Simon Berg, CEO at Ceros, discusses how AI is revolutionizing the creative process, when it’s a good idea to curse at your computer, how not to suck at briefing a project and what your kids should focus on to have relevant skills in the future.
Ryan Barry: Hello everybody. And welcome to this episode of Inside Insights, a podcast powered by Zappi and also powered by Ryan, Patricia and Kelsey and Katie Sweet and everybody else who produces this podcast. Thank you very much for tuning in.
This outro is being recorded the day after Halloween, and so, our bellies are a little full, and our teeth have too much sugar on them, and our kids, well, at least my kids, because I got little kids.
My kids looked really cute last night. My daughter went from Taylor Swift to a sloth. It's like she transformed from her school costume to her after school costume. So, shout out to Miss Blake, uh, your kids are too big to dress up, Patricia, aren't they?
Patricia Montesdeoca: They did though.They did dress up. Isa and Jeremy inverted roles. She was the patient and he was the doctor.
Ryan: Okay, I dig it.
Patricia: Alex and Faye, I don't know what they dressed up, but they also dressed up as something with a dog. My son was something 20 ish like, right?
Ryan: Something that allowed him to go to a keg party last night.
Patricia: Well, he went to, he went to New York for the weekend. Cause you know, he has upscale Halloween, excuse me. They go to like, Like parties, like , a real party, right? Um, I was Edna Mode and there you go.
Ryan: And I shamefully didn't dress up last night. Um, I don't know. My wife was a skeleton.
My oldest son has this really funny costume that was like an alien eating him. And then my youngest son is obsessed with Roblox. So he had some Roblox character. And by the way, if you're listening and your kids play Roblox, get at me. We can commiserate about this really weird game that consumes these kids.
You know what I dressed up as a tech bro. Kelsey, did you?
Kelsey Sullivan: I did. So my fiance and I did a couple's costume. We were Jim and Pam from The Office, but went as them in their Halloween costumes on the show.
Ryan: You know what? I remember this from your Instagram. You guys pulled it off very well.
Patricia: Love it. Love it. Love it. Love it.
Ryan: Um, believe it or not, we are rounding the end of our seventh season of Inside Insights, which is crazy because I showed up to this call going, oh my god, I got to schedule a bunch of interviews and Kelsey was like, chill, homie, we're good.
So today we're going to interview a man that I had the pleasure to, uh, to meet this year. Interestingly, I met him like, five weeks after Chat GPT launched. And this is, this guy is somebody who I've been learning from since. Um, about a bunch of things, not just AI, but just about leadership and authenticity, keeping it real and Simon Berg, uh, appreciate you.
The reason I know Simon is, uh, his business Ceros is also, uh, in the Sumeru portfolio, which of course Zappi was acquired by last year. And so we get to know each other from a lot of the executive forums that we do and Simon's pivoting his entire company to get in front of Gen AI for the purpose of unlocking creativity, which is fantastic.
And I think we'll talk a little bit more about this after the interview, but there's some really wonderful opportunities afoot for all of us to make better products, to make better ads, to make ourselves more creative. Um, but it requires us to also be smart about how we use these things, particularly with data and synthetic data and otherwise.
So, I think you'll be in for a really cool conversation about transformation, leadership, creativity, and AI from somebody who's adjacent to our space. So, Ceros does not sell into the insights community, but very much is a platform that creative people use, um, including the, the, the wonderful creative people here at Zappi on both our brand team and our demand gen team.
So without further ado, let's get into a curse word filled episode with Simon Berg.
Ryan: Hello, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for tuning into this episode of Inside Insights. This will be an explicit episode. I am joined by my friend, uh, and fellow Sumeru Portfolio Executive Simon Berg, who is the CEO and founder of Ceros. Simon, what's up, my man?
Simon: What is going on, Ryan? Good to be here today.
Ryan: It is. I'm not going to lie to everybody, we have just been, uh, shouting at each other for the last 20 minutes. And I wish we recorded all of it, because it was a shit ton of fun.
Simon: It was a lot of fun. I shouted at you at the end, we should have recorded all..
Ryan: We’ll have a very, uh, fluid conversation today about two words. Creativity and artificial intelligence. And what it means for everybody. So before we start... For those of you who don't know Ceros, and you haven't met Simon yet, you're in for a treat. But Simon, tell me about the vision of Ceros, and why you think now more than ever, it's primed for success.
Simon: Oh man, so, it's so incredibly relevant to my, uh, to my life story. So, in essence, the, the, we've always said at Ceros that we've got a why, right? Like, why the... You can swear.
Ryan: You can swear on this podcast.
Simon: It's explicit. In that case, what the fuck do I get up every day and do what it is that I do, right? And a lot of folks will, especially in the finance world, will assume, a lot of folks will assume it's money.
And I've often said, if it was just money, then I would... Probably have done better selling real estate in New York City, because I probably would have done all right with an English accent, um, doing that. But it's not about the money, right? It has to be about something more. And for me, um, as a young man growing up, it's always been the case, for some reason, there's something in the creative world, the concept of creating, having a novel idea in my brain hole, and then using the brain and my hands to manifest it into the world.
You will not find a happier, more relaxed me. than when I'm in that state. Whether it's physical stuff, because I produce and build stuff in my home and I build things all the time, or in the digital space, or producing content, it doesn't matter. When I'm doing that, I'm almost in a zen like space. So as a human, why, what drives me is creativity, being creative, having an idea, I think is what makes us special as human beings.
And as a business, we adopted that. Why 12 years ago when Ceros was initially formed, hence the creativity matters, neon sign behind me. Why does Ceros exist? Because we believe that creativity matters and the mission has always been for 13 years at this point to unlock creativity through liberating technology.
