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Shawn Mak

Supercharge your company’s creativity with this 1 simple activity

Whether you manage creativity in-house or through an agency, or if you manage any form of creativity at all (from product design to branding to PR to events or marketing), you simply need to be more creative. We are living in a creative economy and people are paying for game-changing ideas that disrupt, disprove and improve.

So how can you make your company more effective by being more creative? Splurge and hire rock star creative overlords? Subscribe and pore through design annuals from Tokyo to Istanbul? Hobnob with those bright, beautifully warped minds at Cannes parties? Attend design bootcamps? There are so many avenues to stretch creativity, and none of them necessarily better than the last. But most of them can be cost and time intensive. If you, like us, like to keep things light, casual and simple, we’ve got a tip for you.

At antics@play, we conduct creative brown bag sessions. A brown bag session is a casual meeting of like-minded people for co-curricular learning that happens at the school or workplace. It typically isn’t very long and happens over lunch. Participants are expected to bring their own lunch (hence, the brown bags and its informal nature). Besides packed food, participants would commune over a subject of mutual interest. It’s an opportunity for them to learn about a certain topic, share passions, get to know each other better, or to create stuff. Topics and activities are limited only by the imagination.

I was introduced to my 1st brown bag session in college as an English department assistant (or DAs…think District Attorneys, but much less moneyed and much more nerdy). That’s when a few DAs would gather frequently over lunch on campus, and we’d share. Sometimes we’d share stuff that we’d written, sometimes we’d evangelise about favourite authors, sometimes we’d debate literary criticism taught that semester. And then sometimes we’d write…individually and as a team. We had made up funny obituaries for our professors based on their personalities, and dreamt up alternate dissertation titles they should’ve gone with to really earn our respect. It was all in good fun, and the professors had a good laugh, and sometimes they’d join our brown bags, and we’d get to know them just that little bit better and our knowledge would stretch just that little bit further.

That tradition now lives at antics@play. As a brand and PR agency, our currency is creativity. We have art directors, designers, writers, project managers, planners and suits. Not everyone here designs, but we expect all staff to be creative. We don’t run an art institution here, but we try and expose everyone to different creative disciplines, influences and techniques. Studies suggest that having activities that cultivate creative minds can help you gain confidence and cope with performance anxiety, better spot opportunities, develop right-brain thinking, and empower you to be proactive and solution-oriented.

We’ve run 9 brown bag sessions so far this year: Once a month, every last Fri of the month. It’s the best time for staff to decompress after a long week. And a 1-hr commitment from everyone isn’t much of an imposition on client work. Most times we do it in our office, sometimes we go on a field trip, sometimes we’d cut staff loose on an inspiration hunt and have them come back with their spoils to share. Topics run the gamut. We’ve learned about the scientific applications of origami, California skate culture and its impact on street art, the craft of the Chinese lantern, how designers use typography to tell a story, how creatives create. We draw, we write, we tell stories, we problem solve. Some sessions are wholly educational, some purely inspirational. Some have games and prizes, while others…well, the game itself is the prize. We learn as we play, and the benefits of doing so are well documented.

Besides knowledge expansion, our creative brown bags have provided excellent opportunities to learn about each other too. For instance, when we got staff to design their own skateboards, we discovered a few of our suits can draw really well. Or when we made like typographer Gemma O’Brien and had a go at designing our own airsick bag (see #spewbagchallenge, where you have to come up with puke puns and use type and illustration to tell your story), that really brought out our corny. We know who’s nifty with their fingers from our speed origami challenge (which resulted in quite a no. of paper cranes that took 2nd life as table decor for a client’s Japanese-themed event). We know who’s the sappiest when we shared our favourite lantern design during the Mid-Autumn Festival edition. Or more recently, when everyone got to tell ridiculous stories starring Pokemon Go characters, we know who can think really quickly on their feet and who’s really got a gutter brain.

Besides team bonding, which has real productivity benefits in the workplace (beyond just knowing each other’s guilty pleasures and collecting blackmail material), our brown bag sessions have often resulted in stuff that became fodder for social media content. Just check out our Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn pages. So, if you’ve ever been stuck for ideas or time to generate content quickly for your company’s content marketing efforts, this is an excellent way to get others to do it for you!

So if you feel your company or team can use some creative juicing up, or you need to quickly create content for your social or blog pages, brown bag it. It need not be time or cost and labour intensive. Just an hour a month can really get you places. To help make brown bag sessions a part of your company’s creative culture, here are some tips to get you started.

Tips for running successful brown bag sessions

  • Consider your audience and their needs: Think about why they’d want to attend, and structure your syllabus accordingly. It’s their lunch hr, so make the time about them, not about you
  • Mix it up: Not all sessions need to be educational, or about technical learning. Sometimes, just spending time with your co-workers over a shared activity or bonding over a common current topic can teach you something really valuable: About the people you work with, and how you can work better with them
  • Appoint a few organisers, and rotate the organisation of each session among them: Task the organiser to come up with the topic. This keeps things interesting and surprising for everyone, including yourself. It can also widen the syllabus, and everyone learns so much more than what the Creative Director or you are interested in
  • Bring in a guest every now and then: This helps stimulate the conversation and makes for interesting dynamic and perspective shifts
  • Keep it light by introducing fun and games: Cuz nobody wants to take a break from work to do more work. When you make it about play, it no longer feels like work
  • Location, location, location: Meeting rooms are great if you need the infrastructure. But we’ve found that a field trip, or just a couch and some throw pillows work just as well. The idea is to get people’s mind off work (emails, phones, computers). Take them out of the environment of stress, and have them relax…. We’ve found that this is often when you get most creative
  • Send out calendar invites and make it a standing appointment: This way, staff know to set aside that time for this and it becomes habitual
  • Surprise them every now and then: Throw in a challenge, or pizza and prizes… Cuz, c’mon, who doesn’t like pizza and prizes

Happy brown bagging!