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The Power of Many: Creativity at the edges

The Power of Many
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Written by: Stefan Ferguson
At Hex we believe old research models are broken. We're developing a new rapid research model. Based on a number of tools, we aim to get more effective insight, more widely, and act on it more quickly than other agencies can. One person helping us achieve this is Creative Scientist Katherine Templar-Lewis. We sat down with her to find our what creativity at the edges is all about...
What's a creative scientist?

Creative science is the process of taking new and cutting edge science and technology insight, or outsider thinking, and applying it to a creative project or challenge. It not only accelerates insight from source to public but allows both academics and creatives to take their work into a totally new direction. By taking an interdisciplinary approach to a problem I can often find an innovative solution or unseen intelligence that is missed due the horizontal silos both creatives and scientists end up working in. By seeing the common threads and creating a cross discipline dialogue I can help a brand move into exciting new spaces and create truly original and impactful work.

Could you give us a potted history of how you got to be one? Please don't think you can miss out any reference to The Human Centipede 2.

Ha, yes. Having always been both interested in Arts and Science (and frustrated with an education system which saw them as mutually exclusive!) I was lucky enough to be accepted onto the first interdisciplinary degree, Human Science, at Oxford. The aim was to teach interdisciplinary thought and equip you with the ability to think laterally across different disciplines. After ending up as a field scientist in the jungles of Borneo I realised my real interest was in humans and how we work collectively. This led to my postgraduate work in behavioural psychology and a stint running away to the circus (well drama school). I found that living in New York my accent was deemed suitable for horror films and I did indeed spend some happy years running around film studios covered in blood screaming… I returned to London working in science communications and journalism always working closely with scientists. I recognized that everyone wanted science but few people knew how to find or translate it into a creative intelligence that was applicable and original. I started working as a freelancer, as I still do, but also joined forces DH READY a creative futures agency hardwired to UCL to combine forces and networks.

Why do you think cross-discipline collaboration is important?

We live in a world where knowledge is out there but intelligence is between us. Innovation comes from applying insight from one realm to another and yet it’s not the way we have been taught naturally to think. Diversity of thinking and the ability to think outside the box is what produces the most original work. But most people don’t get the opportunity to hang out with people from other boxes or struggle to find a common language. Often my work is to curate cross discipline teams or dialogues, find a common language and highlight a shared vision and passion. We aren’t naturally taught to ask questions or explore other disciplines and yet when we do its always exciting.

Is the need for it growing exponentially?

Absolutely. We are living in the fourth industrial revolution a time of fast change. Agility is key. Luckily we are very adaptable agile creatures, we just often forget it. One way to be constantly agile is to work with a cross discipline network on a project basis which more and more the way the world of work is going. On a macro scale the big world challenges will only be met if we take a cross discipline approach. And on a micro scale the connected world means that we can now communicate across disciplines and the globe in a way we never have been able to before, enhancing everything we can do as humans (which is pretty amazing). The key in the future, I hope, is that everyone will start to realize themselves as a unique collection of individual skills and experience that adds unique value and the importance of a diverse network will grow. Luckily due to my own interdisciplinary and global background both in academia and the creative arts I have gained not just interdisciplinary skill set but also an incredibly eclectic and impressive multi-disciplinary network that I am increasingly being asked to bring to the table (and am thrilled to do so).

Can you walk us through a recent example? What made the collaboration garner more than say, creative team output from an integrated agency?

Whilst the outputs can be very different, from activations through to thought leadership pieces, every project I work on brings together people or insight from outside, insight that a creative team may not be able to access or know about. I can gather either insight, or people, direct from source bringing something completely fresh to a project. A really exciting piece of work we recently undertook with DHREADY was for Avery Dennison. Whilst a tech company, we brought a very human insight to them allowing them for the first time to leverage connected data to communicate and connect emotionally with consumers and address the increasing loyalty gap. Working with amazing cognitive psychologists we undertook bespoke original science research to understand the evolving digital language of (human) emotions [DEQ] in the connected world. That was more research and paper based. At the other end of the spectrum I had a brilliant time last year also working with creatives and VR technologists creating the first ever immersive MR taste (cheese) experience. Collating new research we crafted a VR film to actually hack the brain and enhance taste. The team involved would not have been able to access or translate the new insight we pulled from the neuroscience labs to directly embed in their creative process and as such took them into a new space.

I've heard rumours of Buddhist monks and magicians? What's that about?

Yes indeed. Sometimes the insight comes from outside of science or even academia. In this fast paced digital age we often forget that the most important, and unchanging factor, is that we are humans. Whilst science shares incredible insight into humans, there are those who are experts in human behaviour that are often overlooked. For a recent project at DH READY we brought in a prestigious Bhuddist monk as well as a member of the Magic Circle and applied their insight on humans to the retail arena with really exciting results.

How do you plan a project? Can you lay out the process for us?