That's been our thing. And if you know that, and you know anything about artificial intelligence and generative AI, Sam Altman has famously said that it's coming for creativity first. As I said to my board, and I'll say it again, if I was not wholeheartedly embracing this transformation, I should be fired for gross negligence.
Because it would be violating my why and the mission of the company to ignore it. That's right.
Ryan: I actually heard you say that on a, on a town hall one. So, so talk to me a little bit more, right? So like you're a, you've gone through the process of making some very bold decisions to really, let's be honest, transform your company to be AI first.
Um, why? And what were some of the things that you had to wrestle with to do that, um, as you were making some big decisions to blow up codebases, to change structures, to change the team? And, and I guess, reflect a little bit on why you thought that was so existential and that you should be fired if you weren't thinking AI first.
Simon: That's a good question. As you said, we're part of the portfolio of Sumeru. One of the senior guys over there called George that you and I have discussed as often said, and I think he's right. Uh, he said in the last year, um, that there are two types of companies two years from now, um, those that have fully embraced AI and everything that they do and those that have gone bust.
And I think that's one of the reasons why I agree with George through that lens and my view on artificial intelligence, it runs much deeper than what it means to the organization, right?
If you actually engage with it, and totally understand it, and most people, by the way, I think don't because it's just too scary. So they don't want to. But if you really engage with it and understand what it means, it's not just a game. an event that's seismic and meaningful to industry, but I think seismic, seismic and meaningful, on a society level, it's real.
So if you take that. And you go, Well, if that's true, then it's clearly something that's really important from an organizational point of view, I should look at it. But if you just come down to the organizational level, um, and say, Why are we making the changes that we're making? And I think, I think the answer is, it's really two fold, right?
It's the FUDs, the Fears and Uncertainties and Doubts, like how do I react to those feelings I've got about what it could do to us, and then sort of the POPs, the Potential Opportunities and Possibilities. Like, you look at the two sides, and I see a ton of possibilities and potential, I also see some risks, etc.,
And I know what the wrong thing to do would be, 100%, Which would be to do nothing. If I stand still, I'm fucked. So as far as I'm concerned, what we did as an organization was said, there are possibilities and potentially there's risk here, but one thing we're not going to do is ignore it, which means we're going to embrace it with as much vigor as we possibly can and transform the organization.
Ryan: So my audience is, a lot of people working in big enterprises, right? So, you know, they're working in insights and marketing teams for, you know, companies we see on TV every day. And what I've observed, I was in , Cannes Advertising Festival back in June, and the, The AI rhetoric was everywhere, but it was all bullshit.
Nobody actually said anything, right? It was like, we're trying some things. And the single most innovative thing I saw there was a press release that had happened six months earlier, which is NVIDIA and WPP's partnership, where they uploaded all the films WPP had created all over the years. So now you can say, I want to see a British man driving in a Volvo through the Sub Saharan African desert with a Volvo N card and, and the exponential impact that can have on the creativity of, now I can see what that looks like and now I can iterate on that.
But, but by and large, I still sense that a lot of the big businesses are, um, forming AI police. Informing AI committees, and they don't call them AI police, by the way, that's just my joke because I'm a sarcastic asshole. Um, but, I wanted to just break this down.
Simon: Actually, by the way, I think, I think the AI police are actually very good friends with the fun police.
That, uh, that ruin everything in large organizations, but yeah, sorry, go on,
Ryan: Yeah, yeah, they have, they, they have lunch together. So... You're somebody who, uh, I turn to for expertise, advice, and inspiration on how to leverage generative AI. So, let's assume somebody's listening and all they've been told by their company is we're nervous, we're exploring possibilities, um, we're not sure, and all they see on their LinkedIn feed is Gen AI is the future.
Break down some of the opportunities as you see them to augment creativity because everybody listening to this podcast is trying to make things more relevant and more resonant for people whether it's new products or new advertisements That's what they likely do for a living And so let's break it down on like a basic level for people because I still think that there's a lot of mystique of AIs taking over without enough salience to actually give people like something tangible that they can do about it within their job.
Simon: Yeah, 100%. Well, in terms of things you can do about it, I'll break that down into two parts, I guess, but the first thing I would say. And I can only say this with as much vigor as I can muster. Um, but, um, if your company or the organization that you work in is fearful and the IOI police and the security risk adverse human beings are bearing down upon you saying we're not doing anything with it yet, don't touch it.
What I would suggest to you, if you are in that scenario or in any other scenario is play with it, get curious. And a lot of people either lack the curiosity, because it was bashed out of them over the years, or the playfulness, or the sort of innate creative skills that was bashed out of them over the years, to bother doing it, or they're scared.
So, it doesn't manifest actually as being scared, it manifests as, ah, it's a fad. Why are you saying that? Well, because, you know, I'd asked it to write a poem and stuff. Okay, it happens to be the single biggest innovation in the history of all time. That's not up for debate. We've basically created an intelligence that's smarter than every human being, intellectual human being, in every industry possible in one place, and it understands language and you can communicate with it.
I think we can all agree that it's more than writing poems. Why are you not actually engaging with it? Half the time, I think it's because they don't want to, because it's terrifying, because the realization is that if, if it is truly what it's purported to be, then everything is up for question. I thought human beings were unique because we were creative.
I didn't think that machines could have novel ideas. I didn't think that they could think, plan, execute, and create on their own. Acknowledging that is a terrifying thing. So I think people have to get curious about why they're not engaging with it. introspective, get thoughtful about it because it's a bit scary.
Second thing is to play with it. And by play with it, I mean recognize that it is not a binary system. This is not a deterministic system. Whether it be, let's use ChatGPT as a simple example. ChatGPT is not a deterministic system. It's not if this then that. It's not if you click then send email y to user x. This is a probabilistic machine in the sense that it acts and behaves like a creative human being.
