Artificial Intelligence Bandwidth of Consciousness Communication Information Theory Judging Creativity Metaphor Narrative Subliminal Communication The Creative Process

Towards a new definition of creativity

It is said that at the very edge of medieval maps, the mapmaker would write the Latin words ‘Hic sunt dracones’ or ‘Here be dragons’ to describe an area which is beyond the limits of human knowledge.

In 2013 it was estimated that the global creative economy was worth more than US$ 624 billion and over the previous decade had grown, on average, more than 8 per cent every year.

Creative Industries Mapping projects have been rapidly deployed in countries all over the world in an attempt get a clearer picture of this, recently discovered, rapidly growing economic sector.

And yet each of these attempts to map the creative sector has one major omission. This omission is not on the periphery, as with ancient maps of the world, but right at the very centre; and this is the lack of a clearly defined understanding of what creativity is in the first place.

The reason for this is that creativity has its origins in a part of the human mind that, until recently, we have known precious little about: and that is the unconscious.

Over the last few years, an extraordinary revolution has taken place in our understanding of the role of the unconscious, and now, with the help of some of the latest discoveries in neuroscience we can at last begin to map this mysterious unmapped area.

But to do this we need to venture deep into the human imagination. Here be dragons indeed…

the engine of cultural change

Creativity is the engine of cultural change, a force that can rapidly transform the lives of individuals as well as the societies within which they live.

It is not surprising therefrore, that creativity has become a key strategic priority for corporations, educational institutions and governments all over the world.

According to a 2010 report from the British-based multinational bank, Standard Chartered, the most productive economies in the world will, in the future, be those that successfully leverage the creativity of their workforces, the report concluded that:

‘Creativity may be the most powerful of all the resources to be rich in. With vast numbers of people entering the workforce, huge improvements in productivity, and continued globalisation, the rewards for innovation and creativity will become even greater’.

In 2013, world trade in creative goods and services totalled a record US$ 624 billion in 2011, more than doubling in the period 2002 to 2011 with an average annual growth rate during that period of 8.8 per cent.

Because of this unprecedented growth in the Creative Economy, most countries have engaged in Creative Economy Mapping projects to try and gauge the scale and value of this sector.

In 2001, the UK became the first European country to launch an annual Creative Industries Mapping project, defining the sector as:

those industries which have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent and which have a potential for wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property

By 2013 they estimated that the sector was growing much faster than the rest of the economy and was worth a staggering £76.9 billion and accounted for 5.0 per cent of the total economy. Furthermore they also estimated that the creative economy now employed more than 1.8 million people, the equivalent of 1 in 12 jobs.

This widespread recognition of the strategic importance of creativity has, in turn, led to urgent calls for a radical overhaul of the education system. Sir Ken Robinson a leading British educationalist makes the case for a new kind of system in the TED talk: How Schools Kill Creativity, and it’s a measure of interest in the subject that this talk has attracted more than 33 million views, making it the most popular TED talk ever.

In Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education Sir Ken explains that the educational system we have today is a relic of the Industrial Revolution, created, as it was to educate the emerging bureaucratic class:

Industrialism needed a lot more manual workers than it did college graduates. So mass education was built like a pyramid, with a broad base of compulsory elementary education for all, a smaller sector of secondary education, and a harrow apex of higher education.

Richard Florida in The Rise of the Creative Class makes a similar point when he shows how the old bureaucratic class created by the Industrial Revolution has been gradually replaced by by a new class of creative workers that he calls ‘The Creative Class’. As a result, Florida argues, we are currently witnessing the transition from the Industrial Age to a new Creative Age.

Given the fact that we live at a time when creativity is seen to be a matter of such central importance, it is curious that our ideas about what creativity is, and where it comes from, remain so curiously vague and ill defined. 

I believe that there are two key reasons for this lack of clarity.

Firstly, the concept of creativity is a relatively new cultural phenomenon.  Indeed, the word was hardly ever used before the 1950’s… with the aid of Google’s Ngram viewer you can clearly see that the word hardly registers at all for the first fifty years and then increases steadily throughout the latter part of the 20th century.

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The second reason is that creativity has its origins in a part of the human mind that, until recently, we have known precious little about: and that is the unconscious.

Over the last few years, an extraordinary revolution has taken place in our understanding of the role of the unconscious, made possible by one new technology in particular: Functional magnetic resonance imaging or fMRI. Emerging in the 1990s fMRI offers three-dimensional pictures of what takes place in the brain as it happens. For the very first time, in human history, this allows us the opportunity to link the activity of the abstract entity that is the human mind with the measurable activity of the physical brain.

The widespread adoption of fMRI has led to the development of a new scientific discipline called Social Neuroscience, which along with Behavioural Economics, has begun to reveal the extraordinary role the unconscious plays in our daily lives.

We humans like to think of ourselves as uniquely rational beings and human thought, as a deliberate, conscious activity; and yet in recent years, the combination of these two disciplines has increasingly forced us to acknowledge that all human thought is, for the most part driven by unconscious processes.

And nowhere is the impact of this insight more significant than in the field of creativity.


The Encyclopedia Britannica defines creativity as:

‘The ability to make or otherwise bring into existence something new, whether a new solution to a problem, a new method or device, or a new artistic object or form.’

However, when you examine this definition a little more closely, you can see that it actually contains two separate definitions of creativity; on the one hand there is ‘a new solution to a problem, a new method or device’ and on the other there is ‘a new artistic object or form’.
These two types of creativity are both fundamentally different, and one of the biggest problems with any discussion of creativity is that we tend to confuse them.

For this reason, I believe it best to create a distinction between the two types of creativity, by describing them as Technical Creativity on the one hand and Expressive Creativity on the other.


Technical Creativity and Expressive Creativity tend to have very different cultural associations.

Technical Creativity being the type that delivers ‘a new solution to a problem, a new method or device’, is closely associated with innovation and invention.

