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Transcript: Turning on the creativity tap

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KARL MOORE – This is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, talking management for The Globe and Mail. Today, I am delighted to speak to Bertrand Cesvet, who is the founding partner and chairman of [Montreal-based creative and branding agency] Sid Lee.

You have talked a lot about creativity. One of the things that we are kind of jealous about in advertising is you say, "Okay, we are going to have a meeting from 10-11 and we are going to be creative," where most of us wish we could do creativity on tap like that. How do you have creativity on demand?

BERTRAND CESVET – I think it has a lot to do with where you live in time. I think people always say that to be creative you have to be obsessed with the future. About, what if?

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I think for me, personally, I am very interested in history, with the past, with a big H. But a lot of people are focused on their personal past, a past that I find quite uninteresting and not that useful. There is a big culture of psychoanalysis that everyone is talking about – "If I didn't do this and if my mother hadn't treated me badly…" At the personal level, that is how it works. At a corporate level, it's the same thing, when companies are really focused on trying to fix the past, they're not doing very well.

What I find really useful is if the conversation is mostly about the future, is mostly about "what if?" or "what's next?" That's something I really pride myself on. I run Sid Lee with Jean-François Bouchard, where we run it as a duo and it's quite interesting that, I would say, 75 to 80 per cent of our conversations, even though we have pay the bills every day and we have to recruit people, are about the future. So that is the first part.

The second part is that I think you need to create an ecosystem, you need to create an environment for ideas. Ideas have to be fun, you must reward people – creativity is about risk-taking. It's pretty easy to look stupid if you are trying to change the world and it's very easy to be wrong, so there is a big push that you have to make in rewarding the mistakes and trying to be able to use ideas. Sometimes they are very transformative, they drive stuff that is quite amazing, and sometimes they are completely useless, but at the same time it's nice to celebrate that.

That is the other thing, the productivity paradigm – if you work in a creativity business, it is completely different. There is a lot of waste, a lot of stuff that doesn't happen but that's okay, because otherwise, if you don't put yourself in that framework, you can't do it.

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