We are in a crisis—with a capital C. A virus has the whole world in its grip, a pandemic only a few of us on this planet have ever experienced.
But I want to talk about a different word with a capital C. It’s on the lips of world leaders, presidents, kings, world-renowned healthcare professionals and also the people off the street. It’s a word that has been overshadowed by another word starting with a C over the last decades: control.
As a species, we like being in control. When we were all cave people, control would make the difference between life and death. What’s that sound coming from the bush over there? Is it a rabbit, or is it a deadly snake? Knowing can save your life; surprise can kill you. We like being in control because we like surviving.
It seems like even in our industry the importance of control has grown. The more we know about people, the more in control we feel when it comes to our marketing efforts. We know people’s preferences, behaviors, their journeys, and in knowing all this, we can be super relevant. It’s a good feeling, a feeling of security and of being in control of the circumstances and the outcomes.
Next to our love for control, there is our love for routine. Another great learning coming out of the field of neuroscience. We are suckers for routine. Routines help us save huge amounts of energy every day because we don’t have to spend any effort on coming up with new pathways in our brain. We can just keep going on the trodden paths. Routine actually fuels our sense of control.
In our industry, over the last few years, we were steadily building our well-oiled marketing machines, giving us control (or at least the perception of it) and giving us routine. Making our efforts more effective and more efficient. Until, all of a sudden, there was the Crisis: the COVID Crisis.
As a species, we lost the feeling of being in control from one day to another. The ground under our feet is shaking. Nothing is certain anymore. Routines are going out of the window. All of a sudden, we have to create new pathways in our brain since we can’t rely on the old ones anymore, creating room for the other C-word I wanted to talk about earlier: creativity.
Creativity in the ways we communicate when we can’t be physically together; creativity in the way the world’s best universities and pharma companies collaborate to come up with a vaccine for the virus; creativity in the way we make living with our mothers-in-law work; creativity in the way we use humor to flood each other’s social channels; creativity in the ways we show support for all the healthcare professionals, teachers, supermarket employees and everyone else who is risking their health to help us through this. Creativity as a potent force of survival is everywhere.
We as a species will be dealing with the outfall of this horrible moment in our history for a long time to come. But I hope we can also keep an eye open to the global resurgence of creativity we’re seeing. When we survive this—because we will—we shouldn’t forget that creativity thrives when control and routine go out the window. It’s completely counter-intuitive, since surprise and not being in control used to get us in seriously dangerous situations. Human creativity is built on our brain’s diffuse attention, inefficiency and lack of focus and can actually help get us out of this mess.
And let me be clear: By no means am I advocating going back to the “good old days” of our industry. We’re beyond that. Instead, I think we have the power to create new days by using everything that instruments of control like data and technology are supplying us with to be even more creative and more human.
I have always believed that the holy trinity of creativity, technology and humanity is the only way forward for our industry—for our species, even. But this crisis has imprinted in my brain the notion that if we combine creativity, technology and humanity in the right way, we truly can create an unstoppable force for growth and regeneration.
Stay safe, everyone.