And that means when you play with it, ask it to do things or request things that you think are absurd to ask of a computer. Because you can now, and oftentimes it will. And if it fails, this is critical, if it fails to do the thing that you ask it to do, and let's define failed because let's assume you ask it to write an email and you say it failed to write the email correctly.
That's a bit weird because an email is not written correctly or not correctly, it's subjective. Mathematics. Mathematics is not subjective. 4 plus 4 is 8. Good email, bad email, that's not, it's like, it's subjective. It's not, it's not black and white. If it fails to write a good email, tell it why. Don't stop.
Say, I don't like that email, and I go, because I think you missed the tone entirely. And then people will see me write prompts like that, and I'll be like, because of this, and I'll get emotional. Sometimes I curse it. And those interactions with that machine yield remarkably good results because I'm treating the machine like it's a human.
And that's what you have to do because it is an artificial intelligence, not a computer that can chat. It's an artificial intelligence. And you wouldn't, that was the last piece on it because I'm ranting, you wouldn't. Walk up to one of the most intelligent human beings in the world that knows more than many doctors about medic medicine, more than most geographies experts about geography, more mo mo most political people about politics, more about writing than most authors, which is what GBT actually is, knows all of that stuff.
You wouldn't walk up to that random object that has no context for you whatsoever and say, write me an email, and then it writes the first email and you go, that's shit, and walk away. Right. That's not what you would do! You'd be like, Right. Before we start, let me give you a bunch of context, very intelligent human, now write it for me, and then you'd look at it and go, I don't like that, and I hate that, this makes me feel weird, and there was a sentiment at the end that was off.
Then they would rewrite it. Do that with GPT 4, the results are like that. It sounds ridiculous.
Ryan: Well it's true, I mean just on the GPT front, like, I am notoriously shit at writing. Um, grammatically, I'm a, I communicate with words. And, I don't really write anymore, but the AI can write like me. Because I'm somebody who really values, like you, right?
Like I value keeping it real. Um, and that closed loop, the iteration that comes out the other side is incredible. Because it writes like a little blunt, a little brash, a little bit of funny inflection. But it doesn't get there overnight because you're ingesting your own views into it. Um, which is
Simon: Yeah, you have to riff, you have to riff with it.
Actually, as a final thought of a tangible thing that people can do, there are plugins available for things like GPT 4 and actually our own products, Gemma. ai, which is, um, launched officially, um, in November to all of our existing customers. And then in the new year to the wider world, one of the things that you're able to do with Gemma and you are with a plugin is to speak to it.
And what I've been coaching people recently is stop. engineering prompts and start speaking briefs. Because when you sit down with a, with GPT 4, people are like, well, I need to engineer the prompt. Do you? Or do you need to speak the brief? Because it's a creative. It's not a calculator. Don't engineer the solution.
Speak to it, like, emotionally. Give it your thoughts and feelings like you would a creative brief. Tell it the intended goal. Tell it what really matters. Tell it the emotions you want to evoke. Then you get results that will blow your mind.
Ryan: So, we're experimenting. So, one of the things we do exactly is we test new concept ideas, new products.
And we got a big database of consumer data and that's exactly something I've been seeing happening. i'm trying to make some some cocoa flavors that I can sell at a premium aimed at hispanic americans And that much context by the way, I couldn't write code if my life depended on it that much context and in our context queried against a consumer database of what people think can spit out an idea better than most of the fortune 100 puts out today from a marketing perspective, which is insane to me.
Let's go basic for a second prompt. About six months ago, everybody was talking about, you gotta be a prompt engineer. And I thought to myself, I think that's going to be a short lived thing and things like Gemma AI is what you're talking about where you can actually speak to it, but explain to everybody how you go about prompting and how you about go about engaging to get something good out.
So part of it is to speak to it, give it feedback, but are you of the view that prompt engineering is sort of going to get eroded very quickly? And if so, do you think voice to the LLM is the future?
Simon: It's funny, actually, because someone on my team last week asked Gemma, which is effectively, it's GPT 4 with a lot of, a lot of different modalities, so Gemma can create imagery, she can create audio, and she's hyper tuned to be a creative, like, she's hyper hyper hyper hyper tuned to be a creative, with access to a bunch of different tools.
And someone asked Gemma, um, it's actually one of the senior UX people that works on the team, and she, she, Erica, asked Gemma. What would you recommend my kids should focus on to not be irrelevant in the future 'cause of, because of ai. And the interesting thing was that it came back and it said that your kids should focus on, um, creative briefing and uh, being able to articulate their visions.
And they should focus on understanding basic engineering principles by learning something like Python, which is interesting to me because that's kind of art and science. And it's kind of saying, to your point about prompting, it's saying, and this is what the machine thinks you should focus on, for what it's worth. Um, it's saying that the skill is in being able to imagine what you want and articulating it well and collaborating with something to make that become reality. That is effectively what prompt engineering is.
Now, there's some overlap where the prompt is doing technical things, kind of, too, which is where it becomes a bit more science and less art, but fundamentally, the art of writing prompts is nothing more than articulating, in visceral terms, what it is you want to happen, and what the constraints are, and what good looks like.
That's basically all you're doing. It's basically briefing. And the irony of that is, in my experience, and I say this cautiously, very many executives, the large majority of executives that I have bumped into at Fortune 500 companies, suck at briefing. Oh, yeah? Like, they really suck. And I'm sorry, if they're watching this, I'm really sorry if anyone's offended.