A centre for Technical Creativity would be somewhere like Silicon Valley where the entrepreneurial engineering culture tends to focus on innovation and invention rather than individual self-expression.

Expressive Creativity, on the other hand is the kind of creativity that we tend to think of when we think of art, music, dance literature or film; this is essentially creativity as communication, and, generally speaking, does not exist without an audience.

A centre for Expressive Creativity would be somewhere like Hollywood where the actors, writers, set designers, musicians, cinematographers and directors display a greater interest in self-expression and communication than in innovation and invention.

If the world of Technical Creativity tends to be more rational and mechanical, the world of Expressive Creativity tends to be more intuitive and emotional. For this reason, the impact of Technical Creativity tends to be tangible and measurable whereas the effects of Expressive Creativity tend to be intangible and much harder to measure – indeed as we shall see, this is because the effects of Expressive Creativity are largely unconscious.

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Our understanding of the nature of the unconscious has radically changed in recent years; so much so, that many prefer to call it ‘The New Unconscious’.

Of course, the name that is most commonly associated with the traditional view of the unconscious is that of Sigmund Freud; it was his dark vision of a seething morass of repressed desires that mysteriously influence behaviour that was to dominate popular understanding of the subject for the first half of the 20th century.

Recent studies, however, have shown that the unconscious has a far greater influence on how we think and behave than even Freud could have ever imagined.

Every waking second, our brains sift through millions of bits of data in order to make sense of the world around us; and we now know that the vast bulk of this processing takes place in the unconscious.

The Unconscious, it seems, is the Central Processing Unit of the human brain and It is estimated that it processes 12 million bits of sensory data every second. In contrast, it is estimated that the Conscious mind can only process around 40 bits of information a second.

The modest little 40-bit processor that is our conscious mind is, therefore, capable of handling only the most infinitesimal fraction of the 12 million bits of data that flood in from the senses every second.

This is why the vast majority of what we experience is processed unconsciously, and only referred to the conscious mind on a ‘need to know’ basis.
The predominance of the unconscious over the conscious mind was dramatically demonstrated recently with research which shows that at least seven seconds before you consciously make a decision, the outcome can be predicted from the unconscious activity in your brain.

In other words, the unconscious ‘makes up its mind’ a full seven seconds before we are consciously aware that we have decided to do something.

What’s more, by analysing the unconscious brain activity produced while making the decision, the researchers could predict, with 100% accuracy, what choice people would make, seven seconds into the future, before they themselves were even aware of having made a decision.

It has been widely noted, therefore, that the conscious brain is not – as we have always thought – an executive function like the White House Oval Office that is making all the decisions, rather, it is more like the White House Press Office issuing explanations for decisions that have already been taken elsewhere.

The discovery that the executive function, at the heart of human consciousness, is to be found, not in the conscious mind, but in the unconscious, is a paradigm shift, and one that fundamentally affects our understanding of our place in the cosmos. Indeed, it would be no understatement to say that this discovery is on a scale with the paradigm shift that occurred when humans first discovered that it was the Earth that revolves around the Sun rather than the Sun that revolves around the Earth. The implications for human consciousness and human creativity are equally momentous.


The more complex the creative problem to be solved, the more important the part that the unconscious plays.

The conscious mind as we have seen, can only process information at around 40 bits per second; so in order to solve a complex problem, we need to use the far more powerful unconscious, which can process information at 12 million bits per second.

One of the first to recognise the importance of the unconscious in the creative process was the French mathematician and theoretical physicist Henri Poincaré (1854 –1912). Through a process of trial and error, Poincare found that consciously considering a complex problem, would only get him so far and that it was only after putting the task aside for a while, that the answer would come to him. Saying ‘it is by logic that we prove, but by intuition that we discover’, Poincaré developed a daily routine based on this insight, consciously working for just two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening, giving over the remainder of the day for the unconscious to mull things over.

Using this technique, and by harnessing the processing power of the unconscious mind, Poincare was able to imagine mathematical structures of the most extraordinary complexity.

Indeed, his ideas went on to form the basis of Complexity Theory, a branch of mathematics that could only begin to be visualised in the late 1970’s when computers were finally invented with enough processing power to bring Poincaré’s ideas to life.

By harnessing the power of the unconscious mind, Poincare was capable of imagining mathematical structures that could only be visualised half a century after his death, with the arrival of computers with significant processing power in the late 1970’s. Pictured is one such computer generated image known as a ‘Mandelbrot Set’.

Poincaré’s ideas about creativity were to influence an entire generation, including such important Modernist figures as Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein, but one person who was particularly influenced by Poincaré’s understanding of the role of the unconscious in the creative process, was an English social psychologist called Graham Wallas (1858 – 1932).

In 1926, Wallas published a book called The Art of Thought, in which he presented a model of the creative process, based on Poincaré’s method, which consisted of four consecutive, stages:

1) PREPARATION: The stage at which the problem is consciously ‘investigated in all directions’
2) INCUBATION: The stage at which the problem is put to one side in favour of unconscious processing
3) ILLUMINATION: The stage at which the creative idea surfaces into conscious awareness
4) VERIFICATION: The stage at which the idea is consciously verified, and then applied.

With minor modifications, this four-stage process of PREPARATION, INCUBATION, ILLUMINATION and VERIFICATION has since been widely recognised as the standard model for the creative process.

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As Wallas’s four stage process demonstrates, creative ideas will appear after a conscious period of PREPARATION, followed by an unconscious period of INCUBATION; and the amount of time and effort that has been  devoted to the problem at these two critical stages is usually reflected in the scale, complexity and ultimately value of the result.

Using what we now know about the ‘Bandwidth of Consciousness’- i.e.that the conscious mind can only process around 40 bits of data every second whereas the unconscious processes around 12 million – it is possible, therefore, to judge the value of ideas on the basis of where they sit on a spectrum of Creative Bandwidth, according to the amount of unconscious processing power that has been applied.