Whilst not two projects are the same there it always starts with a challenge and ends with an innovative and creative solution that has come from the least expected place. Sometimes there is value in creating a dialogue directly between one academic and creative or other times in creating a cross discipline team. Other times because of the very narrow fields that scientists work in there is need for myself to collate and translate a range of academic studies and fields and pull the insight from across them all. As such it’s my job to know what and who are out there on the edge of what’s happening now. It’s a really thrilling and inspiring space to inhabit. In each project there is an overarching mission to accelerate new insight into the public realm and create work that could not have occurred without cross discipline approach. I can be bought in, either myself or with DH READY as a collective at the planning stage to help look for outsider knowledge against a brief. I can then translate and curate that insight helping it to be embedded into the project whether that is to inform the creative process. Often is can start with an exploration workshop on a new topic of science or a white paper but we always cast our net as far as possible thinking laterally to bring something new to the table. I also curate internal or public facing workshops, panels and events that promote cross discipline dialogue and models of working.

Who else is doing this well right now? Who or what has caught your eye recently?

Well of course DH READY, whom I’m very proud to be a part of. Working as a small collective of a truly interdisciplinary nature they build incredible bridges between academia and industry and always have a fresh perspective. I joined them as at the time a few years ago there was no one in the space at all! More recently the importance of interdisciplinary thinking has been highlighted by new courses such as the first ever BaSc at UCL and the new modules at Ravensbourne University. In terms of producers of work studios like Marshmallow Laser Feast whose work beautifully embeds science and new types of thinking. And Mr Lyan who brings science to cocktails showing you can have sustainable luxury. We’ve worked with his team for a while as they are such passionate people. Just that week we’ve just launched ‘Blocktail’ the first cocktail to use blockchain technology to bravely showcase transparency in the supply chain, that united them with UC). And then there are wonderful individuals like Nelly Ben Hayoun who are truly cross discipline and more importantly has passion and a real sense of fun.

In trying to foster the most creative, open space in which to give life to unexpected solutions, how do you ensure those solutions are still answering a clear, strategic objective? Or in other words, how do you ensure your creative solutions are going to be effective?

Some of the most exciting projects involve taking risks and going into new territory. Although there is alway a creative risk in fact using science insight can often minimize this by helping to justify, hone or support the creatives intuition. This is often the case where scientific insight is used to help craft the creative process. We also work closely with strategists and creatives against clear briefs with tangible metrics of success, aligning missions and needs. My role is often to bring new research and ideas to the table to feed into their process being able to cast my net further than they can. Furthermore everything I do has a human understanding and focus. As a human scientist impact is tied to a deep understanding of humans from physiology to psychology. The world around us changes fast but humans don't. They say that a good scientist or futurist doesn't just predict the future flying cars but the future flying traffic jams. I know and make sure I understand how the future human will feel and react to that traffic jam. Human understanding underlines all my thinking.

Top 3 collaborations outside of your space. Can be anything. Go.

The Space Race in the 60’s America was an amazing example of cross discipline collaboration on an epic scale. The pitch to get a man on the moon was opened out to everyone and everything. With brilliant results. An old collaboration but a wonderful one was of the poet Coleridge and the chemist Davy. They created ‘poetical science’ understanding the need for a cross discipline approach to not just discover molecules, but label them, tell the world about them and explore their potential. Cross-disciplinary collaborations were not just more common, but expected then, as hopefully they will be again in the near future. Also ostriches and zebras (does that count? – I grew up in Africa!) Ostriches have great eyesight but poor hearing. Zebras have poor eyesight but awesome hearing and a keen sense of smell. Having developed a common language of communication they often travel together to warn each other of predators.

Any resources people should listen to/watch/read to get a better understanding of cross-discipline collaboration or collaboration in general?

There is some really interesting work being done to look at Collective Intelligence in terms of not just diversity of people but also combining skill sets of AI and Humans. Geoff Mulligan has written a good book on the subject. There’s some new writing on the idea of Neo Generalists which is turning heads. The ability to be both a generalist and a specialist which I feel is important for people moving forward. A book that really influenced me many years ago is Godel Escher Bach by Hofstadter. Then there are also some exciting new spaces opening such as the new Science Gallery in London. I also think one of the best ways to help understand and activate cross discipline dialogue is to nurture openness and simply by widening your social circle. We run a bi-monthly informal supper club, Ready Meals, which puts 7 curious people together from completely different fields around a topic of shared interest. All are experts in their field but whom would never normally get to meet, let alone sit round a table as equals. We’ve a head of emotion from Oxford University chatting away to a very underground radical artist and a mask maker. Every dinner ends with not just new perspectives but always follows with unusual collaborations. Curiosity can often help us move out of our comfort zone and gain new perspectives that can inform and enhance our work.

If people want to find out more about what you do, how should they get in touch?

I am always, always, happy to chat and am mostly London based. I can be contacted through Linkedin Katherine Templar Lewis or via DH READY [dhready.com / Katherine@dhready.com]