I've seen, obviously, many that are, but I've seen many that don't understand. It's not, don't prescribe the solution, DESCRIBE The desired outcome. Don't say, move the pixel six to the left. Make this thing. No. Say, I want humans to feel this way. I want this to be the emotion invoked and I want this action to be taken.
How do we create solution? But you see so many people that will, I want two page P, d, F with a what? What? Wait a minute, why?
Ryan: What's the point? Yeah. What you are trying to achieve. Exactly. No, you're, I, this is plaguing briefs, in my opinion, are plaguing the creative industry. Poorly written brief leaves fortune hundred to some poor ad agency.
The planner knows there's no risk tolerance in that business. They know the consumer is not going to really like it. They fuck around. They change the logo around a little bit. They test it. They're pissed off about the results. And it's, and not only does it not get the right outcome, I think of the time people waste it creative brief in my context to research brief and the dozens and dozens of hours, highly skilled people are spending.
But focusing on the outcome can get you something like. Exponential overnight. I mean, I always go back to like the NVIDIA WPP thing. Like I could put you in a car in Africa quickly. And the outcome is I want people to feel inspired. I want them to feel the wind. I want to sell this fucking car to somebody that is their second car.
Simon: Right. And like, that gets lost in the briefing process, partly because people don't understand it, partly because people overthink it, right. It becomes an intellectual exercise to write the brief rather than actually. A sort of an emotional stream of consciousness thought about the outcome you're trying to achieve and why you're trying to do that it becomes a sort of an intellectual exercise, which actually is one of the point I want to make about why I find speaking prompts briefs, as I like to think of them to the, these LLMs is vastly, vastly better and that's partly because I think I'm just I'm dyslexic I've never been tested but when I write, and I think you just expressed you're the same.
I think Ryan. Yeah, totally. When I'm writing, if you think about it, when you're writing, as a human being, you have these ideas in your head. As you try to articulate them, you're thinking about, when you're writing them, you're worrying about grammar, spelling, sentence structure, all this shit.
Truth be told, they're nothing but irrelevant rules that are there to ensure one other human being understands them, but over time they become sort of like grammar police, going back to the police thing. Yep. If you're trying to stream out your ideas, this magical box of billions of neurons coming up with this incredible idea.
What place does spelling and grammar have in that exercise? Zero. Like, it has no place, other than the grammar police, or maybe someone's ability to articulate it back, uh, afterwards. But from your point of view, to get it out and into the world. To get the idea into the world, yeah. So what I do now is I don't type, I just speak.
Because then I can literally just sit there with a record on, on GPT 4, or now with Gemma, thankfully. I can just sit there with a record and be like, Okay, right, I want to talk to you about this project I'm working on. You can um, you can uh. I really want to, you know, this is important. That's important. And one of the overarching emotions I want to evoke is this.
You're not thinking about sentence structure at all. You're just thinking, what is my emotional and or sort of strategic goal? And I'm going to articulate that as best as possible. And then let the LLM take that idea. And articulate that in a way that's beautiful to read. Great!
Ryan: Well, that's the use case, right?
And now, like, with all the asynchronous working practices, we're all leaning more into this anyway, like, I am a shit reader, so internally, I record voice memos more than I type emails because It allows people to feel me and my tone and how I'm, you know, but, but to your point, thanks very much, Chat GPT, can you make that legible and grammatically correct?
I mean, that's one of the easiest things you can ask an AI to do. Like, it's like, it's like a layout.
Simon: And it helps you to make the stream of thoughts, which I found is really interesting. When you, I did the other day, one last example of me doing it. I was in the car. We wanted to write a press release and someone said, Oh, I'll get the PR team to I was like, you know what?
Don't bother. Give me three minutes. And I just pushed record on the GPT in my car, push the record button, the audio, and just talk for three or four minutes about what it is that we're doing in the press release. You know, I'm looking to articulate, and not in a word by word manner, not sentence one, new paragraph, period, bullet, just thoughts.
This is what's happening. This is why we care. This is what we want the world to know. We want to show empathy towards this individual. We want to make sure that this is talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. Please turn that into a press release. It spat a press release and I sent it to my team and they were like, holy shit, where did that come from?
I'm like, I streamed my conscience into the bot for three minutes and it spat out a mega press release.
Ryan: Yeah, think of the time y'all can save, right? so the other thing though, there's a responsibility. You said something that I wrote down, uh, at the beginning of our conversation. I'm gonna take my own liberty with what you said, if you don't mind.
Sure. I believe society beats the curiosity out of people from an early age onward and black box thinking has crippled people, and I actually believe everybody is born curious and creative at something. But somewhere along the way, whether it's our parents saying, don't worry about it because I told you so, or our boss saying it's not your problem or whatever.
We learn to stop thinking. We learn to stop being curious. And so something like you're describing. For some people might be, uh, a liberating, like, it's like, Oh, all I want to do is think and get my ideas across, but some people might have lost that because they're in the mix of. I'm a corporate brand manager, and I just take brief and run brief, and I'm actually really smart, but like, it's gotten beat out of me.
100%. Do you have any advice for people of like, not just how to use the technology, but how to rebuild some of those muscles that are in them, that perhaps, uh, have beaten out of them, because society sucks in some level on this front.
Simon: So much about what you said, Ryan, means so much to me, and there are a couple of things you said. One, you said, uh, you said, it's liberating. If you remember, I said to you the mission at Ceros since I founded it 13 years ago, unlock creativity through liberating technology. So Babamo, exactly why we do what we do. The other thing you mentioned is, does it kill it?
Is it academia that kills it? There's two reasons why that matters to me. One, because as a young boy, I have, I've always said my creativity was born in the middle of two things. Adversity and constraint. That is the birthplace of creativity, right? Right in the middle between adversity and constraint.
