Ketan Lad
Jun 10, 2021

Why less is more for rebooting creativity in the workplace

There are lessons we can learn to aid creativity as we reinvent agency life.


Sounds counterintuitive. Perhaps even slightly controversial. But we’ve often pondered this question.

We know that stress and overwork can kill creativity. Many of the horror stories shared in Campaign’s recent coverage on our industry’s long hours culture, quite frankly, scared us shitless for many reasons, but especially in relation to the quality of the work we do.

In what’s been a most bizarre year and a bit, we’ve had to be more thoughtful about how we get to good ideas, in the absence of physical presence and paraphernalia, increasing workloads and decreasing morale from isolation.

So, as we join the industry in reinventing agency life, not just returning to it, here’s four things we’ve learned in lockdown for how less could mean more when it comes to creativity:

1.Fewer notifications

Research suggests that the cost of interruptions could be as much as eight to 20 minutes to return to a state of deep focus, so in a culture of constant notifications—immediately pandering to the ping of your email could be the nail in the coffin of your next greatest hit.

Encouraging more people to go into "monk mode" could be the answer—working for hours at a time free of interruption, as recommended by Bruce Daisley in The Joy of Work.

We’ve found that out-of-office notifications, diaries blocked out and advance notice are all great ways to give your colleagues a heads up that you’re heads down, while managing the reactive requirements of your team.

2. Less haste

We know how the story of the hare and the tortoise ends, yet we find ourselves emulating the former far too often.

The research shared in Guy Claxton’s Hare Brain Tortoise Mind actually points to the art of slow thinking for coaxing more creativity from the space between your ears. How slowly pondering of a problem and exploring ideas is better suited to creative thinking than the fast thinking of the "hare brain" designed to get shit done quickly.

I think there’s wisdom here for us in balancing delayed decision-making and taking longer to generate ideas, before strapping on our laces to switch to an action-orientated "hare brain" to make it happen.

The "tortoise mind" is also why your last "eureka" moment was probably struck in the shower, on the loo, travelling or exercising—in fact, anywhere but in a brainstorm.

3. Less brainstorming

The elephant in the meeting room—brainstorms have an awful reputation. Too often they’re the "untrained, asking the unwilling to do the unnecessary", so it’s hard to disagree with Andy Nairn when he calls them a "groupwank" or "mindpain".

However, three years of our Getting to Good Ideas initiative has shown us that they really can work, they just need work. With time, training, techniques and prep, the once dreaded brainstorm can transform into the best meeting of someone’s week, which why we created a rigorous training programme for Goodstuffers keen to be an agency facilitator or "stormtrooper". Brainstorms also lend themselves well to media creativity where a larger number of people mean a more expanded scope of knowledge in the art of the possible within media channels.

Without access to the above, however, there’s an easy tip to takeaway—think purposefully about your ideas methodology. Is the brief suited to more quiet time and research? Are you briefing introverted thinkers who may not benefit from a brainstorm? Could ideas posted to a physical or virtual board with the brief over time get to better ideas than a poorly planned brainstorm at little notice?

4. Fewer people

More brains on a brief are proven to get to a large volume of ideas quickly, which is helpful for early divergent thinking. But the psychological safety created by smaller groups shouldn’t be underestimated for packing a punch.

For certain briefs and situations, smaller groups working for longer at deep levels of focus can outperform larger groups working at speed for less time. The psychological safety of small groups invites trust to say the seemingly stupid, and disarms the dominance dynamics often seen in large meetings, according to Matthew Syed, author of Rebel Ideas.

During lockdown we’ve found that six people generating ideas for two hours can be more effective and productive than 12 people doing so for one.

So, has doing less delivered more creativity for us in lockdown?

Two years of winning both Campaign Media and Media Week Awards’ Grand Prix titles sets high expectations, so to leave this year’s Campaign Media Awards as the most awarded agency was a major morale boost in a difficult year.

While we found a way for creativity to thrive in lockdown, we know that the work in this area needs to continue as we move towards a hybrid model of in-agency days and working from home.

As we plan our return to Goodstuff HQ, we know that making it an even more motivating and creative place to work will involve helping our Goodstuffers to think less is more to reach new levels of creativity.

Ketan Lad is head of creative media at Goodstuff in London.

Campaign UK

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