PHD Media Worldwide > News > PHD’s Mike Cooper and The School of Life’s Oliver James on neurodiversity as a way of bringing creativity back in the workplace
June 19 2018

PHD’s Mike Cooper and The School of Life’s Oliver James on neurodiversity as a way of bringing creativity back in the workplace


“Creativity is having a midlife crisis,” PHD Worldwide CEO Mike Cooper remarked during the 65th Cannes Lions International Festival for Creativity.

According to Omnicom Media’s recent study, the really big drivers of ROI are creativity and innovation, however, nowadays, brands and agencies tend to focus more on automation and programmatic. Cooper said, “Brands and agencies are risking over targeting of consumers in some ways and that’s really taken the focus off the fundamental levers of growth which are innovation and creativity.”

“The industry is hypnotized by marketing tech and data. And it’s something that we are heavily involved in doing. There is a major focus on programmatic and data across the industry,” he added.

Indeed, in the face of automation, creativity in the industry is threatened. Hence, it is crucial for organizations to all the more produce unique, original work. Sadly, many employees are constrained to unleash their creativity and think differently by the fear of being ridiculed and judged. So how do we bring creativity back to the workplace?

Clinician, author, and faculty member of the School of Life Oliver James tells a remarkable insight on this plight during the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity: spot creative characteristics, foster an environment that optimizes creativity, embrace the unusual, and unleash creativity by nourishing a person’s childlike capacity for pretense and play.

For James, spotting true creativity that employees already possess is crucial. “You need to spot the creative potential in your employees,” he said. Interestingly, James imposed that industries might also want to look for employees who have unusual backgrounds: those who had difficult childhoods, those who are not always ordered in how they think and speak, and those who are highly observant, who are able to identify the big picture.

“Creatives aren’t necessarily more so because of appearances or a florid personality. Plenty of outwardly dowdy or dull people have the most imaginative ideas hitting away. As the neurodiversity movement is proving, people who have autistic, dyslexic, even sociopathic brain patterns often have very unusual skills and contributions to offer. Neurodiversity argues that just because someone seems odd, it doesn’t mean that they are mentally ill or incapable. Just different.” James opined.

For Mike, he says that agencies should not just focus on diversity in terms of gender or race but also start thinking about neurodiversity. “Conditions such as autism and ADHD can help people to see things in more visionary ways, challenging and pushing creativity further.”

Fostering an environment to optimize creativity is just as important. Nurturing an environment that is physically and psychologically safe encourages creativity among employees to flourish.  This could mean providing them an environment where they can truly be themselves – a place where failures that go with any creative process are accepted.

“To be creative, organizations need to enable employees to feel safe and valued. The more that you give them that feeling, the better. They won’t be lazy and self-satisfied if you give them that. They will relax and let their imaginations play,” James remarked.

According to James, giving employees space and time to think outside the box by giving broad briefs without too many strict rules is essential. “Allow yourself and your colleagues to run with ideas, to forget about external constraints, and just play around with ideas even if they seem completely irrelevant.”

Finally, nourishing a person’s childlike capacity for pretense and play is also vital to unlocking his/her creative side. “Adults who’ve lost the capacity to play have died so to be creative in your business – individually or collectively – your childlike capacity for pretense and play must be nourished both by you and the organization in which you work.”

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