Necessity is the mother of all invention. Another way of thinking of it, but adversity and constraint. For what it's worth, for me as a human being, there were two things. The adversity, um, for me was that my parents were not very happy. They were unhappy. So as a result of that adversity and stress and nastiness, they were never physical, but it was not pleasant to be around for about a decade plus.
I would go away and be creative to soothe myself. So as a result of that adversity that I faced, I would go into the world to create, to make myself feel more, sort of, soothed. And it became a passion, effectively. And the constraint was the academic system, to your point. The academic system didn't get me.
They said, learn this book, repeat it. And I was like, but I've got an idea. And they're like, sit down and shut up. But aren't ideas what the, how, aren't you standing in this building under a light that's running on electricity because of ideas? Why are ideas bad?
I don't fucking get it.
Ryan: Right, right.
Simon: I don't fucking understand it. And they would just be, No! Back in your box! Don't ask questions! I fucking hated it. So between that adversity and constraint, which I lived with as a child, creativity came out. Another reason I'll tell you why it's important, and then I'll move on to specifically your question.
You, uh, your, your listeners to this should check out Sir Ken Robinson, TED Talk, it's called Do Schools Kill Creativity? And it's all about the topic that you just touched on. And this was in 2006. He did this TED talk.
Um, it's amazing. And it makes me well up when I watch it cause I relate to it. So yes, I do think schools kill it. I think, I think we have a arguably an epidemic. In the world right now where we've stopped that and world is facing all of this adversity, climate change or political unrest or, you know, poverty or resources running out.
You keep listing them. There's a lot of them. Um, we are not going to solve them by opening the little black book and saying, what did we do in 2004 when everything was fucked. Oh, there is no page for everything being fucked. We're going to have to create a solution. Which means we need creativity now more than ever to save the species, if you will, and we kill it in our skulls.
Ryan: It's so sad. And you're right, like, I mean, who had a playbook for... run a business, be a parent, be a husband, wife, partner during a pandemic, nobody, but guess what? Y'all, we all figured it out.
Simon: I used to say all the time to my board. I've said it many times. I remember the day I sat in the ballroom and we said, okay, so we're facing a global pandemic, a civil unrest, a financial crisis.
Uh, okay, great. What does the playbook say? And I saw all the, you know, the investor types flicking through the book going, there's not the playbook doesn't. What do we do? And it was cool for me because that in my bold And I was like, so you guys are not going to tell me what to do anymore. And they're like, no, we don't know what the fuck to do.
I was like, awesome. I've got lots of ideas. Here we go. How do people be more creative, is the question.
Ryan: That's actually the question I wanna, I wanna know because, because people might be stuck because they're, I, I just believe we're all creative. I don't think anybody
Simon: Okay. I'll articulate it for you in a 52 second video. I'll show it to you and I guess you, you can, you can run it on the screen.
Ryan: Alright, I'm ready.
Simon: Alright. Can you see my screen, sir?
Ryan: Yes, sir.
Simon: Okay, here we go.
All right. Today we're going to talk about how we can find out and how much we can find out and what it takes to get there. So first we have to decide how much we want to find out.
So let's say in this case, I want to find out at a level of 7. Okay. So I find that level on my graph and I come horizontally. To my gradient line, where it intersects with my gradient line. I'm going to come straight down to where it intersects with my fuck around line. That's going to tell me how much I have to fuck around to find out what I need to find out.
See, as you can see, the more you fuck around, the more you're going to find out. And also if you stayed on here and you never fuck around. You'll never find out. So I hope this lesson is helpful. Thank you.
Ryan: Thanks. I love it. It's funny because that dude doesn't look that creative, but see, everybody is.
Simon: Everybody is. But yeah, but that video really sums it up, right? How do you be more creative? Stop thinking. Just do it. When you see a kid in the garden at six years of age.
And you walk up and you go, what are you doing? And he's got six cardboard boxes or she's got a bunch of, you know, stuff hanging from a tree and you say, what is it? Ah, this is my castle and my empire and this is a spaceship and like, do you think they're sitting down and going, how can I, how can I plan to, uh, to be more innovative and creative today?
They're just Fucking about finding out they're not thinking they're just being and creating and letting go and not being driven by shame or fear or uncertainty or doubt. They're just going, here's an idea and I want to play and see where it takes me. And every idea that I've ever had creatively in my agency time and in the software businesses, the best ones come from free flowing, fun, nonjudgmental, non shame based experiments to create something that feels fun. And we find something out and we go, wow, that's fucking cool. And it lands and everybody goes, where did that idea come from? And we go, we were kind of fucking around and it sort of made sense. There was a genius.
Ryan: And you think about it, like if you're sitting inside a big company, you got to answer to shareholders on wall street and short term pressures.
And, and like, I think a lot of businesses try and we've even done this, like, well, let's put the innovators on the side and I don't really think that works. I think everybody's got to create space for long term thinking. And so like, for me personally, I'll create space where I just take all the boundaries away.
So if you, if you aren't watching this episode on YouTube, the find out fucked around matrix 10 doesn't happen. If you're thinking about reality or this quarter's P and L or how busy you are or what your boss is going to think, but you've got to create that space.
I'll tell you a funny story that resonates, that will resonate with you.
I have a friend who, um, she's beautiful, she's successful, she was, you know, doing some acting and, and everything else. Kind of making her way through the L. A. life. She then stopped caring. She's a creative's creative. She stopped caring. Her paintings are now sold for a premium at every major main street in any ski town that you visit.
And she wrote a screenplay without any desire to make money off the screenplay. That's gonna get picked up and produced. As a result, you're not going to have to work that hard anymore, but they, so I had dinner with her and I'm like, so, you know, what happened?
