Controlling the mind is something quite unique.
There are people in our society who do it purposely, from magicians to creative’s. Words are a prominent use, whizzing through the air whether it be from a television, radio or poster sinking into your five senses. Do you control what you see from day to day? There are ways of controlling your mind, of course there are. It’s really down to what you choose to listen to although some things have a cheeky way of embedding into your mind whether you like it or not. Having recently written an article for Advertising Week, ‘Advertising: Controlling the Mind’, I came across Dave Birss (who is also featured in our Book Reviews). Of course the thought sprung into my mind of asking him heaps of questions! So this is where I am now, myself interviewing Dave Birss, a prominent figure in the creative industry. What hasn’t he done? He was a musician, he writes, he’s done some amazing work for the advertising sector and more.
Nicola Manuel: Hello! Please introduce yourself to those who may not know your character…
Dave Birss: I don’t really like defining myself by what I do. So I won’t answer this question by referring to a job title or a career.
I’m a man who thinks he’s a boy who’s got an unhealthy fascination with creativity and loves to turn lightbulbs on in other people’s heads. Metaphorically. I’m not a weird, serial-killing electrician. Honest.
NM: Having read your book ‘A User Guide To The Creative Mind’ from front to back without putting it down once my mind has began flowing with creativeness again. You discuss the highs and lows, ins and outs of the creative sector and how to excel yourself within it. For people who haven’t read it what was the main reason for publishing the book and can we expect another from you in the future?
DB: I had no burning desire to write a book.
I occasionally set myself silly ‘man projects’ and this was one of them. I wanted to see if I could write and publish a book in just one week. And I would have succeeded if Apple’s iBooks Author application hadn’t punished me for being born on the wrong side of the Atlantic.
The bones of the book were taken from a document I wrote when I first became a Creative Director about 12 years ago. I had written a number of cheat sheets and guides for the younger members of the creative department. One of these guides – a creative cheat sheet – became pretty popular online. And that became part of the book. I then added to this with my thoughts on how the creative process works and shared some advice on how to get yourself out of a mental jam.
As you mention, it’s a short book. As a dyslexic copywriter, I’ve always tried to write things for people who don’t like to read. So you can easily read it in one sitting (or one shitting, if you prefer). And it’s written so that you can come back to it again and again for some instant inspiration.
I have a few more books in the pipeline. Including a project called Assorted Nuts which I’m doing with the brilliant photographer Julian Hanford. We’re photographing and interview 50 advertising creative greats. Some of those interviews are also coming out in my sporadic series of podcasts. And we’ll be showing the finished work at an exhibition next year.
And I recently decided to turn one book that I was working on into a website instead. It’s called inspiratron3000.com and it gives you a random piece of inspiration at the click of a button. It’s unlikely to ever give you the same result twice which, of course, is not something you could ever do with a book!
NM: Describe yourself in three words.
DB: Smart, stupid, human.
NM: Advertising is quite a prominent aspect within your career, from working in the advertising and marketing industry. Over the course of your career to date what has been the most shocking and amazing aspect of marketing that you have come across?
DB: I’m continually amazed at how the industry has changed so little when the world has changed so much. That’s maybe why I’m seeing more opportunities and fun outside of the industry.
NM: You are currently running a project called ‘Clockalypse’, signifying the stated end of the world on 21st December but that is soon to end, as well as the world if the Mayans are correct. What is next is store for you if the world continues?
DB: Thankfully, we’re past that date. We can all breathe easy now!
You can expect lots more nonsense like the Clockalypse site. And there’s a reason for that: I believe that creative people should create. And by that I mean actually make stuff. I’ve been teaching myself code so that I can make the stupid things that I scribble into my notebook. And I’ve got a bunch of these creations waiting in the pipeline.
When I was interviewing advertising creatives, I was always more interested in what they did when they weren’t working in an agency. The ones that said they liked watching telly and playing badminton didn’t interest me. But the ones who were constantly creating did. So I’ve hired people who were graffiti artists, amateur film-makers, poets, t-shirt designers, cake decorators. Everything these people do outside of office hours feeds into what they do inside of office hours. If you just hire standard advertising people, you just get standard advertising. And I can’t stand that stuff!
NM: Tell us one crazy thing about you that people may not know…
DB: I once appeared nude on page three of a broadsheet newspaper. Absolutely true.
NM: For a creative coming from university and wanting to dip their toes into the world of advertising or marketing but do not know where to begin, what would you say or recommend?
DB: There’s lots of competition for the jobs. There are several times more people trying to become an advertising creative than there are vacancies. Just ‘dipping your toes in’ won’t work! You need to want it more than anything else. And have a portfolio of great ideas that prove you can do it better than anyone else.
And if you don’t get into advertising, don’t worry. There are more opportunities than ever for creative people to be creative these days. Technology has given us all cheap access to HD cameras, film editing software, graphics packages, music production software and – most importantly – audiences.
If you’ve got a real passion to create, there’s nothing stopping you. You don’t need to work for an ad agency to do work that will be seen by millions.
NM: The mind is controlled whether we like it or not. How much do you agree with this statement?
DB: I think that’s over-simplifying things. But, for arguments sake, I’ll agree with your statement 62%!
Daniel Kahneman talks of two thinking systems: one is fast and automatic and the other is slower and requires effort.
I believe good creative people do more of the second type of thinking than the average man on the street. They don’t make as many assumptions. They ask more questions. They spot things others miss. They do things others are too scared to try. Their life requires more effort – and they like it that way.
To illustrate, I heard a great interview with the blues guitarist Robert Cray a few years ago. He was asked how he comes up with such brilliant guitar solos. And his answer was “I just take the first thing that comes into my head. And don’t play it.”
NM: During your career you’ve had some pretty amazing jobs from working in producing TV ads to radio campaigns or even writing. What can we expect from you as of today with the future set out in front of you?
DB: I think the more interesting and rewarding things I’ve done have been outside of advertising. I’ve been a stand-up comedian, session musician, breakfast show DJ, poet, graffiti artist, illustrator and lots of other things. I just love doing creative stuff.
My life constantly leads me down surprising paths, so I have no idea where it’ll take me. And I love that. I just know that it will be creative in some way.
NM: What is the best advice you’ve been given that you could share?
DB: Never stop feeding your mind. If you want good stuff to come out, you’ve got to put good stuff in.
Oh blimey, now it’s time for those quick round questions…
If I were to say the following words to you, you’d say which word in response:
If you are a creative type then take time to think about what makes your creativeness flow. Do words really control you to a huge extent?
So if you ever feel yourself get into a mental jam and need a little helping hand then I highly recommend Dave’s book, A User Guide to the Creative Mind. It’s short and sweet, giving you the perfect amount of information to get your mind back on track, buzzing with creativeness. Keep up-to-date with this creative chap by following him on Twitter too.
P.s. Did you see that cheeky nude photo in a broadsheet newspaper?