Ad agency Hakuhoudo’s Masaharu Kato on creative thinking

Process of making.
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IN A BOOK called Kougu*, which in Japanese means “thinking tools,” author Masaharu Kato of ad agency Hakuhoudo offers a few tips to come up with fresh ideas. I’ve used them when coming up with ideas for our clients, and thought I’d share some of my favorites…

Tips on how to start concepting ideas

1. Know what you are looking for
Start with a clear idea of what you’re trying to come up with. A catch phrase? A new name, a logo? Once you identify your goal, repeat it aloud to yourself a few times, and engrave it on your mindscape.

2. Focus on the surface: color, shape, size, word.
You can gather ideas anytime–driving to work, taking a stroll, during your lunch breaks. When you start these ‘idea gathering sessions’, sometimes it helps to decide ahead of time that you’ll focus on something arbitrary, say the color “red.” Think about the problem you are trying to solve, and at the same time, focus on the color red. You’ll notice red things around you that you’d might otherwise ignore, just by being focused on that color. Tuning into these details can lead to unusual, fresh connections that help you solve the problem.

3. Write thoughts down wherever, whatever they may be.
The act of writing activates your brain and focuses your thoughts. Use anything – post-it’s, the back of napkins, or a sketch book, to write. The point isn’t to come up with perfect notes, so don’t worry about keeping everything together or too tidy. Don’t worry about whether your thoughts are “good” ideas, either. Just keep writing–sometimes that’s enough for something brilliant to pop up in your head.

Here’s an example.

SAY YOU’RE TRYING to come up with a tag line for your new product – a new condo complex on the waterfront. You are thinking about the condo – how big it is, what kind of amenities it has, your target demography, etc. Then, you go out gathering hints outside. Focus on something specific, like, for example, the color blue today…

The sky is blue (for once, in Seattle! Hey, maybe weather should play a role in this), so is this car (an SUV – what kind of cars do the prospect tenants own?), and a mailbox (maybe they can offer a concierge service for the tenants, drop-off points for mail, dry cleaning, packages, rented videos/dvds?).

Jot stuff into a notebook as you go, connecting dots and coming up with more random links. Get your head to work this way so you can get to really interesting ideas more quickly.

*Published in Japan by Hankyu Communications, 2003.

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What counts as remarkable, valuable, and real? VALIDITY is our theme for July and August eZine S. P. A. C. E.

Theme is VALIDITY for July and August series of weekly eZine S. P. A. C. E.
Theme is VALIDITY for July and August series of weekly eZine S. P. A. C. E.

WHEN I WAS A NEWSPAPER REPORTER, on staff at a daily in Seattle, my big day was Tuesday.

That was the day ‘my’ page came out. Page three. ENVIRONMENT, it said, right there at the top. My business card said, ‘Environment Editor.’ Showtime.

This was a trade journal, a daily. All week I would be working to gather just the right things to include, and only those that would be of interest to specifically the kinds of people who would pay for this paper, and that wasn’t everyone, not even a fraction of the mainstream, if you had to be honest about it.

Which is how I learned about niche publishing. How I got interested in, over the years, switching up from ENVIRONMENT to S. P. A. C. E. Maybe it was the architects DK (my after-newspapers and self-designed collective) worked for in Seattle, or the dreamers, artists, engineers, musicians, organization heads, and so many, many other people in the time since, but I got into it. Spacemaking. And that’s my newest, most favorite-ever beat.

Still gathering bits from people. Still getting wind of things through the Net. Trying to curate just the right set of stories, tips, resources and fine fragments, while also holding the safe space for true dialogue (the kind with a center, and not sides). Members of DK (who are those who pay dues) get S. P. A. C. E. every Tuesday at 7AM USEST. Today I’m gonna send one announcing the new July/August theme, VALIDITY.

That’s how things shift, isn’t it?

You find yourself doing what you know how to do (curate, edit, share), but for exactly the people who care about what you care about. Niche. It’s a real thing. Maybe S. P. A. C. E. isn’t for everyone, but what I learned from Seattle is that it totally doesn’t have to be for everyone, and it’s better if it isn’t.

So lately my ‘Tuesday page’ is S. P. A. C. E.

Of course it’s not mine at all. It’s members’.

It’s what you tell me, and what you say, and how that fits into the big thing, that 100th monkey idea plus collective unconscious and other things that connect us, even when we aren’t right next to each other, face to face. Wish we could be, but this is a way to keep the conversation flowing, and to keep it progressing. Hard, when we are inundated with feeds, tweets, likes, links, kids, spouses, work, our own hangups, friends, not-friends, and more. Pro-tip: Declutter the channels. Go with what you like. And just that. Niche.

How to get S. P. A. C. E.

S. P. A. C. E., Design Kompany’s eZine ($), comes out on Tuesday mornings. Don’t miss the July and August series on VALIDITY. Join today: here >

A snippet:

TALKING TO PEOPLE offline a lot more in recent days. Getting back out there, fraternizing, seeing what’s going on.

