This article was originally published on Webydo.
Faris and Rosie Yakob, the husband-and-wife team behind Genius Steals are traveling the world with their nomadic agency helping brands discover new ways of thinking and innovative products. Their past clients ranged from BMW, Motorola, and Samsung, to Google, Microsoft, Nestle, Oreo and even Pampers.
When asked how they produce groundbreaking communication ideas in such a wide range of industries, they shamelessly admit that they’re “stealing” their goods, fulfilling their agency’s motto, ‘Talent Imitates, Genius Steals’.
Faris and Rosie believe there is no reason to agonize when trying to come up with original ideas for your clients, as originality is a romanticized myth. Though, they do distinguish between copying (which they consider lame) and honorable, methodical stealing that helps humanity produce valuable new ideas.
Faris, named one of the 10 modern-day Mad Men by Fast Company, Rosie, a Cannes Lions award-winner, are considered two of the sharpest minds in international advertising.
We managed to catch this power couple to hear their thoughts on the psychological process behind successfully producing new ideas and harnessing creativity. They provided a fresh angle on communication: a shift in focus from messaging to behavior. This creative duo also gave us invaluable insight into working with a romantic partner and the benefits of living on the road.
Here are some takeaways from the minds of this lovely creative partnership:
1. The Myth of Originality
We all spend significant chunks of time brainstorming new ideas. We sell our ideas – big ideas, game changing ideas, visual concepts, color schemes, compositions, design innovations, copywriting messages and advertising plans. Yet, time and time again we confront the ever-present anxiety of, “is this concept original?” Or worse, was this original idea already thought up by someone else? This type of thinking is crippling our creativity and leads to a spiral of unproductivity.
Faris and Rosie present a liberating psychological concept: No idea is original. “Originality is a nonsensical concept invented by romantic poets in the 18th century”. An idea can’t be original because it must come from somewhere – idea don’t instantaneously appear. If an idea was truly original it wouldn’t be comprehensible. We must express ideas in words that were created before we were born; in composing designs, we use letter shapes, colors and compositions that existed for hundreds of years. New ideas are simply original combinations of existing elements inherently networked to pre-existing concepts.
2. Ideas are Networked
Much like the way our memory is stored associatively, so do all of our concepts exist associatively in a network of culture. Therefore the way we produce new ideas, or what seems to be new, is by finding different pieces that are not obviously related and connecting them in some new interesting way.
3. Copying is Lame
If creativity is about taking existing elements and re-using or combining them in a new context, then what’s the difference between stealing and copying?
Faris and Rosie explain that the term ‘stealing’ in their schema of language is not dishonest. In stealing something you exposes your debt. You acknowledge the source of inspiration. You provide a reference, honor what came before and hopefully make it better and build upon it.
‘Copying’ on the other hand is parting off the chain of references. You see something, take it and pretend it never existed. For Faris copying is “immoral and emotionally unsatisfying – and also lame.”
“It’s important for me to recognize as much as I am humanly able that everything is from somewhere, and I’m just piecing it together,” Faris explained.
4. How To Come Up with New Ideas
Ideas are new combinations of things. So in order to produce new ideas we should explore some old ideas first. Art is a great model for this theory: every new idea is an expression of the entire body, simply building upon previous pieces, influences and movements.
But those uneducated in what preceded them, will find themselves in a repetitive cycle, anxious to find real originality. Stealing is remixing: you take the part that works best, you add new elements that support the issue, and you make something with a new arrangement, or even new foundational components.
Faris and Rosie’s’ method for finding new ideas is therefore exposing yourself to as much as possible, not only in your discipline, but also to everything around you – to the best things humanity has accomplished. Only then can you take the relevant pieces to create new solutions and ideas.
For the couple, living on the road and meeting new people is part of this constant flow of inspiration that ignites the ideation process. The more broadly you work and travel, the more diversity you will find in your pool of things to steal and subsequently recombine into new solutions and ideas. So, don’t underestimate the power of traveling. That vacation you keep postponing might just be the thing that will lead to your next eureka moment!
Now that we understand where our new ideas are coming from, our next challenge is to examine how we can influence the behavior of our users.
5. In A World of Infinite Content – Focus on Behaviour
We live in a world of infinite content. The internet is providing an abundance of information over which designers and brands are fighting to receive and maintain the attention of their respective audiences. Faris claims that in the past we all focused on utterance, on messages that we tried to communicate through language, visuals and moving images.
Now the focus is shifting to an ‘internet of behavior’. In other words, the old messages we were trying to communicate to our users are less important than observing and influencing the users’ behaviors; their physical movement and interaction.
The internet is now connected to different machines, from our mobile phones to our refrigerators. Tremendous amount of information is collected about our behavior: where we are, what we do, who we do it with. It becomes therefore much easier to track and predict the behavior of human beings.
Most human beings have very predictable behavior patterns: They wake up, they commute, they go to work and then go home. Using this information. we can predict where someone will be with almost perfect accuracy. Therefore when we design personalized experiences we can take into account not just what people are saying about our brand or what messages we want to communicate to them. We can see what they actually do, what is their actual behavior.
6. Visit Disney World!
To understand this new world of experience design, we need to understand spaces. How people fit into them and how they operate within them.
For this purpose, Faris recommends taking a trip to Disney World, where it’s all about seamless, personalized experiences. All your experiences in Disney World are influenced by your bracelet. With your bracelet you pay, you’re introduced, you receive endless personalized services and all that without any need to ask or express an intention.
Disney World can perfectly predict your needs and behavior patterns.
7. Design Better Personalized Experiences
Faris claims that this immersive quality of personalized experiences will affect all of our designs.
“How do we design for a world in which everything around you can tell you where you are and what you’re doing?” he asked.
How do we use this behavioral information to give real value to our users beyond spamming them with location based coupons because they’re near our shop?
Faris goes on to note that even proximity-based marketing can provide much more meaningful value to clients, when used creatively. So the current challenge for designers is not how to sharpen our messages, but how to use all that we know and can know about the behavior of our users to provide better personalized experiences and meaningful value.
How To Become A “Genius”? Follow Your Passions!
Beyond the inspiration that the Genius Steals founders provided us for harnessing creativity, we found that the free-flowing, nomadic lifestyle of Faris & Rosie was quite inspiring too.
One of the most significant points that Faris and Rosie spoke about was that in searching for the ‘right job’ or a career we should always look for the one that fits our passions; may it be traveling the world with our own Bonnie or Clyde or simply foregoing the suit and wearing our ‘trainers’ to work.
Check out the Genius Steals website to learn more about Faris & Rosie’s consultancy