Becoming a Great Marketer, Part 2: The Secret of Bounded Creativity

thinking inside the box

photo credit : rfidjournal.com

By Yonatan Gordon

In Part One we introduced the importance of honing in on particulars in marketing. While marketers like to think of themselves as “out of the box” creatives, to be able to ground these ideas, they need to be able to successfully enter “the box.”

There are many aphorisms used to describe our interaction with this “box.” Perhaps, like most creatives, we’d like to simply jump out of it; or as one producer recently said, ignore it entirely. But as we explained in Part One, the marketer also has a sense for the “box-like” components of stories. While they may at first be drawn to the story by their creative sense, their ability to give their take on it rests on their knowing the story inside and out.

For instance, let’s say Apple announced today that they were introducing their first flexible iPhone using Corning’s new Willow glass technology. Knowing the history of Apple product release coverage, many people are going to lay claim to have written the best account of the story. While the creative ambition first drives a writer to respond to the newsworthy story, the success of the article depends on the detailed nature of the analysis.

We mentioned in Part One that the marketer (or journalist) who first breaks a story, could become synonymous with the story. Not because they participated in the event, but because they were best able to convey all the details to the public. In order to respond successfully, there has to be this feeling of seeing the story more clearly and accurately than others. Otherwise, what would be the point in responding? Just let the hundreds of others write and speak about it.

We are not mentioning those things which went largely unnoticed by the public. Instead, we are now speaking about those stories that were on everyone’s radar screen. Just that this marketer feels that they can present the sharpest and clearest response.

EXPERT RESPONSE

Spectacular events tend to start with some simple, easily conveyable message. For instance, before Apple announces a new product, they simply tell everyone to show up. The same thing with Amazon and others that can get away with it. The less you say, the more anticipation you build. But also, the more general and universal a company stays, the more people they attract. There are many tech reporters interested in what Apple has to say, but only a fraction of them report on mobile computing. Once the product is made known to the public, then as mentioned, it becomes a game of particulars. Likely the iPhone and mobile computing experts will garner more interest in their response to a flexible smartphone than those that are less specialized.

INSIDE THE BOX CREATIVES

The unique approach we are presenting here is that sometimes it’s the “inside the box” personalities that make the best marketers. There are two types of personalities. The creatives who are attracted to what’s trending, popular, etc… Then there are the accountants, programmers, and other precision-based experts who focus on the down-to-earth practical side of things. While an Apple product release announcement draws the creatives, after the event, it’s the experts that the public most wants to hear from. Those that can present complex principles, in a way easily accessible and exciting to the public. (e.g. what Brian Greene did for physics in the Elegant Universe). The experts see public interest as a way to relate details, not the other way around. While each Apple product announcement is still building excitement and buzz, they are well underway constructing their predictions about the product that will be featured.

In truth, they represent two reactions to the same event. The public hype on the one hand, and the deliberate and thoughtful response to the story on the other. The long-term success will be seen once the pundits and product testers have weighed in. So too, “out of the box” marketers must later reenter the box in order to write the story.  The best marketers are those that can blend together both worlds; “out of the box” and “inside the box” thinking.

SQUARE PEG IN THE ROUND HOLE

Why is it so remarkable when an expert can write something that captures the public’s imagination? While expert comes with his storehouse of knowledge, it’s not at first evident that these details will be understood and appreciated by the general public. When a marketer accurately sums up a body of knowledge into something practical, then the public feels that the knowledge of the expert or technician is suddenly more approachable.

We related this idea in our Apple Turnaround Series to a teacher delivering their lesson plan to his class. Only when the questions come from the students at the end, does the teacher know if the students were really listening. So too, while products remind us of universal  concepts (e.g. an iPad represents thinness, speed, the portability of knowledge, etc…), the best results are seen from the millions of apps developed afterwards.

