Category Archives: Creativity

Three Charms But Four Alarms

Three is the magic numberWork, Rest and Play (Mars)

Power, Beauty and Soul (Aston Martin)

Soft, Strong and Long (Andrex)


We humans love seeing choices or lists presented in groups of three. Three gives a natural balance to things, as does five or seven.

But three really is the magic number for marketers and copywriters.

A recent study for the Make-A-Wish Foundation sought to find the messaging sweet spot for securing charitable donations. They randomly assigned a different set of reasons to research participants, each of which was designed to persuade them to part with their hard earned money.

TMIOne group received two egoistic reasons to give, another received two altruistic reasons to donate, and a third received all four reasons combined. Those in the last group, who were presented with four reasons to give, were less likely to donate than the other groups who received just two. It seems that at a count of four, the attempt to persuade had been too obvious, resulting in the participants actually being dissuaded to donate.

In another test, subjects were shown ads for a brand of shampoo that carried between one and six benefit claims. Those who were given an ad carrying just three claims rated the shampoo more highly than those receiving more or fewer claims. Again, it would appear that one or two benefits are not quite enough to persuade us, yet four or more start to feel like desperation, resulting in scepticism that throws into doubt the veracity of all of the claims.

So, next time you’re trying to persuade someone, keep your list of reasons why they should believe you to three. Simple. As. That.

Source and further reading: Influence at Work blog

How To Fly A Plane With A Hashtag

Race the Plane microsite

It may be a barely veiled attempt to drive Twitter mentions, but you have to admire BA’s Race The Plane competition that’s running in the UK today.

The campaign idea is simplicity itself. Twitter users can race (virtually) a BA jet flying from London to Toronto by tweeting with the hashtag #racetheplace. Presumably—although it’s not explained on the microsite—every tweet increases the distance travelled by the “tweetliner.” Meanwhile, back in the real world, a BA Dreamliner plane is making the actual journey with the distance it has travelled shown on the site.

It’s unclear what the point of the game is, other than giving Twitter users the chance to win flight tickets by taking part. Whether the Dreamliner or Tweetliner arrives first at its destination seems largely academic, but that hasn’t stopped some feverish tweeting from people willing the Tweetliner to win!

We shouldn’t analyse this too deeply, but I can’t help wondering if any of this is actually happening in real time? The two planes seem remarkably close today, just as the marketing team would want to stoke up continued tweeting.

But, that stuff doesn’t really matter. BA has taken a simple idea, presented it tastefully and simply in a dynamic, responsive site, incorporated a succinct promotional video and social proof in a Twitter stream, and seems to be driving lots of mentions across the Twittersphere. Plus they’ve made it easy for players to share the competition to Facebook, and Google+ too, what’s not to like?

How to Write the Perfect Tweet

I’d say this infographic from Neomobile was almost perfect.

But I wouldn’t recommend always placing your links at the end of the tweet as that’s the first bit that’ll get cut off if people do an old style retweet or append copy to the start of a reply. It’s safer to put your links in the middle of the tweet—even if that may look a bit ugly—so the integrity of the link is never compromised.

After all, a tweet with a broken link is no use to anyone.

So, on balance, I think I’d recommend this sort of structure:

Allister Frost's Perfect Tweet Anatomy

(CTA = call to action)

What do you think?

Here’s Neomobile’s recommendation for comparison:

Neomobile Infographic of the Perfect tweet

Image source:

Being Creative Coffee Shop Style

Idea-Juice-Coffee-CupOpen plan office workers know how hard it can be to focus on work tasks when surrounded by the hustle and bustle of office life. But researchers at the University of Illinois have discovered that working on creative tasks amidst ambient background noise can actually boost our creative ability.

In scientific tests carried out on undergraduate students, they found respondents performed better at word association tasks while exposed to moderate background noise than they did under exposure to lower noise levels. In another study, they found that participants in a medium noise environment—akin to a typically busy coffee shop or room with a TV set playing—generated more creative ideas than those in either quieter or louder surroundings.

So it seems that all that time spent in that “third place”, somewhere between home and work, might not be such a bad thing after all, as long as you are putting your brain to work on creative thinking tasks.

Sadly, the news is not all good though. Any task that requires intense concentration is likely to be best performed in a quiet place, away from noise and distractions.

But the results are compelling. When we need to think creatively, a little ambient noise can go a long way to enhancing our ability to think more broadly.

So, next time you want to think outside of the box, grab your credit card and head to the nearest coffee shop!

Alternative Solution: Can’t afford yet another venti-mocha-choca-goat’s-milk-latte? Just head to where the ambient noise comes at you free!

Source: NY Times article

What Social Businesses Can Learn from Improvisation

Improvisation Comic Relief

Many years ago I was privileged to learn improvisation skills at a week-long business retreat. My teacher, Neil Mullarkey of The Comedy Store, has remained a good friend to me over the years and the concepts he taught me have stayed fresh in my mind. The recent emergence of more social businesses—where staff can openly share ideas and opinions through online platforms—has made me revisit these improvisation principles and ask how they could be applied in the digital workplace.

Improvisation, where actors play out a scene without a script or rehearsal, relies on a few core skills that we often forget in the midst of a busy workplace. But their usefulness within a social business seems to me beyond doubt. After all, in the modern business world we are simply the actors, and the workplace our stage.