Thus, an extremely low bandwidth idea is one that can be produced quickly and easily, and primarily with the use of the 40 bits per second conscious mind whilst, at the other end of the scale, an extremely high bandwidth idea is one produced by the 12 million bits per second non-conscious mind (where time and expertise will need to be invested at all stages of the process).

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Low Bandwidth creativity tends to be formula or template based. For example, creating a picture with a ‘Painting by Numbers’ kit can be great fun and allow even the most artistically challenged person to create a painting, but the process requires little in the way of unconscious effort.

The other extreme – because it makes full use of he kind of creativity that emerges out of the depths of the unconscious, like writing a novel or a screenplay – can all be characterized as High Bandwidth Creativity.

In terms of Expressive Creativity, the more High Bandwidth it is, and the greater the unconscious processing that has taken place, the more likely the communication is to engage on a subliminal level.

In attempting to create a meaningful map of the new Creative Economy, the concepts of High Bandwidth and Low Bandwidth Creativity, are useful in that they provide the means of evaluating the potential cost as well as the possible financial value of an abstraction like creative work, in the absence of any other tangible factors.

So, for example, we can see that Low Bandwidth creativity tends to be formula or template based, and should be easier to produce and therefore cheaper than High Bandwidth Creativity.

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A fascinating demonstration of how the information we receive ‘under the radar’ of consciousness affects both our attitudes and our behaviours was published in a paper called Ovulatory Cycle Effects On Tip Earnings By Lap Dancers.

This research showed that Lap Dancers would earn dramatically more in the way of tips ($335), when they were at their most fertile, compared with ($185) when they were menstruating. (Intriguingly, participants using oral contraception showed no such variation.)

Because the dancers are never allowed to talk to customers, it is clear that they communicate their fertility through dancing, or some other, subliminal means.

We have known for many years, through the study of body language that the vast majority of what we communicate face to face is non-verbal and unconscious. With the aid of fMRI scans, we can now see that this is also true for all human communication.

When we experience High Bandwidth Expressive Creativity in the form of a movie or music, whilst we may process the subject of the movie and the sounds of the music consciously, it is the subliminal elements, the ones that speak to us ‘below the radar’ of consciousness that determine how we actually experience the work.

David Byrne, the musician who fronted the band Talking Heads, describes this phenomenon in his recent book called ‘How Music Works’:

‘Music tells us things — social things, psychological things, physical things about how we feel and perceive our bodies… It’s sometimes in the words, but just as often the content comes from a combination of sounds, rhythms, and vocal textures that communicate… in ways that bypass the reasoning centers of the brain and go straight to our emotions. Music, and I’m not even talking about the lyrics here, tells us how other people view the world — people we have never met, sometimes people who are no longer alive — and it tells it in a non-descriptive way. Music embodies the way those people think and feel: we enter into new worlds — their worlds — and though our perception of those worlds might not be 100% accurate, encountering them can be completely transformative.’

These things ‘that music tells us’ are essentially non-verbal and are the result of the unconscious mind of one person communicating directly with the unconscious mind of another.

One of the most important ways that this happens is through the medium of metaphor.

The word ‘metaphor’ comes from the Greek ‘μεταφέρω’, which means ‘to transfer across’. Luggage trolleys in Athens airport feature the word ‘‘μεταφέρω’, since they transfer luggage from one place to another. Just like these luggage trolleys, metaphors are what we use to transfer meaning from one thing to another.

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Metaphors appear to be a fundamental part of human cognition and communication. Human languages are composed for the most part of metaphors, even though we are largely unconscious of them. It is estimated that we use one metaphor for every ten to twenty-five words we speak.But metaphor is not limited simply to language. James Geary, who has written extensively on the subject of metaphors, says:

Metaphorical thinking—our instinct not just for describing but for comprehending one thing in terms of another… shapes our view of the world, and is essential to how we communicate, learn, discover, and invent. Metaphor is a way of thought long before it is a way with words.

Thanks to a curious cognitive function of the human brain called ‘synaesthesia’ what we experience in one sense, like sound, can be metaphorically experienced in another separate sense like the vision.

This is known as ‘The Bouba-Kiki Effect’.

So which is ‘Bibi’ and which is ‘Kiki’?

In 2001 neuroscientist Vilayanur S. Ramachandran and cognitive psychologist Edward Hubbard published a paper called Synaesthesia—A Window Into Perception, Thought and Language. Making up abstract names for two abstract shapes, the two researchers asked respondents ‘Which of these shapes is Bouba and which is Kiki?’. 98% of people selected a bulbous curvy shape as ‘Bouba’ and a spiky jagged one as “Kiki”. The words Bouba and Kiki were made up and therefore had no meaning but the researchers found the same consistent association between abstract shape and abstract sound regardless of language or culture.

‘When making associations like these, we instinctively find—or create—patterns. These patterns, in turn, connect the disparate sensory descriptions in synesthetic metaphors. These primal perceptual associations may be hardwired into our brains, since even very young children associate visual and auditory stimuli’

The ‘Bouba-Kiki Effect’ and the idea of synesthetic metaphors is central to a rapidly growing body of consumer research which is having profound effects on how we evaluate the subliminal experience of feel, colour, shape, and sound, in areas as diverse as packaging design, retail design, UX and UI. For example a recent study  drew attention to the subliminal impact of the diminutive sound of the letter ‘i’ in brand names in the grocery sector:

There are good grounds to believe that brands that are associated with small objects, and/or companies that are associated with low prices, would do well to include the (i) sound in their brand name. Indeed, this may be the reason why… the letter ‘i’ appears in so many of the names of those successful budget supermarket chains.

In which case, it could be argued that if a retailer like Tesco wanted to convince customers that their prices were as low as their discounter rivals, rather than wasting their time trying to overcome a subliminally held belief with a rational argument they might do better to simply change their name to ‘Tesci’.


We can see the effects of synesthetic metaphors very clearly in the process of movie making.