Another way of explaining this is to use the analogy of the square peg and the round hole. In our discussion, there are two types of personalities. The “square” teacher who bring forth his vast storehouse of knowledge, and the free-wheeling “round” creative student. When the teacher is able to explain a concept in a way that the student can comprehend, then indeed this is like fitting a “square peg” into a “round hole.” Why is this such a remarkable feat? Because while the student is not yet an expert, the message of the aphorism is that deep concepts, when presented in an understandable fashion, can broaden the intellectual horizons of the student. Maybe one day all creatives will themselves become experts in their own right? In the meantime, the listening students are the ones who most experience the expansiveness of the teacher’s intellect. There are many examples for this. For instance, aside from the media, the main crowds attending Apple events are programmers, developers and avid users (i.e. the listening students).

BETWEEN DETAILS AND IDEAS

While the teacher presents the details, it is the student that are most interested in the underlying concepts. Using our example, while the technicians and programmers at Apple spend months developing the next version of a product, the students (or general public) is most interested in the concepts of thinness, speed, portability of knowledge, etc… As we explained in our series, Steve Job’s product announcement speeches always focused on the expansive nature of concepts. Those universal ideas that reach far beyond each product offering.

Aside from being attracted to the spectacular nature of these product events, many times, it is the students that inform the experts about what to write about. Again, imagine our classroom the day after the Apple event date was announced. While the expert teacher may have been deep in his studies the day before, the students were being fed with the latest tech news. While the teacher could very well be the one writing the article (since he is the expert), he would be doing so after being informed and encouraged by his students.

This also explains why many detail-oriented people are so open to feedback. They know what to talk about, but they also want to know what will be of interest to their readers. This again is like the teacher that first finds out about this new event from his students, then proceeds to write about it. This was all stated to explain the aphorism of fitting the “square peg” (the knowledge of the teacher) into the “round hole” (the interests of the students).

BUZZWORTHY OR BORING

Whereas the product announcements garner much media frenzy, the details regarding the products are very specific and detail oriented. According to public perception, either the product is buzzworthy or boring. It’s very hard for people to imagine that something can be both outside and inside the box simultaneously.

As we mentioned in Part 5 of our Apple Turnaround Series, the ultimate result of our teacher-student paradigm is that students be teachers to the next. On the one hand, we are all listening to the lesson, but we are also ready and willing to teach this lesson to the next group of students.

What would have happened if the teacher, instead of writing his expert response to the newest Apple product, encouraged his students to publish their own responses. Taking this one step further, perhaps this teacher could even establish a set rule in his classroom: If you are excited about some breaking story, then by all means, use the text from our lessons to craft your own articles.

While the students represent the inspired creatives, the teacher is a square peg relative to them. He has the vast storehouse of knowledge, but his focus is on the details, not on the excitement generated by news stories. Ideally, the inspired students then should be the ones writing the articles. Although they are not the experts, the good teacher is always happy to assist. Over time, the students will be able to more self-sufficiently apply the expertise of their teacher without having their “hands held.” Eventually, these students will become experts themselves, and so the teacher-student relationship continues with each student becoming a teacher to the next.

We brought this example to explain what it means to experience both roundness and squareness simultaneously. How the same product can be both buzzworthy and boring at the same time. That in order to speak knowingly about something, one has to be able to hone in on the details.

There is a question on Quora.com now entitled “Do constraints limit or promote creativity?” Given our discussion, there seem to be two ways to interpret this question: The first is that creative moments can happen when we push ourselves that extra mile farther than our comfort zone. But what we have been discussing in our article is the second approach; when creative people learn how to bring their ideas down-to-earth. While this may seem to limit creativity, it’s the act of placing ideas within some constraint or box that allows them to have a lasting effect.

BOUNDED CREATIVITY

We see the greatest potential for knowledge acquisition from the teacher. This is because the student was drawn to creativity, and still is even after he becomes an expert in his own right. But the teacher, who was focused on details, is now either writing or have his student write about the new product. What we learn from the teacher is that the detail oriented person can justify the ambitions of the creative. By helping direct and guide their previously untamed excitement, the teacher can help them to become more detail oriented.

