“I was given the courage to walk to the beat of my own drum - my vision for BIF is passing on that courage, so that others can use their creativity to walk to theirs”
THE LONG READ
In 2002 I started BIF as a creative agency. Now, creativity provides agency. To what end? Let me explain …
BIF doesn’t ‘sell’ innovation. When first working with new clients, I simply ask senior exes 2 questions:
Firstly, do you want better ideas than you’re currently getting?
And secondly, would you want to make the best of those ideas happen faster?
Yes and yes every time. Ergo, better ideas faster.
At the start it was consulting as ‘time and materials’ fees;
New product/brand development.
I was lucky that my first long-term client was globally influential in youth music - BBC Radio 1. They were losing audiences. Fans were going elsewhere. I partnered with R1 over 3 years to help turn it around. I had license to do BIF; use the neuroscience of creativity as the platform for total change. That meant no brainstorms, no techniques or rules per se. In 2002! Rather it was curiosity, empathy, collaboration. It was direct with fans engagement for new insight. It was deeply mapping the behavioural propensity of audiences to engage with music, then understanding the role music played in their lives. Then think how R1 might or could fit by innovating insightful ideas.
All told, Radio 1 (re)learnt how to meaningfully connect its beat with the fans. And so we added 4 million new listeners. This is before social. Before Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. This was truly fan-get-fan creativity.
And suddenly the industry asks how. And who by. So now I’m in entertainment - innovating around the nobility of art to deeply connect entertainment with audiences. Working out how to start, build and grow global fans for artists, brands, and rights owners… MTV, Sony Music, Sony Pictures, Warner, American Idol, Spotify.
Then ... Cisco! But that was tech education. It was with Cisco that I first heard the statement ‘what can be digitised will be’. I became super interested in the question of why no creativity in STEM (the education of science, tech, engineering and math). And suddenly I see the future. My kids future; technology, automation, robotics. It becomes blatantly obvious that what kids really need in their early education is to learn how to hold onto their imagination. Their ideas, creativity, humanity …their creative human within.
So I go to it. I’m in unknown territory. Trying to nurture my kids creativity. I don’t how. Then... BIF, I had an idea. One day I called my 4-year-old daughter an ‘IdeasGirl’. She took to it. It became fun. She already was a little person with big ideas, all I had to do was provide permission and validation. Then my younger son. He becomes IdeasBoy. I create characters. I write the story. My team help me produce a book. I read my kids the book. I read the same book to her class. Then other classes. Then more stories. And more schools. Then China (another story for another time). And teens. And robots. And, and, and.
BIF becomes clients, products, education, experiences. It’s e-learning, and apps, and machine learning for the data mapping of global fans.
One day I’m using the Sustainable Development Goals to helping repurpose a NZ Dairy Co for the 21st century.
The next day I’m helping translate BIFKiDS Sustainability Challenge for Unilever’s Outdoor Classroom day to get in front of 1.9 million kids.
It starts to get... jumbled. One day I know exactly what I’m doing. The next day BIF feels like sand in my hands. I need clarity on what hangs all this together. I’m like one of my clients; too close to my own stuff for crystal clarity on my own sense of purpose.
Then recently, I’m on the phone to my close friend and super smart strategist Steph in LA. And she’s all “BIF is great and all that, but why does it exist in the world?”.
And I don’t have the answer. I can put words to the value of creativity but they’re all rather …superficial; realising potential, purposeful profit, intrinsic rewards, the power of collaboration, etc etc etc. They’re not my ‘why’.
Then the bullseye question that has me stop spinning; “when you look into the eyes of a 5-year-old, what’s your promise to them about why their creativity is so important, and how does that same answer apply to an 80-year-old?”
Killer right?! Exactly why do I believe the creative human within is so important to us all. What change is going to happen in the world because of BIFs work to realise people’s creativity?
Here’s my answer I gave Steph. Here’s my answer for why BIF exists...
In my late teens, I was in trouble. My life was a mess. I was a mess. My mental health crashed with bottle in hand. I went to rehab. That didn’t work for me. Then, through a serendipitous chain of events, I met Ray - a 72-year-old beautiful man who was to become my mentor, my coach, my sponsor. For the next 25 years. But at the start, I wasn’t sure. I was untrusting, angry, lost. One day he says something that changed my world forever. He said, “you know Matt, all you have to do to make something of this life is to walk to the beat of your own drum”.
Walk to the beat of your own drum.
Life was different from that moment. I got walking. Listening. I found my rhythm. I started creating. I tried different ideas. Loads of them. I eventually got a job paid to have ideas. And BIF. Creativity. Better ideas, faster.
So, no, BIF is not a creativity agency. Rather, creativity provides agency to help people live to the beat of their own drum. For the 5-year-old, that’s nurturing their creativity to keep alive that inner sense of possibility around the truth they were born to live. And for the 80-year-old, it’s that sense their best is yet to come, their beat goes on, with meaning and with purpose.
And for everyone in between, my hope is that BIF provides the creative permission, validation, care, and love to keep to your individual beat.
For that way goes your best idea; your best self.