The curious case against fear.

And a hat tip to a hater.

I spent a lot of my high school years being told to shut up and sit in the corner. ‘Too disruptive’, ‘doesn’t focus’, ‘needs to follow orders’. Because of this, I never really discovered myself creatively until later in life.

In an early corporate career, it was much the same. This time, people must’ve at least seen something, as I was placed into all of these ‘talent programs’, but the second I had any kind of an idea or thought that mildly differed from the status quo I was told to shut up and sit in the corner again.

It wasn’t until I found my way into a creative department, that I realised that everything I’d been told my whole life was a major character flaw was actually a sought after talent. I’ve always kind of been one to question things, play with them, ask ‘what if?’. Maybe not everyone is born with a natural creative flair, a knack for words, an eye for design, a penchant for craft, but the one thing everybody is born with is curiosity.

Curiosity is the only known antidote to fear. And right now the entire planet is fucking drenched in it. The 24/7 news cycle, social media, political tribalism, we’re being bombarded from all angles. And while we can’t control that, we can do what we can in how we approach and react to it.

Fear initiates fight or flight in humans. We go into survival mode. We perceive everything as a threat. This was pretty useful when a sabre tooth tiger looked at you like a Reuben sandwich on the Serengeti, but now we live like this in our homes and our places of work.

Fear is closed. It’s knee jerk negativity. It rejects possibility. And as a result misses opportunity. Curiosity, on the other hand, is open. It’s inquisitive, playful, and ponders whether or not there’s something to explore.

One of the battles for creatives as they move through their career is to retain this curiosity and not have it stomped to death by fear-driven higher ups. Both internal and external. Idea-destroying clients are something we all have to navigate, but aggressively negative creative directors and agency management are equally, it not more, damaging.

I don’t always succeed, but I try to approach every situation with a level openness. I’m a pretty direct and opinionated person, you have to be in this job, but I try to enter any conversation, meeting, presentation, review, or brief, with the possibility that I might have it wrong. Maybe there’s something else. Maybe there’s another point of view that gives us more to work with. Maybe I’m not being curious enough this time.

It’s hard doing this with overwhelmingly negative people. But you have to remember, they’re acting from a place of fear. Who knows why. But the only way to curtail that fear, is with curiosity. Keep approaching situations with wonder and inquisitiveness, and see what happens. The more of it we can cultivate in the world, the better.

And more than anything, in your work. I’ve heard some creatives coin the phrase ‘fear the brief’. It’s true that fear is a short term motivator, but it’s not a long term strategy. If you’re going to stay in this game for the long haul, I’d be building my curiosity muscle - not my fear reflex.

Which is a nice segue into a piece of work we just released with Deakin University for their sustainability program. For years, sustainability messaging has been delivered through a lens of fear. Boiling oceans. Melting ice caps. Impending doom. And we’ve reached a level of overwhelm, where the problem just feels too big, paralysing us. To the point that ‘climate anxiety’ has even become an official medical term.

Deakin has a great sustainability program already, but to continue their work, they needed to attract the next generation of bright, young problem solvers. And what they need most is their curiosity, not their fear. So that’s how we approached the brief together. To remind everyone of the small, beautiful, unique things about everyday life on planet Earth that we often take for granted, but are unquestionably worth protecting and sustaining.

It’s a credit to them as a client that they themselves approached the topic with such curiosity, and a thoroughly enjoyable piece of work to be involved in.

I wanted to thank ‘Confused by the comments’ from the Campaign Brief comment section for the suggestion to post the work to the blog. The campaign started getting some (rare) positive comments on CB, which they obviously disagreed with, and tried to have a go at me with the below comment.

Really great suggestion, tbf. ‘Will this be featured to the thousands of followers you’ve built with the time you don’t spend writing anonymous comments on the internet?’ is one of the lamest, yet funniest, attempts at a diss I’ve ever read. Thanks for the plug though, got a few extra followers out of it.

Stay curious, friends. It might stop you ending up like this guy.


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