She's like, I just stopped trying to be right. I stopped trying to care what anybody else thought. And it's exactly what you just said.
And we had, uh, many seasons ago, we had Tony Costella from Heineken on and, and he talked about trying to grip the essence of a seven year old's curiosity. On the time of recording this, my son turned five today. He wore a cape down the stairs . The whole world is that boy's oyster today. And so. Um, yeah, I think, I think there's just something to that. And if, if, if you're not naturally thinking like that, you have to create the environment,
Simon: You can't naturally, as you said, you're not naturally thinking of that, but you can't force yourself to think you've got to let go.You gotta let go. You gotta let go, right? You gotta let go and go, what do I, what do I want to do? And it's always the fear and uncertainty and doubt that kills it. Like you, every turn, every possible opportunity, it's always that that kills it. And no six year old gives a flying fuck about whether or not it's going to work or not work.
They just want to make the thing, and that's just, and, and one way, a practical way to unlock it. If there are cobwebs on the creative mindset and you know, it's, it's calcified, if you will. And you can't, you can't get it to edge and move, creaking the gear. One of the things I'll often do if I'm struggling is I'll just.
I will go and do something utterly unrelated to what I'm doing. So, midday, in the middle of the week, sometimes, I will, middle of the week, it's three o'clock, I'm like, oh, I haven't got a meeting until four, and maybe I've got someone working on a construction project because I like building things in my house and shit, and I'll go over there and just be like, oh, how are you working?
I'll be like, we're trying to figure out this idea for that thing you wanted to do in this room where you wanted, and I'll be like, oh, I've got a creative idea. What if we did this with the wood? And I might use my hands, create something, do something for 25 minutes, half an hour, 40 minutes. I will go back to my computer with a bizarre idea about how to solve a problem that I had that had nothing to do with it.
And it, yeah, it's that, that helps. It could be walking around looking at trees. It can be sitting down writing a poem. It doesn't really matter. Anything that you feel that is not gonna be judged. It's not about judgment. It doesn't have a goal. It's not like it has a KPI attached to it. You just wanna make something exist in the world.
Or, get curious about something in the world and how it works, like GPT 4, and go, Yeah, I'm gonna fuck around with this today. No goal in particular, I'm just gonna play with it. See, I'm just gonna do like a kid, like, what can I do? Maybe I can get it to do this, maybe I can get it to do that. Just play. And that will get you somewhere. Every time.
Ryan: Yeah, the play thing resonates with me. For me personally, it's the days I'm not thinking that I do my best thinking. So don't listen to this episode and say, I'm going to lock myself in my office and think about being creative. Play, try stuff.
Simon's gonna give you a little technique. He actually ran with his management team to write down the things that get in your way. But you wanted to have a vulnerable discussion with your colleagues.
And so you wanted to check the fear, uncertainty and doubt of the door. How did you go about doing that? Because I think there's something in what you'll share here that everybody can do in their own quiet thoughts.
Simon: So I think The essence of it, for what it's worth, Ryan, is I think, at its core, you are, to let go, and to let the universe take you there, if you will, to sort of let go, you have to be able to put your ego away, right? So the analogy being that, um, if you're at the top of your game as a surfer on the biggest wave in Australia, in the biggest championship ever, right at the top of the wave, and you're right up there feeling like God on your, on your, on, on your surfboard, the minute you think you're the man and you've got it cracked is the minute that the universe says, how about fuck off?
It all crashes down. And you're reminded suddenly that you're nothing but a. bag of meat in a set of Bermuda shorts. It's just like nothing, right? And it's really weird because when you're at the top of that thing and you're not egoing, you're just... letting it happen, right? You didn't make just surfing, you didn't make time and space, you didn't make the universe, you didn't make the fucking wave, you didn't make the moon that creates the waves, you had nothing to do with any of that shit, you didn't even make the fucking surfboard you're standing on, but you have a skill to harness what the universe has put in front of you.
And that's amazing that you can channel that, but it's not you, and the minute you think it's you, you're fucked. So ego is important, um, and letting go of your ego is important to creativity, and it's also important for traversing difficult times, because in difficult times, fear, uncertainty, and doubt bubbles up.
That comes from insecurities and vulnerable, lack of vulnerability, and then you'll make piss poor decisions when you have to make 100 decisions when there are no right decisions in difficult times. So the exercise we did with the team that folks could potentially. Uh, get behind was an ego exercise. We did it an offsite summit.
I came up with two parts. It was an ego specific part. And then there was a strength and weaknesses part. Basically what we did at the beginning of this three day off site where we were going to discuss some really complex, big transformational stuff for the organization was I just said, Look, guys, before we say another word.
And it was 37 of them in a room. I need to get everybody to get real with each other because all of the things that we need to change and transform, every one of them is going to make someone in the room feel uncomfortable or insecure. The job might be threatened because we're structuring things differently.
The future might be in question because we're talking about AI and transformation and all these fears and uncertainties that are coming from it's only going to bubble up. So I ask of you to get real with me. And what they basically did was a little Lego Superman. and a little, uh, Lego kryptonite, and they both had tags on them.
And I basically said, look guys, I want you to really think hard about your superpower. And I said, don't write down spelling or, you know, timely. I'm like, write down your superpower that you're almost embarrassed to admit. The one that makes you feel awkward, that people would say when, when you really push them, why am I good?
What's good about me, Bill? Tell me. And you push them and push them and push them and they would, they would divulge that, that thing. You know, as I said to you, this is awkward, but I've gotten to a point where I can say it. People will say to me independently, you're, you're very charismatic, Simon. And I've got to the point where I can say that where I'm not ashamed of it, but I'm also don't sound like an egotistical prick, or at least not in my head. I'm like, yeah, I'm kind of, I've been blessed with being kind of charismatic. That's a bit of a superpower. It's a bit awkward. Could be ego-y, but I'm able to say it. Do that, and then also do, um, the same for kryptonite.
