Has COVID impacted our creative thinking?

Coronavirus has turned all our lives upside down. Now common situations and terminology that back in January would have seemed completely mad suddenly seem normal. I’d personally have assumed (if I had time travelled from January to September) that Coronavirus was some kind of cool new cocktail and that social distancing was an initiative to finally reproach people with no sense of personal space.

For creativity, of course, upheaval can be a blessing, throwing old ways out and forcing us to reconfigure and evolve. There have been some incredible examples of creativity and quick thinking on display during the pandemic—take Emily Crisps, for instance, who on realising that their recently-purchased outdoor advertising campaign would not be seen, pivoted to acknowledge it, and as a result, went viral. Time Out’s switch to Time In was a brilliant piece of quick-thinking, whilst in the early days of the crisis, some authentic, honest corporate comms was seen from Marriott in their CEO’s video message to staff.

However, there have also been a lot of obstacles put in the way of creativity. The lack of stimulation as we have remained in the same environments for months is detrimental to a process that relies on new experiences, collaboration and happy accidents to thrive. The fear and anxiety caused not only by the virus itself but also by its economic consequences can destabilise and threaten us, creating the impulse to retreat and bunker down rather than experiment or try new approaches. Perhaps the best example of this is KFC’s finger-licking good ad, released just as coronavirus was escalating across the world, and which in that context makes for deeply uncomfortable watching. KFC paused the ad amidst the uproar and have recently revised their ad creative to blur out the offending phrase.

Sometimes you just have to let things go.

So how do we avoid becoming frozen in an old mindset? Firstly, we need to be honest with ourselves about what we can’t do. Coronavirus has redrawn the lines around what is considered acceptable—but we should also keep a sharp eye out for changes. There are some areas we can say quite firmly are out of action: future-gazing, for instance, has been exposed by this crisis as essentially pointless—no one can know what’s going to happen, no matter how expert they are in their field. On the other hand, there are new ways of working that feel like a natural evolution. Our client IRONMAN has launched a virtual sports club, which brings their community together to train and share an experience. Another client, Avado, has launched a series of virtual training courses tailored to post-lockdown learning.

So what can be done to give a boost to your creative process in a part-virtual world? There are team exercises you can do to help jolt yourself from the repetitiveness of life right now, for instance asking everyone to imagine the opposite of what they’d do for a project. Push boundaries and challenge yourself to face fears and be truthful about your feelings. It’s also important to lean into fear or nervousness, but also to recognise the surprising joy that can come from a moment you didn’t expect (like when I discovered bulk buy Haribo in lockdown). When faced with a scary situation, people often say we have two physiological options: fight or flight, but the human race actually has a third… figure it out.