When you sit in a darkened movie theatre, engrossed in the latest blockbuster, the vast majority of what you experience, happens below the threshold of consciousness.

The human brain, can process somewhere between 10 and 12 separate images per second. Each and every frame of a movie contains a vast amount of data, so with the average movie running at 24 frames per second there is simply too much information for the conscious mind to take in.

This means that your unconscious mind processes the incoming data millions of times faster than your conscious mind, and so gets to see a lot more of the movie than you do.

At this unconscious level of communication the basic unit of currency is the metaphor.

These metaphors can take many forms. In a movie, they could be anything from sounds and shapes to the use of a certain lens or camera, from music to lighting, or from the grading of an image, to the speed of editing.

There are literally millions of decisions that need to be made in terms of casting, performance, camera style, music, sound design, wardrobe, art direction and editing; each of which will ensure a slightly different experience when you sit down to watch the final movie. Taken together, these small decisions ensure that no two versions of a movie will ever be the same.

So for example, whilst the original ‘Psycho’ made in 1955 for just $800 thousand was an immediate box office hit earning more than $40 million, the 1988 remake, which cost $20 million, used the exact same script, and copied everything from the camera movements to the editing style, turned out to be a box office disaster.

The creators of the movie may not always be consciously aware of the metaphors that they are using, often making decisions simply because they intuitively ‘feel right’ for this character or that scene.

Bennett Miller’s 2005 Capote is a movie which features one such set of subliminal visual metaphors.

Set in 1959, the movie tells the true story of how Truman Capote came to write In Cold Blood. The book was based on the story of Perry Smith, the man responsible for the horrific murder of a family of four in Holcomb, Kansas. As the director explained later in an interview:

‘Capote’s feelings for Perry Smith are really fundamental to the movie. I think that Capote and Smith looked at each other and understood something about each other that nobody else understood. At the core, they were very similar… When Capote was asked a year after the book was published, What was it about Perry Smith that explained their intense relationship? Capote said, “Perry’s immense loneliness.”.’

When Capote meets Perry Smith for the first time he is already behind bars; this is where he remains, for the duration of the movie, until he is finally executed. But Capote is also a prisoner in his own world, and this theme of imprisonment, loneliness and freedom is reflected subliminally by a visual metaphor in which horizontals are used to express freedom and verticals are used to express imprisonment or confinement.

This visual metaphor may not have been a feature of the original script, and is something that few viewers may consciously register, but, because it speaks directly to the unconscious, it is fundamental part of how the movie makes you feel.


What distinguishes advertising creativity from other forms is that it is applied creativity… in other words, it is creativity with a very particular purpose.

Whereas a novel or a movie is ‘simply’ required to provide a return on investment by engaging the largest audience possible, good advertising is not only required to do this, but also to change behavior and attitudes as well.

The constant drive to maximize efficiencies and reduce costs, however, means that within the advertising business there is constant pressure to produce work at the Low Bandwidth end of the creativity spectrum, (where the work tends to be template based, easy to produce and cheap).

This means that the vast majority of money spent on advertising is wasted because it is frittered away on Low Bandwidth Creativity communications which are unlikely to engage the audience at a subliminal emotional level, let alone change their behavior and attitudes.

The importance of High Bandwidth creativity within the marketing mix was recently demonstrated in a unique study by Les Binet and Peter Field on behalf of the IPA entitled ‘The Long and the Short of it: Balancing the short and long-term effects of marketing’.

This research drew on a vast amount of historical data in the UK (996 advertising effectiveness case studies, from 700 brands, across 83 sectors, spanning over 30 years) to show that the most effective marketing mix was to be found by combining the establishment of long term emotional brand associations – emotional priming as they call it – with short term rational product and pricing messages. As the study says:

So emotional priming has the benefit of amplifying the effects of activation messages designed to give consumers a reason to buy, at the time of purchase, and, by so doing, boosts short-term behavioural responses. This is the basis of the brand response effect…

In other words, investing in long term High Bandwidth communications will prime an audience to positively respond to more short term, Low Bandwidth rational messages. However, the study warns that the benefit of these High Bandwidth communications is easily overlooked :

Of course, this leads to some potentially highly misleading market research findings, for the unaware. Because, asked why they chose brand A, consumers will be unable to play back the emotional priming that has influenced them over the long term; instead, they will play back the rational activation messages that are more easily accessible to their conscious thought… Market research therefore has a dangerous tendency to underplay the importance of long-term emotional priming and to exaggerate the importance of short-term ‘news’.


Today Apple is the most valuable company in the world, worth over $700 billion, but twenty years ago when Steve Jobs decided to rejoin the organization that had previously forced him out into the wilderness, the company was on life support and the brand was on its deathbed.

With no guarantees that the company would survive, what Jobs urgently needed to turn things around was the breathing space to developing innovative new products.

He was given this breathing space by an advertising campaign, the result of which was the most remarkable corporate resurrection of our time or perhaps of any time.

But the process was anything but easy. Jobs called in the guys he had known at Chiat Day, the agency that had created “1984”, the famous Ridley Scott directed ad that had introduced the original Macintosh computer.

From the start it was clear that there was a clash of cultures. Steve Jobs represented the world of Technical Creativity, a culture of entrepreneurs and engineers whereas the Chiat/Day guys represented the world of Expressive Creativity a culture of writers, art directors, designers and cinematographers.
Jobs explained that Apple was “hemorrhaging” and the company was in worse shape than he had imagined and he needed to do some advertising. As Jobs put it: ‘I’m thinking no TV ads, just some print ads in the computer magazines until we get things figured out.’  Rob Siltanen the creative director from TBWA Chiat/Day was amazed at Jobs’s arrogance and told him straight:

‘Half the world thinks Apple is going to die. A few print ads in the computer magazines aren’t going to do anything for you… Nobody stands around the water cooler talking about print ads. You need to do something bigger and bolder.’

