Finding fun and funkiness at work

It was Carl Jung who said, "Without this playing with fantasy, no creative work has ever come to birth." Organizations ignore his wise remark at their peril. Eric Hoffer goes further: "The compulsion to take ourselves seriously is in inverse proportion to our creative capacity."

John Grant has always played with fantasy and tried not to take himself too seriously to get the best for his many clients. This is how he describes the story of how IKEA came to tell the British people to "chuck out your chintz" and even made the British Prime Minister smile!

Back in late 1995, I was a co-founder of a new ad agency called St Luke's. We had just set the company up and were pitching for our first new client—IKEA.We were about a week away from the final presentation and the pressure was mounting.

I went off one wet Wednesday evening to research some rough ideas about "How does IKEA manage to make such great furniture so cheap?" or something like that.This kind of research is called "focus groups." Although that's a bit of a misnomer because they are ideally quite defocused! That way you can hope to learn something new.

In the course of a series of these focus groups, I had come to realize that something was holding us back. Everybody quite liked the ads we were suggesting. (They were very funny.) But they didn't exactly seem to be about to change the world. Something was missing and I just couldn't quite put my finger on what.

Harnessing Your Creativity

Until on a dark February evening a man in one of these focus groups, in a suburb in Wembley, leant forward and said, "Yes, that's all very well but I wouldn't have that chair in my living room!"

"Because it's too modern."

That was it!

IKEA was the only big retailer selling modern furniture in the UK apart from Habitat which is also owned by IKEA. If significant numbers of people felt like the man in Wembley, then IKEA's plans to expand into Middle England would be thwarted. Conversely if we could shift the taste of the nation towards modern furniture then IKEA would benefit disproportionately.

That was the simple bit.The harder thing with any new idea is convincing the people around you and making something that actually works.

The convincing process started with the St Luke's team.A week from the pitch presentation this was all highly destabilizing. And as a strategy "changing people's tastes" was unconventional if not a little funky! How did we know taste was the main problem? How on earth could we shift something as deeply held as tastes with something as flimsy as advertising? And how could we convince a client we hardly knew, even if we could convince ourselves.

For a few days it was very touch and go.The team was split down the middle on this idea. But the strength of the St Luke's culture was an almost reckless disposition for backing people's hunches and ideas, even if it meant losing clients in the process.Then a telephone survey of 1,000 UK adults over the weekend gave us more confidence.Two-thirds said that their taste leaned towards traditional English styles. And two-thirds of those who didn't shop at IKEA said it was because the furniture was "too modern." Our man in Wembley turned out to be far more representative than we'd expected.

By the following Wednesday we had a rationale and the beginnings of an ad campaign aimed at changing the taste of a nation.To our surprise IKEA bought it (and us).That's typical IKEA.They make a point of daring to be different.And they liked St Luke's because we shared their values, which helped.

It still took us two or three more months of creative development to come up with the "Chuck Out Your Chintz" campaign. (Based on the idea of a modern version of "burn your bra"—furniture feminism.) It was aired in September that year. By December IKEA sales had doubled. By spring it was being quoted by politicians and newspapers as part of the New Britain mood—"Tony Blair tough on Chintz,Tough on the Causes of Chintz." And by 1999 a survey of UK adults' taste showed a complete swing; two-thirds now saying they liked modern styles.

Once upon a time, about five years ago, it was possible to say that only advertising, media, or entertainment companies, the Disneys of this world, needed to have a sense of fun. It was possible, but wrong. In today's business world, many people are actively seeking a sense of fun.

As increasing numbers of organizations are competing to deliver similar services, having a corporate sense of humor is increasingly important. So, for example, we see Richard Branson wearing a wedding dress in the pages of the British press to advertise Virgin Brides.

Or, after a dramatic attempt to steal a valuable diamond from the Millennium Dome in London involving undercover police officers and robbers driving a JCB digger truck, it was a clever move by JCB to run ads using the image of its product so surprisingly caught in the limelight!

The rapidly growing communications company ntl is another example. It has a vision statement about "making money, having some fun and doing some good."

This kind of combination of values and approaches to doing business is becoming much more common.

How To Accomplish More In A Fraction Of The Time

How To Accomplish More In A Fraction Of The Time

The pace and intensity of our lives, both at work and at home, leave several of us feeling like a person riding a frantically galloping horse. Our day-to-day incessant busyness too much to do and not enough time; the pressure to produce and check off items on our to-do list by each day’s end seems to decide the direction and quality of our existence for us.

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