PHD Worldwide brought Psychologist and The School of Life tutor Oliver James to Cannes in order to encourage creatives and organisations to find their inner playful child.

As we grow up, external demands such as parental discipline and education, increasingly get in the way of play. There’s good evidence however that if children’s play is allowed to infuse their educational lives, it actually improves performance. Play is creativity at its purest. It’s a way of fulfilling our wishes and fantasies, as well as sometimes expressing traumas or prohibited desires.

This is the view expressed by psychologist and author, Oliver James who put ‘Creativity on the Couch’ during his keynote session at Cannes Lions 2018.

PHD Worldwide partnered with The School of Life, a global organisation dedicated to developing emotional intelligence, to bring James to Cannes Lions 2018.

James was introduced by Mike Cooper, CEO Worldwide at PHD Worldwide. Cooper set the scene by telling delegates: “Today, creativity is experiencing a midlife crisis. With more and more brands looking to their agencies to refocus them back onto creativity in the face of technology and automation, we need to be able to show diversity of thought, processes and most importantly, talent.

“Neurodiversity should be a top priority for any agency that values creativity and innovation,” he continued. “Conditions such as autism, ADHD and dyslexia can often help individuals see things in more visionary ways, challenging and pushing creativity further. Without the ability to work together – whether that’s people of different backgrounds, cultures, disabilities or skill-sets, creativity will stall in the face of technology’s relentless evolutionary march.”

James then told delegates: “In later life, finding new ways to make-believe, and yet stay connected to external reality, is crucial for emotional health. Adults who have lost the capacity to play have died. My key message today is that to be creative in your business, your childlike capacity for pretence and play must be nourished, both by you and the organisation in which you work.”

A crucial component of how adults work and play together is through what James calls ‘Personas’.

One of the best illustrations of someone who took control of his personas and used them to heighten his creativity, while often expressing his deepest fears, was David Bowie.

“At the simplest level, Ziggy Stardust enabled both David Jones (his birth name) and David Bowie (his stage persona), to achieve their goal of international stardom,” James said. “But the fascinating thing is that Ziggy also was a persona through which Bowie confronted his fear of madness and suicide.

“You however do not need to give yourself a different name to grasp that there are many different people within you who are longing to come out to play. Playful creative personas are unleashed both by work you can do on yourself and by organisations providing spaces in which they flourish.”

James went on to advise three ways for people to ‘up their Ziggy’, which included listing existing personas, searching for new personas or forgotten old ones, and mining your playful child within.

From an organisational perspective, James recommended that companies should foster safe environments for employees to feel good about unleashing their inner child, let creatives go off-message and out-of-bounds, and include metrics such as ‘how often have you made a colleague smile in the past week’ as part of performance reviews.

“As the neurodiversity movement is proving, people who have autistic, dyslexic, even sociopathic brain patterns, often have very unusual skills and contributions to offer,” James concurred. “Neurodiversity argues that just because someone seems odd, does not mean they are mentally ill or incapable, just different. Silicon Valley has understood this and so should you.

“To future-proof the industry, agencies need to not only be able to identify diverse talents, but to go deeper in understanding their childhood in order to develop and nourish those individuals. As creative people, David Bowie explains it best by saying, ‘You have to accommodate your pasts within your persona – it helps you reflect what you are now,” concluded James.

Following his appearance on the main stage at Cannes Lions, James then joined a panel hosted by PHD UK Chairman Hugh Cameron, and featuring Ketchum UK CEO Jo-ann Robertson and comedian, writer and host of The Guilty Feminist Podcast, Deborah Frances-White.

‘Overcoming the Bias and Barriers Blocking Workplace Creativity and Innovation’ discussed some of the practical applications of James’ main stage insights.

Ketchum’s Robertson said: “Building a diverse team and workforce isn’t easy. There is a reason people want to work with other people who are like them. So, when you bring someone in because of their difference, don’t ask them to be like everyone else. Work hard at getting them accepted for who they are and the different perspective they bring.”

Frances-White agreed adding: “It isn’t for black women to fix racism, and it isn’t for women to fix sexism. We all have a role to play. We need to have the confidence to call out inappropriate behaviour where and wherever we see it.”

Creativity on the Couch, took place in the Debussy Theatre, Palais I on Tuesday, 19th June. Overcoming the Bias and Barriers Blocking Workplace Creativity and Innovation then took place on the Innovation Stage, Palais II later that day.