And ‘bigger and bolder’ was what the agency produced. ‘Think Different’ was the work of a young art director called Craig Tanimoto and creative director Rob Siltanen. It was a High Bandwidth advertising campaign, designed to contrast with the rather uninspiring Low Bandwidth campaign that IBM were running at the time: ‘Think IBM’.

But to call ‘Think Different’ simply an advertising campaign is to do it a massive disservice. Indeed, more than a communications platform, ‘Think

Different’ was a creative brand platform, that would facilitate both communication and product innovation, both Expressive Creativity and Technical Creativity.

The words that Rob Siltanen wrote for the TV commercial read like a manifesto, a call to arms and a salute to artists and inventors alike, words that are as true to the brand today as they were almost twenty years ago:

Here’s to the crazy ones.
Here’s to the misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers.
Here’s to the ones who see the world differently.
They’re the ones who invent and imagine and create.
They’re the ones who push the human race forward.
While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.
Because the people who are crazy enough to believe they can change the world are the ones who actually do.
Apple. Think different.

Despite having no new products, the ‘Think Different’ advertising campaign gave the Apple brand a much-needed boost. Within 12 months, Apple’s stock price had tripled. And Steve Jobs got the breathing space he required. One year after the ‘Think Different’ launch, Apple introduced their multi-colored iMacs. The computers represented a revolutionary design philosophy – the physical embodiment of the ‘Think Different’ idea – and went on to become some of the best-selling computers in history… paving the way for iTunes, the iPod, the iPad, the iPhone, and all the other product development that would power Apple to become the $700 billion company that it is today.

Think Different Poster Miles

The extent of Apple’s achievement was demonstrated ten years later in a remarkable paper called ‘The Automatic Effects of Brand Exposure on Motivated Behavior: How Apple Makes You ‘Think Different’.

This research found that when people were subliminally exposed to either an IBM or an Apple logo, and then asked to complete a task designed to evaluate how creative they were  – by thinking up different uses for a brick – those who had been exposed to the Apple logo consistently behaved more creatively than those who had been shown the IBM logo. As one of the researchers, Gráinne Fitzsimons, put it:

‘this is the first clear evidence that subliminal brand exposures can cause people to act in very specific ways.’

A bit like the chap who maintains that he doesn’t drink Guinness because of the advertising, but purely ‘because it’s good for you’, the reason that so many people thought differently after being subliminally exposed to an Apple logo, was largely due to Apple’s ‘Think Different’ campaign.


As we have seen the global creative economy is estimated as worth more than US$ 624 billion and growing at more than 8 per cent every year.

At the heart of this economic miracle, however, is a question that needs to be answered, which is: ‘what is creativity and how does it work?’

There are no easy answers to this question, but I believe that the methodology I have described above goes a long way towards what is a scientifically robust, but also a highly practicable answer.

The separation of Technical and Expressive creativity is useful because it helps us to define and clarify two very separate cultural areas, whilst allowing us to plot them as two coordinates on a matrix, along with what we have called Creative Bandwidth.

As we have seen, when combined with the latest scientific research into the nature of subliminal communication, this structure provides many insights into the creative process that allow us for the first time to begin to create a complete taxonomy of creative ideas.
When this thinking is applied to advertising, in particular, it demonstrates the supreme importance of emotional engagement, and the value of addressing people’s unconscious as well as their conscious minds.

We are currently witnessing the rise of machines that can run algorithms that will easily outperform the 40-bit processor that is the conscious human mind. We have yet to see, however, a machine that can replicate the unconscious.

All human beings are capable of creative thought; and theoretically speaking, it is true that an idea can come from anywhere.
In practice, however as we have seen, a great idea will only come from an individual who has first spent time considering every aspect of the problem at hand, and then invested yet more time processing it unconsciously.

Only individual human creativity can do this in a way that communicates fully with an audience at the deepest, most emotional level.
It is estimated that the human brain contains around a hundred billion neurons; which means that the possible number of pathways for a signal – or thought – to take at any moment in time is greater than the number of atoms in the known universe.

When the conscious and unconscious minds are both fully engaged in imagining new ideas there is, therefore, no limit to what we can think, feel and communicate. Here be dragons indeed.

Artificial Intelligence Bandwidth of Consciousness Communication Information Theory Narrative Neuroscience The Conscious Mind The Creative Process The Nonconscious Mind

Protected: Welcoming Hamlet’s Ghost

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Language Narrative Visual Perception

Invisible gorillas, erotic dancers, and what lies beyond the visible spectrum.


Most people know about the spectrum of colours that can be seen with the naked eye, and that beyond this visible spectrum of colour, there are things that we cannot see, like infra-red, for example.

In recent years, however, it has become apparent that there are many things that we do not consciously see that can have profound effects on our behaviour. These are things that the unconscious mind sees “under the radar” of consciousness.

In 2004, two researchers from Harvard University, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, were awarded the Ig Nobel Prize in Psychology for the experiment known as “The Invisible Gorilla.”

In this experiment, participants are shown a video, featuring two teams, one wearing white shirts, the other black. The teams are moving around in a circle, passing basketballs to one another. In order to occupy your attention, you are asked to count the number of passes made by the team wearing white.

Halfway through the video, someone wearing a full-body gorilla suit walks slowly to the middle of the screen, pounds their chest, and then walks out of the frame.

If you were to watch the video without being asked to count the passes, you would, of course, see the gorilla. But in tests, when people were asked to concentrate on the passes, about half the people did not see the gorilla at all.

Chabris and Simons call this phenomenon ‘inattentional blindness’. It occurs when you direct your attention like a mental spotlight on the basketball passes, because it is so focused on this activity, it leaves everything else in darkness. In this state, even when you look straight at the gorilla you won’t see it, because it’s simply not what you’re looking for.
That is not to say, however, that at some level your mind hasn’t registered it.