We are not saying that teachers are not creative or that students are not experts. The intention is that if a teacher has a group of creative students, maybe he should conceal his creative side in order to train them to be experts. Likewise, if everyone knows this teacher to be creative, but his students are detail oriented, then he should train his students to share their knowledge by writing about what others are interested in.

A detail-oriented teacher may be hiding his creative side in order that his students should feel open to express themselves. Likewise, a teacher that’s outwardly creative may be hiding the fact that really inside, he’s a square just like his students. So as not to intimidate them with his knowledge, he behaves outwardly as the less imposing circle.

Square = Circle

The great challenge is to connect the two, the creative with the detail-oriented, or the circle with the square. To be an expert in all the particulars of your field of study, but also be sensitive to the underlying concepts that attract people to begin with. Depending on the need, we either emphasize the flatness, speed, portability of Apple products, or the details of the operating system, hardware components, etc…

What’s important to realize is that it’s all from the teacher. Whether he’s writing the response himself, or his students are, it’s all an extension of the lessons and texts that he put forth.

JEWISH SOURCES RELATED TO THE DISCUSSION:

INTRODUCTION SECTION:

Parashat Mishpatim jumps straight into the deep end of Jewish law―the laws of servants, damages, guardians and many others. In the previous parashah we read about the unique Divine Revelation in all of history at Sinai, a revelation that was both festive and awe-inspiring at one and the same time. Yet, this week’s parashah begins with a sharp transition into detailed laws…

EXPERT RESPONSE SECTION:

It is true that at Sinai we received certain commandments that serve as vessels to contain the great lights (as explained in our article on Parashat Yitro), but the commandments were very general and did not include the myriad details of the law. For example, in the Ten Commandments we are told, “Do not steal”; a general prohibition. But, in Parashat Mishpatim the Torah details the laws of theft: the double payment that a thief must pay for a stolen item discovered in his possession; the quadruple and quintiple fine he is given for having slaughtered or sold a stolen animal; laws pertaining to a catburglar, along with many others that expand into an abundance of intricate details appearing in the Oral Torah.

“INSIDE THE BOX CREATIVES” SECTION:

We see here two aspects of the Torah, the general elevated aspect and the detailed down-to-earth legal aspect. There are those individuals who are enamored with the Revelation at Sinai and hearing the Ten Commandments and they breathe the life-giving air of spiritual peaks. But those same individuals have a difficult time when they reach Parashat Mishpatim―all those monetary laws give them a headache… On the other hand, there is another type of individual who definitely prefers the legal give-and-take, while the Revelation at Sinai remains for them a good story to relate to their children on Shavu’ot…

The truth is, obviously, that as different as they seem, both aspects are actually one; they represent two sides of the same state of perfection. To emphasize this identity, Parashat Mishpatim immediately follows Parashat Yitro; as the sages state,

And these are the laws that you shall place before them… “And these” adds to the previous ones. Just as the previous [laws] were from Sinai, so these too are from Sinai. (Rashi)

What is the secret behind the connection between the Torah’s spiritual and legal aspects? What is it that actually makes them one?

“SQUARE PEG IN THE ROUND HOLE” SECTION:

Infinity at Sinai: Chassidic teachings explain that at Sinai God’s limitless nature was revealed. The sages expressed it this way, “When God gave the Torah, He opened the seven heavens for them, and just as He parted the upper ones, so He parted the lower ones and they saw that He is the ‘Single One.’” At Sinai, all the limitations of the world were torn down to expose God’s singularity and His absolutely unlimited infinitude. It is impossible for our limited intellect to grasp something without limits at all, something that is infinite in nature. For example, we might imagine millions of trillions of stars in the universe, but we cannot truly imagine an infinite number of stars. Nonetheless, with the breath-taking, wondrous revelation at Sinai, the world had a glimpse of infinity.

