with the springy glowing element inside. All their lights will be made from twisted fluorescent tubes. Light ‘tube’ or light ‘coil’ just doesn’t have the same ring to it
  9. Clip-On Lampshade Is Off
    Bulb ClipIf you have a company that still makes things out of metal wire, you might want to read the writing on the factory wall. Pipe cleaners have become preschool-art fodder, metal hangers have given way to plastic, paper clip use is in decline (you don’t even need one to remove the SIM card from your iPhone because Apple ships it’s own ‘iPhone Tool’)… and now the poor bulb-clip is doomed. It used to be you could just clip a modified lampshade to any old bulb in the house, but not so with the new CFLs. Oh, sure, some desperate designers have tried to create bulbous plastic covers for the compact fluorescents, but they squish and pop like the cheap plastic they are. I wouldn’t trust a fancy hanging bulb-clip to one of those. Would you?
  10. Photographic Foreshadowing
    It appears as though photographers have been prophesying the death of the incandescent for years already.

    flickr photo by km6xo
    Bullet Through a Bulb
    photo by Harold ‘Doc’ Edgerton

  11. Ideas On
    ideasonAnd as light bulbs and other technologies evolve, so do ideas. I love to experiment with 10 Ideas in 10 Minutes, but it’s time for something new. Ideas On is my new project x, something I’ll be working on during the coming months. I designed this fancy red logo for it, as I like to focus on a concrete design while I’m working out the details. I’ll give you a hint: it’s about those old EUREKA moments realized in a modern context. As soon as I figure out what that means I’ll let you know.
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All Is Full Of Vodka: Sexy Robots Sell Spirits

Bjork's All is Full of Love
In what has to be the sexiest auto-erotic android make-out scene in music video history, director Chris Cunningham transforms Björk into a milky, plastic-fantastic fetishized robot for her single, All is Full of Love. The video is as stunning, disturbing, and original as it was when it debuted in 1998.

i_robotCunningham’s design inspired the look of the 2004 Will Smith vehicle I, Robot, albeit in a far less sexy, androgynous way. And now, over a decade later, Svedka is using Björk’s android look-a-like to sell vodka.

With the help of oddcast, they have designed a [sex]bot-builder that you can customize to fit your fantasy: fishnet stockings (including a real fishbowl torso), french maid uniforms, biker hats, red heels, and even decals (aka tattoos). The male version has biker vests, football shoulders, rocket packs, and a tux. You are encouraged to upload a face to personalized your creation. I chose to upload Björk’s face to see just how close the resemblance is to her video. You can see it better if you right click on the embedded flash version below and zoom in a few times (see image below).

all_is_full_of_vodka2

Build Your Own

While it is kind of fun (you can put your robot in UGGs), it feels like they only went half-way. The builder is clunky, there is no sound, and the robots don’t do much after they’re built (you can rotate them and poke them for a few canned movements). This would be way more fun with additional options to customize, and a follow through on the promise “Are You Bot or Not?” I was expecting to vote on other robot creations, and to throw my Björk-bot into the mix. But perhaps the most shocking of all of these things: no lead generation. I can explore, create, link, and save without once entering my email address. I don’t know if this is a stupid oversight, or a brilliant ploy for spamless credibility.

This campaign has made me aware of Svedka vodka. But even more importantly: it has reminded me that my childhood vision of robot maids is still a distant promise.

Rosie from The Jetsons

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Augmented Reality Goes Postal

United States Postal Service Eagle Icon I never intended to turn this into an Augmented Reality blog, but there are so many creative ways people are starting to use this burgeoning technology. Many of them are experiments in artistic expression or marketing buzz, but some of them actually serve a practical purpose. In this case, printing out the United States Postal Service eagle icon and placing it in front of your webcam, allows you to see realistic, 3D virtual packages in actual-size. You can try it out for yourself in the Priority Mail Virtual Box Simulator.

postal1

Customers can choose from 4 different sizes (ranging from small to large) and then adjust the opacity of the box that appears using the Box Transparency slider. In the above picture I have chosen the Small Flat-Rate Box, which is supposed to be 8 and 5/8 inches long. It’s appears a little bit smaller than ‘actual size’, which you can tell because it isn’t as wide as the 8 and 1/2 inch paper I’m holding. It should actually be slightly wider than the paper.

postal2

What makes this truly useful, however, is the Persistent Box View which you can activate at the bottom left. Most augmented reality displays disappear when the target icon is covered. With the persistent view, the box will stay floating in mid-air when the eagle icon is removed, allowing a customer to hold up another item in its place. In this case I’m holding up a portable DVD player to see if it will fit into the Medium 1 box, and it appears as though it will quite comfortably.

Here Comes Jted's Head In A Box

Finally, with flashbacks of the movie se7en in my mind, I check to see if my head fits into the Large box. Sure enough, it does.

I don’t know if this is any more convenient than pulling out a tape measure, but it certainly looks cooler. And remember that these are still fledgeling ideas and applications. In a short time, when your mobile device is the augmented lens to view reality through, Priority Mail will have an app that will scan your images with a camera, tell you which box you’re going to need, how much it will cost, and where the nearest outlet is. Heck, it might even beam it directly to your destination.

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