Our brains are physical systems and hence have finite ­resources. Compared to a computer chip, which is capable of processing billions of bits of information every second, our conscious brains (that part of our thinking in which we are aware of thinking) can only process a mere 40 bits of information per second.

Tor Nørretranders
Tor Nørretranders

In the “The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size”, Tor Nørretranders has pointed out that our senses receive about 12 million bits of information every second. Of that 12 million bits of information, 10 million bits come from our eyes, 1 million bits come from our sense of touch, and the rest being delivered from all the other senses—hearing, smell, taste, and spatial sensations.

And, this is the important bit, because our conscious brains can only process at 40 bits per second, the remaining information is processed subconsciously.

That’s a ratio, of something like 99.999 percent subconscious processing, to 0.001 percent actual conscious thinking.

And this information we receive “under the radar” of consciousness would appear to have a powerful effect on behaviour.

According to research conducted by Professors Gavan Fitzsimons and Tanya Chartrand of Duke University, and Gráinne Fitzsimons of the University of Waterloo and published in the Journal of Consumer Research, in April, 2008, when people are subliminally exposed to either an IBM or an Apple logo, those exposed to the Apple logo behave in a more creative fashion than those who had been shown the IBM logo.

Gavan Fitzsimons explains: “Each of us is exposed to thousands of brand images every day, most of which are not related to paid advertising. We assume that incidental brand exposures do not affect us, but our work demonstrates that even fleeting glimpses of logos can affect us quite dramatically.”

To demonstrate the effects of brands on behavior, the researchers selected two household names, with contrasting and clearly defined brand characteristics. They asked the participants to complete what appeared to be a simple visual acuity task, during which either the Apple or IBM logo was flashed so quickly that they were completely unaware they had seen anything.

The participants were asked to then complete a task designed to evaluate how creative they were, by listing as many uses as possible for a brick other than the obvious such as building a wall. And those who were exposed to the Apple logo generated significantly more unexpected, oblique and creative uses for the brick compared with those who had “seen” the IBM logo.

As Gráinne Fitzsimons puts it: “This is the first clear evidence that subliminal brand exposures can cause people to act in very specific ways.”

But perhaps even more dramatic than the discovery that subliminal exposure to brands can affect behaviour, was the research published by a group of evolutionary psychologists from the University of New Mexico, in their 2007 paper “Ovulatory cycle effects on tip earnings by lap dancers: economic evidence for human estrus?”

What they discovered, in fact, was that lap dancers earnings vary in direct proportion to the stages of their ovulatory cycles.

So, on average, a lap dancer would earn $335 per evening during estrus, that part of their ovulatory cycle when they are most likely to conceive, $260 per evening during the couple of weeks that form the luteal phase, and only $185 per evening during menstruation. (By contrast, participants using contraceptive pills showed no estrous earnings peak.)

As the researchers describe it in their paper: “All participants in this study worked as lap dancers in Albuquerque “gentlemen’s clubs” circa November 2006 through January 2007. The clubs serve alcohol; they are fairly dark, smoky, and loud (with a DJ playing rock, rap, or pop music). Most club patrons are Anglo or Hispanic men aged 20 to 60, ranging from semiskilled laborers to professionals; they typically start the evening by getting a stack of US$20 bills from the club’s on-site ATM and having a couple of drinks.

The Dancers in these clubs perform topless but by law are required to wear a underwear or a thong of some sort. During the evening, each dancer performs on an elevated central stage to advertise her presence, attractiveness, and availability for lap dances. These dances result in only modest tip earnings (typically $1–5 tips from the men seated closest to the stage, and amounting to just 10% of her total earnings).

The rest of the time, she will walk around the club asking men if they want a “lap dance.” A lap dance typically costs $10 per 3-min song in the main club area or $20 in the more private VIP lounge. Lap dances require informal “tips” rather than having explicit “prices” (to avoid police charges of illegal “solicitation”), but the tipping is vigorously enforced by bouncers. Dancers thus maximize their earnings by providing as many lap dances as possible per shift.

The direct correlation between the tips earned, and the ovulatory status of these women, demonstrates that this information was clearly communicated to their customers through some form of non-verbal communication. And that this is perceived by the subconscious part of the brain that processes 12 million bits of information every second, rather than the conscious part that is chugging along at a mere 40 bits of information per second.

What both the Apple vs. IBM, and the lap dancers research clearly shows, is that in large part, our behaviours, are driven by experiences that we are not consciously aware of.

And, that the vast majority of these experiences are primarily visual.

And that, in a nutshell, is why, the traditional marketing practice of proposition testing doesn’t work.

It’s all a question of bandwidth. Consider this: we have seen that something like 99.999 percent of our perception is subconscious processing, and of that processing capability, 10 million bits out of 12 million bits per second is purely visual.

So proposition testing only speaks to 0.001 percent of the available attention in the group.

In order to get real insights out of any focus group, you need to engage the whole human being, their conscious and subconscious selves, the rational and the emotional, or System A and System B consciousness as Daniel Kahnemann describes it in “Thinking Fast and Slow.

And you need to use visually rich stimulus.

A number of years ago our agency, Chemistry, developed a process that we call “Creative Planning” which does just this. It is based on the belief that consumers cannot relate in any meaningful way to propositions, but do respond to narratives placed in a visually rich context.

We find that using these methods in qualitative research, creates much higher engagement with consumers, providing much better, more profound insights than the use of propositions out of context.

Now “Creative Planning” isn’t perfect, But to be fair, consumers in focus groups are never going to be as engaged to the same degree as the customers of a lap dancing club. Whatever the time of the month.

Narrative Social Media

How Brer Rabbit survived the Black Holocaust. The resilience of narrative in social media.

Anyone hoping to understand the real power of social media, would do well to consider the extraordinary tale of a certain individual who often goes by the name of Brer Rabbit.

Now, nobody knows exactly how old Brer Rabbit really is, but he is clearly many, many hundreds of years old.