So, here are some of my preliminary thoughts on how improvisation skills may help you become a better social player within your organisation:

EarActive Listening: The improviser who fails to listen to those around him will soon come unstuck. Every actor on the stage is there to ‘offer’ something to the others to help the scene develop. By always listening carefully to what’s being said we can make more informed, spontaneous contributions that build on the topic and take it in a positive direction. The same applies online; don’t spend all your time talking, it’s far more valuable to listen intently and only speak up when you have something useful to add.

Don't-Be-CleverNot Being Clever: In order to be natural and ‘in the moment’, improvisers are taught the importance of not trying to be clever. In fact, the last thing you want to do is to try to be clever as it both makes things difficult for the other actors and can destroy the authenticity and naturalness of what you say. Following this advice online too makes a lot of sense. There are no prizes for being a know-it-all and most of us can contribute more value by building on the ideas of others rather than seeking to kill off discussions with our genius.

relax-keyRelax and Have Fun: In improvisation, the most entertaining and memorable scenes happen when the actors are “in the zone”, loving the experience. They’re looking to slip into a mental state which psychologists call ‘flow’ where they are fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus to the task at hand. The same should apply in our work lives. When we truly focused on something that we feel is worthwhile we feel energized and able to actively engage our whole brains. If we can find this same state when using a social intranet or following an online discussion between colleagues, we should be better placed to make a full, valued contribution.

Judgement GavelDon’t Judge Others: Suspending our natural tendency to pass judgement on others is essential in improvisation. Of course, we should try to understand others and empathise with them, but judging their contributions is an unnecessary distraction and energy drain. Likewise, we can help the social workplace run smoothly by allowing people to express themselves freely without fear of being judged or criticised. By creating a trusted environment, we are each more likely to bring our best ideas to the fore so others can build on them.

Yes ButtonYes and…: One of the easiest exercises that Neil taught me is to build on what has been said before. We’re trained from an early age at school and college to spot flaws in others’ arguments and we can help unpick this habit by simply starting every response with “Yes, and…” This modest phrase helps force us into a collaborative mindset where we build on what has gone before rather than shooting it down with the usual “No, but…” response. The next time you see a comment on the social intranet that you disagree with, try looking for the positives in the idea and building constructively with a “Yes , and…” reply.

UnknownThrive In the Ambiguity: By its very definition, improvisation requires actors to enter a world where they are completely out of control of the situation. If you try to drive the agenda, another person can snatch it away and drag you in an unexpected direction. Life in a social workplace is very much like this too, with discussions and comments ebbing and flowing to the tune of the crowd’s sentiment. Learning to welcome and indeed thrive in this uncertainty is an essential skill for today’s employees.

In a world now shaped by distributed voices and opinions, we’re all learning new skills to help us survive the modern workplace. But perhaps we can learn most from some of the oldest tricks in the book, as used by actors for generations to create, innovate and entertain.

How could this approach help you? All comments to begin “Yes, and…” please.

3 Simple Steps to Creating Daily Content Gold

Buried-Content-IdeasWe’ve all been there; it’s every community manager’s nightmare. Staring at that blank screen, racking your brain for fresh ideas about what to post to your social networks today.

When writer’s block strikes sometimes the best thing to do is to walk away and formulate a new plan on how to avoid an idea logjam in future.

But there’s good news at hand. Here’s my super-simple, no-nonsense approach that could make a huge difference to your daily content marketing results:

Set aside 15 minutes at the end of each working day to think about tomorrow’s content plan. Create some quiet space where you can reflect on your goals, what seems to be working for you, and explore content areas you’ve not yet developed.
Your goal is to come up with just one new idea that you can put into action tomorrow.
Remember, you have just 15 distraction-free minutes to do this. You don’t need to develop the idea; just jot down your thoughts, maybe draft a blog title or note down a few sites you’d like to research to refine your idea.

Store your idea notes somewhere safe. I leave my written notes under my closed laptop lid so I find them when I next turn it on. Now, go and do something completely different, like living your real life, having fun with friends or enjoying your favourite sport.
This stage is all-important. It allows the most powerful parts of your brain to start working their magic.
If your ‘Plan It’ stage was sufficiently focussed and intense, your brain will subconsciously begin processing your idea, making new connections and developing it for when your rational, logical thinking brain needs to step back in.
Sleep well, tomorrow’s going to be a great day!

The next morning you already know what your first job is going to be. Set aside the first working hour of your day, when your body is fresh and your brain at its most alert, to bring your content idea to life.
Your aim is to have published some original content, either live or scheduled to go out later, before the hour is up.
This may require you to create another distraction-free space so you can focus on producing the best content you can. If it takes less than an hour, great! But if it’s going to take longer, your idea was either too ambitious or you’ve not knuckled down properly to the task.
When you’ve published your original content your day can now begin, safe in the knowledge that writer’s block cannot strike.

Now do it!

Try this simple approach for a couple of weeks. You have to be disciplined and strict with yourself; reading emails or tidying your desk do not count as focussed content creation time!

After a fortnight, you decide if this is working for you or not. But give it at least two weeks. It takes both time and practice to instil new habits and adjust to working at highly productive levels.

And please let me know how you get on. Has your content creation benefitted from this working pattern or do you think you have a better approach?

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