A particular topic keeps coming up: What ‘counts’ as ‘worthy.’

So this July and August, let’s explore ‘validity.’ That is, let’s take a round look at the ideas of: remarkability, weightiness, validity, quality. Already a few friends here in Phnom Penh are resisting, but I think the challenge is part of this space. More on relationships and why I believe great ones come from a mutually inspiring push and pull, in a bit… —Read more when you join here >

‘N’ London: NOTEWORTHINESS. What’s remarkable? Why?

2015-05-17 22.58.14POSTS. TAGS. Tweets. Comments.

Handwritten letters. Memos. Novellas and plays.

2015-05-17 22.58.14
‘N’ ticket. 16 in total.

POSTS. TAGS. Tweets. Comments.

Handwritten letters. Memos. Novellas and plays.

How do people decide what to note? What to omit, where to expand, or how to refine even an instapic as a narrative?

What are criteria to decide, “This! This is worth making note of.”

How do we choose what’s worth giving focus and attention to, and what isn’t?

That’s the framework for the conversation installation ‘N’ London, set to take place later this year in that city.

Just 16 people. Invited personally. For a MOMENT of CONNECTION in a short frame of time. Details to be shared to registered guests only.

Curious? Say hi, request an invitation: Contact DK >

What’s normal? by ‘N’ Phnom Penh

NORMALITY. A quality that can only exist in reference to other things – the past, other people, abstracted rules. A quality of the self-conscious ‘I’ rather than the present ‘I.’ As a substitute for balance, it’s a quality forever at war with itself.

Editor’s note: Guests of ‘N’ in Phnom Penh authored this essay, together. Read more about the project 16N here.

IN 2015, GIRLS WEAR PANTS, suits, have pixie hair, tattoos and even chase men. These are now normal.

Other normal situations are validated only when backed up by science, like what is a normal blood pressure? The rest are subjective. As Morticia Adams quoted: “Normal is an illusion.”

But… is it? Normal is something that has already been done, many times. The more something has been done, the more normal it is. Actually, there’s more. Way.

THE NORMAL DISTRIBUTION CURVE IS A GRAPH which shows the spread of random variables, or behaviours, in a population. It centres around the mean, or average, which is the sum of all expected behaviours divided by the population. 99.7% of all values are within 3 standard deviations of the mean. Like this:

Normal Distribution Curve
Normal Distribution Curve

When very recently I met with and tried to explain this concept of “normal” to DK, it was, um, funny. She didn’t quite know what I meant.

She had, I think, her own idea about ‘N.’ She said: “You mean, like the normal vector? Like, 90 perpendicular to the horizontal? And then when 16 voices converge, wham, on a plane, like this, see this animation? Yeah, like that, so when wham, that happens, that MOMENT, that’s when, whoo, you go UP, into SPACE, like 3D, like up the vertical that is the “NORMAL” vector!!! OMG!!!!”

Not quite, DK, but, that’s cool.

Then I thought, Morissey.


MORISSEY SANG ‘there is no such thing as normal’; a statement I believe and find comforting, in that I repeat it frequently whenever the need arises.

However, in recent years I have become more aware that a CONSTRUCT of normality exists, and if you don’t neatly fit into this, then prepare for questions!

‘We don’t have to agree’

NORMALITY IS WHAT YOUR ENVIRONMENT expected you to do or think, the referent environment mostly has referent expectation. With that in mind, here’s a thought.

We don’t have to 100% agree to someone, as long as we can find a common ground that’s acceptable to both sides. You get yourself an agreement. They said it right when they said: “Better communication skills will get a better outcome.”

May I be frank? Okay, these are my random innermost thoughts. Ready? I’ve never met a person who feels normal. Abnormal is normal. Normal for who? Dehumanizing in any culture is not normal. I don’t want a normal job or relationship. Describe life as vibrant, sticky, juicy, challenging, fluffy… my ideas about normality are negative. Is that my “normal” thinking pattern? Hm. Now I’m wondering.

Maybe it’s this, though. Normal is when we can live simply. Read books whenever we want to without being tested on. Paint because we want to, not because we’ve got something to prove. Enjoy the moment with no place to rush off to. We just want to be, boundless and infinite… Or? I’m still thinking…


P.S. Some other things that came up after the event last Sunday, as I’ve been ruminating. Normality. Like the rest. Falling within a deviation determined by cultural narratives, science and, most importantly, perception. Normal shifts based on country, decade, household… Constantly changing, ever imperfect. It is those ideas and people outside the spectrum – that are abnormal – that are often responsible for greatness.

And this one: Normality. A quality that can only exist in reference to other things – the past, other people, abstracted rules. A quality of the self-conscious ‘I’ rather than the present ‘I.’ As a substitute for balance, it’s a quality forever at war with itself.

What do you think? What’s normal? Why do we think so?

How to become an expert in anything in less than four years

urlA snippet found by bicycle.