What is your weakness? Okay, don't write spelling or tardiness, you know, I'm really tardy. Um, write down the stuff where, you know, like, um, for me it would probably be, I am literally like a red rag to a ball with passive aggressive behavior. I get irrational. If I'm in the room and someone is passive aggressive, I am irrational.
Like, almost like one of those movies where they use a trigger word and you lose 20 seconds. Because, I'll come out, I'll just come out the other side and everyone will be like, you just really lost it there. And I'm like, yeah, sorry, the passive aggressive trigger thing, it's to do with my childhood and my mum, if you really want to know.
But, but... It usually does, bro. It usually is, right? So, so, so then I... Asked them to do that, which they all did, and we put all of those in little boxes. So 37 little boxes with the person's name on it were all laid out for the three day sort of off site, so everyone could pick up the little, you know, person's thing and get to know the people.
And then the second exercise we did was the ego exercise, and I happened to have the cards on the side when you and I were talking about it before the show, and um, as I said to you, Basically what we did was at a black box outside the two doors, big black box with a giant white ego on it. And I just said to the guys after the Superman and kryptonite exercise, exercise, the next thing you're going to do is pick up this card and there's nothing written on the back.
And all you're going to do is think really long and hard about where your ego gets in the way of you being the most authentic you. If your ego gets in the way of the being the most authentic you, it gets in the way of you letting go and letting the universe do the right thing with you. And it means you're gonna make piss poor, shitty decisions because of insecurities and fears, and doubts and weirdness.
So I want you to dig, really dig what does it mean and write on the back of it. And as I said to you, I, I, you know, I read a few out, I'll read 'em again now to, but people wrote things like, I need to be in control. Even if it jeopardizes the greater good. I, when I feel like I'm not being listened to and I, and I, I don't feel respected, I feel out of control. Sometimes I feel like I'm the smartest man in the room. I mean, the list goes on. Someone wrote, this is bigger than you. I need affirmation. The list was long. And as a result of that, then I said to them, take the cards and walk out to the boxes outside. We're going to truly leave our egos at the back of the room.
And they went and put them in the room. No one read them out. And the only reason I have them is because at the end of the three days I'd made so little plan for what to do other than just to get them to be thoughtful. As I said to you before the show, I got them out with three or four of us sitting around at the end of the three days, and I read them and I welled up.
I started to tear up because 37 people, for some fucking reason, based on some silly idea I had a week before, I was just fucking around trying to figure out how to get these people to be real with me, they shared their hearts and souls on a bunch of white paper and stuffed it into a box and went off.
And I'm just sitting there, they just poured their hearts out to no one.
Ryan: But, but that, that disarmed them and I bet you had an amazingly creative and vulnerable.
Simon: Oh yeah, tears. There were tears and honesty and real conversations. And, and the best part about that is that you get the best outcomes in terms of what's right for the business, etc.
But in truth, you get to have a real, authentic, connected, human relationship with the people that you work hard with day to day. So, where's the downside?
Ryan: I don't see one. Simon, this was fun. I wish we could have a beer. This is the second time we've hung out on Zoom without, with me saying, I wanna have a beer with you, so now I gotta get my ass down and see you for a beer.
Simon: Yeah, or we just do Zoom beers, which is probably alcoholism, but never mind.
Ryan: Yeah, but, well, it was completely politically correct for a year and a half, so we could just pretend we're still in that climate.
Simon: Awesome, mate. Thanks a lot for having me on. I appreciate it.
Ryan: Yeah, pleasure. Thanks, everybody, for listening.
[Music transition to takeaways]
Ryan Barry: So I really enjoyed the conversation with Simon. I always do. And that was just like any other conversation I had with him. Um, so you can imagine how much fun those are. Um, but it is funny because depending on who I interview, my curse quotient goes up by a lot.
Our next episode is with Ivan Arrington from Clorox who, I mean, this dude is a stud. Um, I probably said 10 words the whole interview. We'll get into that next time we do our recording. Not because I had nothing to say, but because this dude dropped a knowledge bomb on how you can use software to do your job and be an excellent insights professional that drives growth.
But he didn't swear much, so I don't think I dropped a single F bomb in that interview. But Simon and I, we got a little weird. Patricia, what did you want to talk about after listening to our weirdness?
Patricia: You know, I have a party mouth and I have to really watch myself many times because I'm in a world now that doesn't appreciate it as much, especially when it's in English.
Ryan: Right. Patricia. Fuck that. This is a safe space.
Patricia: Yeah, I know. But I'm saying that I have no problem with your party mouth because I have a party mouth too.
But what I really liked. Is the practical aspects of this. Um, I think like any other new thing that we get, whether it's tech or food or fashion, there are early adopters and there are the like fast followers and then there are the safe distance followers. Right? So there's a range of humans on there. But I really liked Thanks. The fact that he talked about how to approach it, if you have a fearful company, or if you're fearful or not.
And then he gave some ideas of how to use it. I use it in two different texts. At work I use it for boring stuff, similar to what he mentioned, but then when I'm on my own, right, I use it like a white piece of paper, the way I like a white piece of paper. We'll talk about that more in the middle.
So I really liked that he got that. And the question you asked him at the end was about rebuilding the creative muscle. So those are the things I wanted to talk about.
So let's start with what it is. So let's say you are a bit skeptical, a bit fearful. You're still in the band of AI is going to come for all of our jobs and I'm going to be made obsolete.
Well, depends on who you are and how you approach life. I'm not going to tell you and he's not going to tell you and Ryan's not going to tell you. Nobody's going to tell you that AI is not going to take your job. That's not it. But you can either let it take your job or you can help it do your job better.
