David Brent on Creativity

The BBC TV series ‘The Office’ is accurately described as being ‘awfully funny’. It gains its comic strength through its use of real life work situations, suitably distorted in various ways for entertainment purposes. Let’s consider a pet favourite of mine – the teambuilding event and Brent’s cheesy Springsteen parody ‘Free Love on the Freedom Highway’.

The creativity devices used in The Office include techniques like reversal, exaggeration and contrasting metaphorical and literal thinking. These are used throughout The Office to appallingly great comic effect. Consider the contrast of metaphor and literal thinking between David Brent and Gareth in the above sequence:

Brent (metaphor) sings “ … I’ve got some hot love on the hot love highway, ain’t goin’ home cos’ my baby’s gone”

Gareth (literal) joins in and adds “She’s dead”

Brent (literal) corrects Gareth’s exuberance “She’s not dead”

The creativity technique of exaggeration ‘makes the familiar strange’ and is classically used in creative thinking approaches such as Synectics™, Superheroes and wishful thinking. If you have the DVD, check out the sequence where David Brent uses exaggeration to great comic effect, when he offers counselling to his secretary, Dawn. Brent suggests that her personal relationship problems are analogous to a car crash, which she is unable to comprehend when she considers the metaphor literally. It’s therefore very important when you are using metaphor for creative thinking sessions in business to ensure that the metaphor is explored for it’s own value before making an attempt to gain something concrete from it. This point is poorly understood by many practitioners in my long experience of such things.

Reversal is another simple and quick creativity technique that I have used on many occasions during 24 hour new product / strategic innovation sessions for companies such as Pfizer, BT and Johnson and Johnson. The technique works by its ability to explore ideas that are NOT within the current thinking space. This generates wild ideas, many of which are unusable. On further reversal and detailed exploration, ideas which do have a practical value emerge. It’s very important to balance the reversal with critical thinking if you are to harvest ideas that turn into profitable innovations. This is a major reason why some people think that brainstorming sessions are like an out-take from The Office. It’s not that brainstorming / creative thinking is bad per se, it’s just that it is poorly executed in the main.

We will be using sequences from ‘The Office’, to help us deliver a keynote for the British Association for Research in Quality Assurance (BARQA), based on quality communications across cultures. We also offer specialist ‘edutrainment’ workshops that use the BBC TV series ‘The Office’, for which we have a unique licence, as series of upside down lessons on creativity in business and personal excellence.

For more like this read the book “The Music of Business”, acclaimed by Harvey Goldsmith:

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