Chris Lewis’ new book, Too Fast To Think, which launches on Monday (October 3), looks into the industry’s busy, ‘disruptive’ work culture and how it hinders creativity. Lewis, who founded the eponymous PR agency, tells Gorkana why he wrote about the “epidemic of information overload” and reveals six key ingredients for better and happier creative thinking.
“Whether you work agency or client-side, communications can be a stressful business because of some fundamental changes happening to our industry:
It’s getting faster
This is especially the case in crisis situations, where there used to be a period of time of assessment before engagement. Because Twitter updates servers every 45 seconds, it’s a matter of minutes before the world knows something you don’t.
It’s getting more technical
It’s no use having a great message if people can’t find it. You have to know about SEO, keywords, tagging and search engine results pages. There’s a lot to learn.
It’s getting more global
You can’t have the presence of the positive without the absence of the negative. It’s no use having a great local story, if it is eclipsed by a bigger story elsewhere.
It’s getting more short-term
The sheer volume of overload means that people forget. They forget all but the most powerful news because they are receiving hundreds of messages across multiple channels.
It’s getting more visual
Being good with text is also not enough. Written stories are getting shorter and many of the most popular sites are heavily visual. This again is because of the speed of story flow and again the international perspective. Stories travel further and faster when they are visual because they’re not held up by language barriers.
These changes have contributed to an ‘always on’ environment for communications people. They need to be constantly in touch and can be easily embarrassed just being away from the news for a short time.
All these changes have created an epidemic of information overload. We’ve become used to the pressures of work-life balance. It takes some readjustment, but generally we all know where the off switch is. Most of us balance the constant interruptions, disciplining ourselves to focus intensely for shorter periods. Most of us work from outside the office routinely and harness the technology well, but over time I became aware of longer-term effects.
The reason I wrote Too Fast To Think was to explore the idea that the overload might have more pernicious effects on communicators. We all came into this industry because we have creative skills but it struck me that this constantly disrupted lifestyle was changing the way we work creatively.
Take for instance that industry stalwart – the brainstorm. We get everyone together at work then ask them to concentrate on the problem. Thing is, that’s not how people get their best ideas and the book highlights this.
I tested this thesis by asking everyone from Sir Martin Sorrell and Admiral Sir George Zambellas to The Reverend Alasdair Coles and global sleep expert Professor Russell Foster. They all said their ideas came when they were not at work, on their own and usually not trying. This suggests that there is a deep subconscious level of creative process which the brain cannot access when it is in the workplace. Especially a workplace which is overloaded with data and constantly interrupted.
So what are the things we can do to offset these pressures?
1) We need to find quiet
You might think this difficult, but we need to give ourselves time when we do nothing. We’re actually doing quite a lot when we’re doing nothing. It’s not the habit of a loser. An excellent text here is Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Creativity often speaks quietly. Silence is therefore to be enjoyed.
2) Creativity needs concentration
The enemies of creativity are multitasking and juggling. If you are mentally busy, creativity will not come. This is because you cannot concentrate on everything all at once. Creativity needs calm.
3) Creativity needs focus
You can’t do anything without commitment. Creativity needs focus. So do you. Take time to listen. Take time to believe. Have faith. Believe in yourself, even if there’s no logic to doing so.
4) Creativity needs imagination
Encourage yourself to daydream. Everything around you had to be invented. That meant someone had to dream. Allow yourself time to stop watching the clock. Look at the clouds. What do they remind you of? I know – clouds. Keep trying.
5) Sleep is king
To relax, you have to let go and accept that you can’t do everything. But you also need the basics. Sleep is king. There are many texts on this, but Russell Foster’s Sleep: A Very Short Introduction is the best.
6) Creativity will not be forced
Drive slower. Walk slower. Moving from being a ‘Type A’ is difficult, but it might keep you alive. It will not come to the impatient. You may never learn to love the queue or the line, but you can be calm in doing so. Ideas do not arrive by timetable. If you live by the clock, you will not allow creativity to intervene. Waste time. Enjoy being idle. You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room. Speak last in meetings.
There are more ideas in the book. I don’t want to be a didact though. I’m one of the worst offenders for overwork! I wrote Too Fast To Think because I thought it might help. I hope it helps you become a better creative, a more successful professional and, above everything else, a happier person.
- Chris Lewis has worked with a variety of international and national media. He has authored two other books: The Unemployables, a profile of 40 high achievers, and Brilliant Minds, a satire on the global communications industry.
- Chris founded LEWIS PR in 1995. It has grown to 500 staff in 30 offices globally. He splits his time between the US and the global HQ in London.
- He is an experienced media strategist and coaches senior politicians, business people and celebrities.
- In his spare time, he rides motorbikes, enjoys flying, military history, gardening and the arts.
- Too Fast to Think by Chris Lewis, founder and CEO of LEWIS, is published by Kogan Page on 3 October, price £14.99 paperback original.