The beginners mind.
Genie met with CCO (and Genie member) Graham Fink, to discuss the virtues of approaching creativity with a beginner’s mind:
When I got my first job in advertising, along with my copywriting partner, I was the most junior creative person in the agency. I had no real experience. Everyone around me was doing amazing work that I was totally in awe of.
My Creative Director kept blowing all our work out, saying ‘you’re trying too hard’. He was right. The ideas were very forced.
I was too scared to take a holiday in my first year, but eventually, I took a break and went to Thailand. I visited a temple, and on the wall, there was a quote from the Buddhist monk, Shunryu Suzuki, that totally changed my outlook.
‘In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.’
It really struck a chord with me. I knew I wouldn’t be a beginner for too much longer, so I needed to make the most of it. I tried all sorts of new things to keep my beginner’s mentality alive. I even tried switching from my right hand to my left, to draw my layouts and scribble ideas.
I began to look at people who were new to their game, whether that be football, writing, music or art and I saw the beauty and power in their naivety.
There are a million examples out there. People who come along and just do something in one particular way because they don’t know any better, and occasionally make a breakthrough.
I found myself tackling problems in different ways. I’ve always thought that not knowing where you are is the most creative place to be. Of course, if you’re driving a school bus with 30 kids in the back you probably should – but if you’re looking for fresh ideas, too much certainty can be a barrier. If you know what you’re doing, you’re not being original.
When I used to go on photo shoots, I would push the photographers to try new things too. Shoot on a different film stock or an unusual lens. I’d always make sure I worked with the very best people and I found that most of them relished the challenge of experimenting and trying something new.
Whilst I was working at CDP, I became friends with an Art Director, Tony Kaye. Tony’s passion was to become a film director. There were already a lot of very good film directors, so Tony knew he needed to do something different to stand out. He used the fact he was a beginner as a strength over the experts.
When setting up a shot, most directors would normally do a rehearsal without actually shooting it (in the days before digital when film was expensive), but Tony wasn’t normal. He’d shoot every rehearsal. His idea was that sometimes the rehearsal is the best take because there’s no pressure on anyone.
He would do crazy things like open the side of the camera as the film was running, letting light in and often ruining the exposure. He would often use little bits of that overexposed film in the final edit. It wasn’t long before Tony had created a whole new look to British TV commercials, and suddenly everyone wanted to use him.
So this idea of being ‘all knowing’ is something I’ve always questioned. Maybe instead of being at the top, it’s better to be at the bottom. I think a lot of people who become ‘experts’, stop learning.
They think they know it all. They lose their curiosity. That’s when it all goes wrong.
The best thing you can do when you’re considered an expert is to try and get back to that beginner’s mentality. That’s when new ways of doing things get discovered.
In beginner’s mind are many possibilities. In expert’s mind there are few.
Graham Fink is CCO and Founder of Fink Different, and a Multi-media Artist.