He was smuggled across the Atlantic in stories told by African slaves, to America, where he found fame and fortune in popular books and movies, becoming a character beloved by generations of children around the world.

In more recent years, these books and movies have become mired in arguments about political correctness and all but disappeared from the popular imagination. But, remarkably, the ancient oral storytelling tradition that gave birth to this character, keeps his adventures alive to this very day.

The Atlantic slave trade was a human tragedy on a scale like no other. The “Black Holocaust” or “Maafa” (a word derived from the Swahili term for “disaster”, or “great tragedy”) lasted for almost four hundred years, and although we have no way of knowing exactly how many people died as a result, many modern historians estimate a staggering death toll of at least ten million men, women and children.

The most deadly part of the journey was the notorious “Middle Passage” where prisoners were held below decks in slave ships for months as they crossed the Atlantic Ocean.

Despite the apalling conditions in which they were transported, it is thought that around eleven million Africans survived the journey to become slaves in the Americas.

The majority came from the west coast of Africa, and they came from at least 45 separate racial groupings. These included, the The BaKongo, The Mandé, The Akan, The Wolof, The Igbo, The Mbundu and The Yoruba to name but a few.

Most slaves came from the west coast of Africa, with at least 45 separate racial groupings, speaking over 1,400 different Niger-Congo languages

Mostly these people would have spoken one of the Niger Congo family of languages (these days, some 85 percent of the population of Africa speak a Niger-Congo language). However, it is estimated that there are at least 1,400 of these Niger-Congo languages.

Huddled together, in chains, in the darkness of the great slave ships, many of these people could not even talk with one another.

Over the years, West African Pidgin English, also called Guinea Coast Creole English, became the lingua franca along the West African coast.

This language began it’s life among Slave traders doing business along the coast, but it quickly spread up the river systems into the West African interior, because of its value as a common trade language among different tribes; even amongst Africans who had never have seen a white man.

It is still spoken to this day in West Africa.

Slaves in the Americas found West African Pidgin English as useful as a common language on the plantations as they had found it back home in West Africa as a trading language. And when they had children, these too adopted their own version of West African Pidgin English as their native language, thus creating a number of American English-based creole languages.

One of these creole languages is called Gullah and is still spoken today by about 250,000 people in the Southern United States, specifically, on the coasts of South Carolina and throughout the State of Georgia.

And it was in the language of Gulah, that a young Irish American called Joel Chandler Harris was to first hear, the animal stories, and songs, that were to bring him worldwide fame with the tales of Brer Rabbit.

Joel Chandler Harris was a journalist who wrote for a newspaper called “The Constitution” in Atlanta, Georgia, in the years immediately following the American Civil War. A war that had destroyed so much of the South, but wreaked devastation on Atlanta in particular.

Harris published his first Brer Rabbit tale, “The Story of Mr. Rabbit and Mr. Fox as Told by Uncle Remus”, in a phonetic version of the Gullah language, in the July 20, 1879 issue of the newspaper, under the heading “Negro Folklore”. He would publish 184 more of these tales during the next 27 years.

Becoming a household name, not just across the States and but also around the world with readers who delighted in these strange tales told in the creole language of Gullah.

Because of this, Joel Chandler Harris’s position amongst American men of letters at the start of the 20th century was second only to that of Mark Twain.

And his influence on other writers was equally far reaching; the children’s literature analyst John Goldthwaite has said that the Uncle Remus tales are “irrefutably the central event in the making of modern children’s story.” In terms of content, their influence on children’s writers such as Rudyard Kipling, A.A.Milne, Beatrix Potter, and Edith Blyton is substantial. Not to mention their stylistic influence on modernism in the works of Pound, Eliot, Joyce, and Faulkner.

And yet, today, few children would recognize the name Uncle Remus, let alone that of Joel Chandler Harris.

In the late 1960s most Brer Rabbit books were removed from schools and libraries in the States because they were deemed racist. And despite the enduring popularity of the signature song “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah”, the Disney movie, “Song of the South”, which was based on these stories, has not been seen in it’s entirety for over fifty years. And never been released on home video or DVD.

In 1981 the writer Alice Walker , author of “The Colour Purple”, accused Harris of “stealing a good part of my heritage” in a blistering essay called “Uncle Remus, No Friend of Mine”. Strangely enough, and to be fair to Joel Chandler Harris, he would probably have agreed with much of what Alice Walker had to say.

Cruciallly, Harris saw himself as an ethnographic collector of the oral traditions of these former slaves rather than an original author of fictional literature in the style of Mark Twain. His tales were roundly praised by leading folklore scholars of the day. He became intrigued with the new “science of ethnology” and became a charter member of the American Folklore Society (along with Twain). As he began to fill his library with ethnological texts, journals and folklore collections, he become intrigued by the fact that the tales he was collecting bore striking resemblances to tales from cultures in other parts of the world.

Which they clearly do.

In English “Brer Rabbit” means “Brother Rabbit”. As indeed, “Brer Fox”, “Brer Bear”, “Brer Wolf” and “Brer Buzzard” are in fact: ” Brother Fox”, “Brother Bear”, “Brother Wolf” and “Brother Buzzard”.

As such, the names of these characters betray their very ancient origins in Western Africa.

As Karen Armstrong has pointed out in her brilliant “Short History of Myth”, pre-agrarian, hunter gatherer societies exhibit a strong sense of identification with all living creatures, particularly those that are hunted for food. Seeing all animals as siblings is a common expression of this perception.

Brother Rabbit, is a trickster. And as such is also another iteration of Brother Spider, or Anansi. Brer Rabbit tales, like the Anansi stories, depict a physically small and vulnerable creature using his cunning intelligence to prevail over larger animals. Brer Rabbit, originated from the folklore of the Bantu-speaking peoples of south and central Africa.Whereas, the Anansi tales which are some of the best-known in West Africa are believed to have originated in the Ashanti people in Ghana.

Although, many Brer Rabbit and Anansi stories are easily interchangeable, they often took on a whole new level of meaning on the plantations.