石黒 僕、カズオ・イシグロの『私を離さないで』っていう小説が好きなんです。そのなかで、大人になるっていうことは、小さい頃に分からなかった人とか心とか、そういった問題にテキトーな折り合いをつけて分かったふうなことを言うことだ、って書いてあるんですよ。僕は、その通りだと思います。だから「親の言うことを信用するな」ということをずーっと中学校とか高校で言い続けている。先生の言うこともですね、信用しちゃダメだ、っていうの。

わたしを離さないで (ハヤカワepi文庫)

―― なんだか……ここまでの話を聞いて、石黒先生がアカデミズムの世界にいるのが奇跡に思えてきました(笑)。どうしてそんなふうに自由に生きて研究者になれたんでしょうか。どうやら、石黒先生の個人的な体験とロボットの研究はかなり密接に関わっているようです。もう少しお話を聞いてみましょう。


―― 石黒先生は、もともと研究者になりたいと思っていたんですか?
石黒 いやいや、そんなことはない。僕は絵描きになろうと思っていたから、受験勉強をしていないんですよ。

―― え、そんなにパっとできるんですか? 絵描きから人工知能とかロボットの分野って……かなり畑違いじゃないですか?
石黒 俗世間を生きるための縛りみたいなものを持たないでいると、けっこうできるんですよ。僕、3年ごとに、全部研究テーマを変えているんです。普通の研究者っていうのは、分野とか、大学とかがあるんですけど、そういうのも持たない。要するに根無し草なんですよ。社会に帰属するポイントがないので、どうでもいいです。
―― なかなか普通の人はそういうふうにはいられませんよ。
石黒 余計なこと考えないで、死ぬ覚悟をすればいいんです。

―― いや、そんなの、たぶんみんな死ぬと思いますよ(笑)。
石黒 人間が唯一生きている意味はね、自分が生きている意味を探すということ以外はなにもないと思うんです。最初からある価値なんてないんだから、努力をやめたいと言う人は、死にたいと言っているようにも聞こえる。

―― 究極的な答えですね。
石黒 でもこう言うと、高校生なんかはすごく安心してくれるんです。小さいころは「人の命は大事だ」とか、「あんたの命は価値がある」だとか言われて育つけど、高校生くらいになると、自分に他の人と比べて能力があるわけではないことがわかるじゃないですか。だから「価値ある、価値ある」と言われても全然実感がないと。

Who is Hiroshi Ishiguro? Read about him here:

Jai Ranganathan: ‘Sharpen and heighten’

OFFLINE CONVERSATIONS lately are turning to the process itself, and, to take it further, discoveries that happen on the way to ‘making.’ Maybe it’s in the air? Looking back on what creative people have told me about this work of making, I recalled something I learned from science podcaster Jai Ranganathan. (Find him on twitter at @jranganathan.) We had met at a science conference in NC’s Research Triangle Park. That was the kind of place where bunches of people convened to share tips on making science interesting to a general audience, more or less, and I discovered Jai was set to instruct scientists at University of California Santa Barbara on how to use social media.

Conversations about sharing discoveries inspired this interview with Jai Ranganathan.

DK: What do you need to think about when opening a wide-open project like a podcast? That’s a pretty big blank canvas.

JR: First, define your purpose. Then, what’s your scope? Do you want to be a local brand? Have a national audience? If you want a large audience, people really go for video.

DK: OK. So if you know your purpose, then what? Any tips?

JR: Sure.

  1. Think about where can you add value. Ask businesses, ‘What’s a problem you have?,’ and then share, ‘Here’s how we might solve it.’
  2. Give your product away so people want to know more.
  3. You can do latest tips. Interviews. You could have seminars.
  4. Just get started. Do it frequently. Keep it short—2 minutes.

DK: Wait, so you just have to be prolific?

JR: You don’t have to be flashy, or always funny, or the best-looking. But you have to be compelling in your voice. Be engaged, animated, and interesting.

DK: But what about talent?

JR: Talent is overrated. You have to be interesting/entertaining first, or else it doesn’t matter what you have to say!

DK: How do you do that?

JR: Boring podcasts are that way because people are checking boxes off a how-to list, as opposed to doing something that’s really them. Anything creative like this—podcasting, video, or writing—is about deciding what you want to say, and what’s your way of saying it. How to make that your own is key.

DK: How did you get into this?

JR: I was doing my postdoc in conservation biology. If you’re not a scientist, your job is to write papers. I was disenchanted after a while. How likely was it that what I wrote would lead to action? So as a hobby, I started interviewing scientists. I’ve always really liked radio. Someone found me and offered to pay me to do this, so now I have $2,000 broadcast-quality equipment and I make a good living. But, I had hoped more people would listen.

DK: What can others learn?

JR: It takes a while to figure out what you’re doing and why the heck you’re doing it. Don’t make it too scripted. You can have a script, but don’t read it. Imagine somebody giving a talk and reading a script–it’s death! And you know, you have to like doing it. And keep doing it, that’s key. Don’t wait to get good. No one sprouts out of the earth fully formed.

First published in S P A C E