Bold creativity, storytelling offer antidote to risk aversion


As I write this, I am far from Sydney attending the Cannes International Festival of Creativity (formerly the Cannes Advertising Festival). The event, which was established in Venice in 1954, has grown to become the premier event recognising commercial creativity. It moved permanently to Cannes in 1984. This year nearly 10,000 delegates are in attendance from 90 countries. They represent marketers, agencies, production companies and media.

Although we are only halfway through the Festival, some themes have started to emerge which have relevance to the newspaper business. They include the pace of change, the importance of storytelling and the power of ideas.

Mark Holden, global strategy and planning director of PHD, proclaimed that we will never again experience such a slow rate of change. That bold assertion is quite sobering for those of us who struggle to keep up with the giga-changes we are currently experiencing. Eric Schmidt, executive chairman from Google, put hard numbers later to the same prognostication.

But in spite of all the technology changes, storytelling remains key in the art of persuasion. Robert Redford talked about storytelling and punctuated his message by telling of his first trip to Cannes. It was in 1954, and Redford was 18 years old. He was hitchhiking across France and found himself in Cannes on a cold winter’s night. He could not find a room and so slipped into his bag on the beach under the pier in front of the Carlton Hotel. As the night wore on he heard music and gaiety from the hotel and pier and could see men in tuxedoes drinking and laughing. He wondered to himself what it would be like to experience Cannes from that perspective.

Sixteen years later, he returned to Cannes. This time he was donning a tuxedo in his hotel room at the Carlton. Looking out he saw the pier under which he had slept those few years before. It was a perfect example of how a great story, well-told, can capture an audience.

Malcolm Gladwell, columnist with The New Yorker magazine and bestselling author of The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers and others, challenged us to re-evaluate our desire to be first with an idea. He demonstrated how the third person to execute an idea gains the most commercial benefit.

There is a general theme weaving its way through the Festival: take risks. The past few years, with economic downturn and political instability, have chased many of us into the safe confines of risk aversion. But if we listen to the voices coming out of Cannes, we will realise that without taking significant risks, the cautiousness will hold us in place as the world, experiencing unprecedented change, races past us.

But the messages from the Festival also tell us that creativity, expert storytelling and bold, well-executed ideas can help us prosper in tumultuous times.

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