“BETWEEN DETAILS AND IDEAS“ SECTION:

In our daily study, we reconnect to the Torah’s unlimited aspect by studying its inner dimension and its secrets, Kabbalah and Chassidut. The Torah’s boundlessness is occupied mainly with learning about the “Giver of the Torah” Himself, who is hidden from the perception of every living being. This is the manner in which we study His revelation to us. Anyone who feels that Parashat Yitro attracts him or her more than studying a page of Talmud may indeed be suited to studying Chassidut: the Torah’s inner dimension.

“BUZZWORTHY OR BORING” SECTION:

The finite within the infinite: Whereas the Revelation at Sinai in Parashat Yitro is the revelation of God’s boundless nature,Parashat Mishpatim reveals His ability to be bounded. But, to understand these words we need to touch shortly upon a profound subject discussed in Kabbalah and Chassidut.

To the human mind it seems that something that is limited cannot be unlimited at the same time and vice versa, something that is without limits cannot also be limited. But, Kabbalah teaches us that in fact, God includes both the limitless and the limited, both infinity and the finite, at one and the same time. If God were only without limits, then He would be limited by not having limits. But, because God is not limited, even though it creates a paradox, He must contain both the limited and the limitless. In other words, in order for God to be perfect, He must include the ability to be imperfect!

By creating our reality, which is governed by limits, the Almighty, who is unlimited, demonstrates that He does indeed contain the power of limitation.

“BOUNDED CREATIVITY” SECTION:

The finiteness of the Torah’s laws: Let us return to Parashat Mishpatim in the hope that we have understood these concepts. God’s power of limitation is revealed by studying the Torah’s revealed dimension, which reaches its apex in the monetary laws of Parashat Mishpatim. Someone who occupies himself clarifying and elucidating halachah by in-depth study of the Talmud, Rishonim and Acharonim, the Shulchan Aruch and its commentaries and the relevant halachic responsa, until the final practical ruling is reached, is occupied with the Creator’s finite dimension. The Torah’s legal dimension is not there to merely fashion our social order (thought that is no small feat), but to reveal the Torah’s perfection in that, like the Almighty, it contains both the limited and the unlimited. Although it stands that “Just as the previous [laws] were from Sinai, so these too are from Sinai,” at Sinai (Parashat Yitro) God’s unlimited nature was revealed and the Torah’s hidden dimension was exposed, whereas in Parashat Mishpatim, God’s limited nature is revealed through the many detailed laws and the Torah’s hidden dimension is once again concealed.

In this way, the Torah’s revealed and concealed dimensions are like two sides of the same coin; when one is revealed the other is concealed. Indeed the greatest Torah scholars in every generation have always held onto both dimensions together, but usually one side is explicit and revealed, while the other remains implicit and concealed. Thus, we are told of one of the greatest Kabbalists who had many books on Kabbalah in his lounge, but in an inner room had a large library of books on the Torah’s revealed dimension. For this sage, the concealed dimension was revealed and the revealed dimension was concealed, just as at the Revelation at Sinai. Similarly, it is well-known that many of the greatest Rabbis who teach Torah law (halachah) have a large library of Kabbalah books (which they also study in depth) hidden away. They are publicly known as teachers of the Torah’s revealed dimension, but in private, they are also students of its hidden aspect.

“SQUARE = CIRCLE” SECTION:

The great challenge of our generation is to connect between the Torah’s revealed and concealed dimensions; to study Talmud in depth, or a paragraph in the Shulchan Aruch, together with all the relevant topics addressed by the inner dimension. We must also strive to study the revealed facets of the Torah’s hidden dimension. In short, in our generation, we are called upon more than ever to unite Parashat Mishpatim with Parashat Yitro and reveal that everything is indeed from Sinai.

Excerpted and Freely Adapted From Rabbi Ginsburgh’s class of 25 Shevat 5767 (the native article can be read here: http://www.rabbiginsburgh.com/2013/02/08/mishpatim-5773-jewish-law-secret-infinite)

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