Warning: The Cannes Grand Prix Can Seriously Damage Your Creative Brain
Sean Thompson, co-founder of Who Wot Why, and Matt Follows, copywriter-turned-psychotherapist and leadership coach, dissect the creative brain and reveal the mental perils of award winning.
Thompson: I did it, I won the motherfucker of all awards: the Cannes Grand Prix. According to The Guardian, Honda Grrr was “the most popular winner of recent times”. The night was a blur to me. For months afterwards I was writing articles, being lauded, sneered at, and offered huge jobs. The last thing I was thinking about was creativity, my head was full of clutter.
Follows: If you’re the owner of a creative brain and you’ve won an award or two, then you’ll have experienced the clutter it can produce in your head. I have myself. I worked at Wieden+Kennedy London in its heyday, along with Sean, and the agency was on fire.
Thompson: Right now, you might be thinking what the hell is a creative brain and why is it any different from any other type of brain for that matter? Let Matt explain.
“The night was a blur to me. For months afterwards I was writing articles, being lauded, sneered at, and offered huge jobs.”
Network working overtime
Follows: Earlier this year, The National Academy of Sciences published a groundbreaking study which proved that creative brains are wired differently than most.
According to Roger Beaty, a post-doctoral fellow in psychology and the first author of the study, “People who are most creative can simultaneously engage brain networks that don’t typically work together.” This, he said, is what gives “creative thinkers the flexibility of thought” which contrasts with more rigid, less creative ways of thinking.
The research used brain scans that showed three main areas of the brain were simultaneously active during creative thinking: the default mode network, to do with memory and imagination; the salient network, which analyses relevant data; and the executive control network, which helps to focus on useful ideas while less useful ones are discarded.
Above: Sean Thompson, left, and Matt Follows.
Bulldozers in the brain
Thompson: Having a creative brain opens you up to huge forces both internal and external. Most of the time it is harmonious but under rare and extreme pressure, it can be like a bunch of bulldozers pushing around inside your head. The forces are driving you to come up with fresh and surprising ideas within an impossible deadline: that’s huge internal pressure. The agency and clients are pushing you from the outside: that’s huge external pressure. Add in a couple more problems, and these bulldozers collide. Crunch! This isn’t healthy.
Follows: A few years ago, I quit the ad industry to become a psychotherapist and leadership coach. I resented my creativity and blamed my creative brain on all of the pressure, stress and anxiety in my life. I believed that being able to think outside the box was not a gift, it was a curse. It was a punishment for thinking too much.
The problem with our creative sponge-like brains is that, along with all the good things we’ve collected, we’ve amassed a highly disorganised compilation of clashing beliefs, unresolved traumas, false assumptions, dreadful misunderstandings, unconscious fears, and tonnes of other people’s mental junk. These are raided from the mouths and actions of our parents, teachers, friends and mortal enemies alike.
Thompson: The creative brain is much more hungry for knowledge, data and experiences than most. And because it tends to be more empathetic, sensitive, trusting, idealistic and inquisitive than many, it’s in danger of being more exposed to the harsher elements of life. Which is why it’s more prone to inner conflict, self-doubt, indecision and procrastination and the outer conflict of people who are screwing with your head.
“I resented my creativity and blamed my creative brain on all of the pressure, stress and anxiety in my life. I believed that being able to think outside the box was not a gift, it was a curse.”
A new look for the neurals
Thompson: If you’re the owner of a creative brain, there are a number of techniques that can help you deal with mind-crushing people straight away. Simply saying “Fuck ’em” in a quiet moment to yourself can help, for example. However, these techniques aren’t enough.
Matt and I have put our heads together to find different solutions, and over the course of a series of articles on shots.net we will help you discover new ways to help you unlock your creative flow. We believe creatively minded people should be able to look after their own brains, in the most extreme and highly pressured circumstances.
Follows: We will show you how to clear your head and make you think more clearly. The techniques are built on a number of evidence-based, brain-retraining psychologies, such as clinical hypnotherapy, neuro-linguistic programming, eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing and cognitive behavioural therapy.
The methods literally reprogram and rewire the subconscious programs that are automatically running your thoughts, emotions and creative brilliance 95 per cent of your waking life. By relaxing your nervous system, the techniques also change the architecture of your brain so that your default mode under pressure becomes flow and excel, not fight or flight.
“[The creative brain] is more prone to inner conflict, self-doubt, indecision and procrastination; and the outer conflict of people who are screwing with your head.”
Unlocking your creative brain
Follows: With a little help, you can have a clear head that is free from clutter and will enable you to do what you do best, which is to come up with original and inspiring ideas: that commercial, that screenplay, that piece of art, that novel, that fashion design, that contemporary dance recital.
Thompson: If you’re standing on the steps of Le Palais des Festivals this June, and you’re in possession of a shiny new Cannes Grand Prix, read our next article.
Thompson and Follows will continue to explore the creative brain and the ways in which to harness it in an upcoming series of articles on shots.net