In the introduction of the first volume, Harris wrote: “…it needs no scientific investigation to show why (the Negro) selects as his hero the weakest and most harmless of all animals, and brings him out victorious in contests with the bear, the wolf, and the fox.” And Brer Rabbit, born into this world with “needer huff ner hawn” – neither hooves nor horns – has to use trickery to survive. The enjoyment of his amoral, and immoral, adventures, being made all the more fun as a thinly veiled code for the black slave out-foxing his white masters.

It has been said that these stories were usually told by one adult to another. And children, if they were lucky would get to listen in.

And the adult tone of many of the stories reflects this. Stealing, lying, cheating,torture savage beatings, and even cold-blooded murder are normal fare for what has been described as “this malevolent rabbit”.

Take “The Sad Fate of Mr. Fox,” in which Brer Rabbit not only tricks Brer Fox into getting himself beaten to death by Mr. Man, but then takes Brer Fox’s severed head back to his wife pretending that it’s beef for her soup pot. Or another story which has Brer Rabbit slowly scalding Brer Wolf to death, while another has him killing Brer Bear by engulfing him in a swarm of bees.

Several stories even touch on sex as a theme, usually with Brer Rabbit beating Brer Fox and the other animals for the attentions of “Miss Meadows and de gals,” who then make merry in a thinly disguised brothel.

Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear from Uncle Remus, His...
Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear from Uncle Remus, His Songs and His Sayings: The Folk-Lore of the Old Plantation, by Joel Chandler Harris

But perhaps no better tale demonstrates Brer Rabbit’s supreme wickedness than “Mr. Rabbit Nibbles Up the Butter.” In which “lumberin'” Brer Possum gets burned to death in his own fire. The little white boy, who is listening to Old UncleRemus tell this dark tale, protests indignantly that since Brer Rabbit stole the butter, he should be the one to be punished for it, not poor Brer Possum. To which Remus shrugs and says: “In dis worl’, lots er folks is gotter suffer fer udder folks sins.”

In the late 1990’s, I travelled along the Coast of West Africa with a good friend of mine, Winston, a West Indian with African slave ancestors who had been born on the small Carribean island of St Vincent.

On the westerly shores of Ghana, there is a beautiful stretch of beach, lined with palm trees, where the Atlantic surf crashes up on the golden sand, and creates the very image of a tropical paradise. And here, on a promontory a 16th century Portuguese castle stands like a dark, brooding Equatorial Elsinore.

This is Cape Coast Castle, and for almost four centuries, this was the centre of the North Atlantic slave trade in West Africa.

Cape Coast Castle. Centre of the West African slave trade for over four hundred years.

The castle itself is a dark, oppressive place. The immeasurable human pain and suffering it has witnessed, over hundreds and hundreds of years, seems to be ingrained into the very fabric of the walls.

The Gate of No Return, Cape Coast Castle, Elmina

Within the bowels of this castle is a doorway that is known as “The Gate of No Return.” Through this doorway you can see the surf crashing on the golden beaches below.

It feels like a portal to another world.

And for millions of Africans it was just that, as they passed through this gate on their way to a life of slavery, over the horizon, in the Americas. If they did not perish on the way.

As Emily Raboteau puts it so powerfully in a piece called “The Throne of Zion. A Pilgrimage to São Jorge Da Mina, Ghana’s Oldest and Most Notorious Slave Castle”:

This, then, was the door. It struck me as vaginal. You passed through it and onto a ship for Suriname or Curaçao, or through similar doorways for Cuba or Jamaica, Savannah or New Orleans. You passed through it, lost everything, and became something else. You lost your language. You lost your parents. You were no longer Asante or Krobo, Ewe or Ga. You became black. You were a slave. Your children inherited your condition. You lost your children. You lost your gods, as you had known them. You slaved. You suffered, like Christ, the new god you learned of. You learned of the Hebrew slaves of old. In the field, you sang about Moses and Pharaoh. You built a church, different from your masters’. You prayed for freedom. You wondered about the Promised Land, where that place might be.”

The only things they carried with them were their memories and their stories.

After a few hours in this dark claustrophobic castle, we were all quite relieved to get out into the late afternoon sunshine.

George a local teacher who had offered to show us around the castle suggested a place a little way back down the coast where we could get a cold beer.

An hour or so later, we were sitting outside a small wooden bar, on a beach, a couple of miles East of Elmina, watching the sun set over the promontory and the castle, and swopping stories.

As the light began to fall George started to tell Anansi stories. It emerged that Winston had been told similar stories, by his grandmother, as a child on the Caribbean island of St Vincent. Our spirits revived with the cold beer, Winston told one of his Anansi stories. Then George told one of his. Then Winston responded with another.

This went on for a while, when, with the sun slowly setting behind the silhouette of Elmina Castle, something really extraordinary happened:

Winston told a particularly funny Anansi story…

One that George had never heard before…

And at that moment it struck us all like a thunderbolt… At some remote point in the last four hundred years, this story had travelled over the vast expanse of the Atlantic ocean to the Carribean island of St Vincent. (After, perhaps passing through the “Gate of No Return” which stood ominously behind us in the gathering darkness.) Where it was passed down, from generation to generation, until Winston brought it back across the Atlantic, to share with us that evening.

The fact is, that these Brer Rabbit, Anansi stories have the most amazing ability to travel across vast swathes of space and time. And media.

Which is why these trickster tales are alive and well, and still being shared on a daily basis.

Despite the fact that many of the original books are out of print and the movie called “Song of the South” is deemed by the executives at Disney to be too politically sensitive to be re-released. And despite the fact that here have been many attempts to make the stories more socially acceptable to by removing the Uncle Remus character and the use of the Gullah language. These stories are flourishing, not in traditional media, but in that original social media… the shared oral tradition.

The rabbit who survived the Black Holocaust, may well have a few more surprises for us yet.