I prefer the second one, right? Because I love delegating. So if you're working with a fearful company or you're fearful, he suggests play with it. Literally play with it. Just make it a game, make it a safe game, do it up, separate from your work, right? Because right now, what happens is why, why his hypothesis of why we fear is because.
We think that technology is a scary thing, or we thought that we were the only thinking beings, and we thought that we were the only creative ones, and machines are not supposed to have novel ideas, and that's a machine, but acknowledging that something that is created by humans can actually be creative is a scary thing. It's terrifying because it blurs the line between us and them.
So that's where he feels that playing with something is going to help eliminate the fear.
But let's say you work with a bold company or you're bold. Well, then I love his phrase. I'm going to patent it bigger and embrace with vigor.
He goes, but be aware of the risk. I loved it. Embracing it with vigor. And it's like, understand this is not black and white. This is not if this, then that is probabilistic. It's created by humans for humans, right? It's not a computer. It's something different, something more. And the results therefore are subjective. Garbage in garbage out.
But I love the fact that it needs human discussion and connection. So we can correct and learn like humans, right? It's not a human. It's like humans. So it needs the context. It needs the emotion and needs a brief, not an engineering prompt.
Then he goes into a lot of stuff about briefing and engineering prompts.
And if you're like me, then you're going to want to rewind on that part so that you can get it right. But the word brief is like the lines when you buy a coloring book and it comes not with white pieces of paper, but with pictures that you have to color inside the lines. That's what the word briefs things because a brief is a template and it tells you just say this and this and this and this.
But when you take a brief and all that emotion and you want to put it into a template, it doesn't work. Similar to when you have all this creativity and you have a box of 48 or 72 colors of crayons, within the line. It's like, right. No.
So what he's saying is Maybe you don't do a brief. That's in a template. Maybe you sit there and you chat and you tell it all of this and you, and you have all the emotion in your voice and you talk the brief to your GPT, right? Because if you have a bad brief, then you're going to have bad results, right?
But you have to be able to imagine it. You have to be able to dream it. You have to be able to know what success looks like for you, what success feels like to you. And that's much easier when you can talk about it, move your hands, have facial expression. Chat GPT is not going to be able to see your facial expression, but they can hear your tone of voice, right?
So instead of having a template and having the intern do it or, which is even worse, having your whole entire staff spend hours and hours of very expensive time creating a brief that's going to come out wrong. Have a talking brief into your into your AI and have them see what comes out and keep working with them.
No, I really didn't like that tone. You missed the tone. You know, so work with it so that you can get something better. And that way you're going to be able to boost your creativity and make AI better for you. Right?
But the worst thing that can happen if you're using AI is that you waste three minutes of your time speaking to it and you waste five minutes of your time reading the results. If it's crap, you throw it away. Or you keep trying. So, so playing with it, whether you're afraid or not afraid or embracing it with vigor, try it. Nothing bad's going to happen.
Then he goes into how to rebuild the creative muscle, because as both of you said. The lines in the coloring book, the teacher saying, be quiet. I don't want ideas. I want you to just read this. I want you to memorize that. Or depending on the company you work for, right? Some companies boost creativity. Others don't want so much creativity, right? I've been told in the past, and I know other people have been told in the past, I need you to think less. I need you to just do what I say, which is kind of crazy for the money that people get paid.
Let's say you want to reboost your creativity. He talked about the birthplace of creativity being the middle spot between adversity and constraint. May not agree with both of those. I agree that constraint can, you know, when you have constraint that you don't want, then that could burst creativity. But adversity, you don't have to have adversity to have creativity. You have to have a problem with the solution that you need. Right? Which is why I really like the second quote that he said, necessity is the mother of all invention.
That one I can get behind because necessity is not adversity. But in order to actually boost your creativity or rebuild muscle, there are things you have to stop doing and things you have to start doing.
So stop, stop being driven by shame, fear, or what others will think or doubt or uncertainty, or I'm not good enough, or I can only do a stick figure. No, stop. Just stop. Stop talking to yourself like that. Don't be judgmental to others. And especially don't be judgmental to yourself. Give yourself the credit. Stop trying to be right or perfect. It's not about being right or perfect.
If you're stuck, change your environment, the way you go walking, the way I go swimming, right? Change your environment or change your element, change your problem. If you're thinking about a problem and think about, okay, what am I going to cook for dinner? Right? So that you can get out of your mind space and let go of your ego and pride, your uncertainties, your vulnerabilities. Stop all that.
But that gives you a whole bunch of room, brain space to start being creative, letting go, feeling, flowing, going, having fun, finding your space, the one that feeds you like, like, whether it's nature or alone, or maybe your zen room or your meditation.
Find or admit, which is probably harder, what your superpower is, what makes you freaking amazing. And also admit what what's your kryptonite. I love that exercise that he talked about, right? So that if you understand what your superpower is different from what your ego is, you can start playing with that and start building it up and using it to be creative, right?
And then if you're having a lot of problem with the starts and stops, make a list. Of when and how and where your ego gets in the way. That's what brought him to tears, which I thought was so vulnerable of him.
But I can just imagine my list. I want to write my own list of when my ego gets in my way. Because the more you know yourself, the better you can be. And we're not all the same. And AI doesn't care. Yeah, I just want you to come play. So that was for me, the main message. Come play. AI is waiting.
Ryan: Yeah, come play is good message. If you're working in a corporation, I mean, if you're listening to this, you probably can't even control this.
But I think a lot of companies have heard a story from this woman. Uh, at lunch with the other day that she couldn't bring in a vendor because AI was in the company's, uh, email domain, which I think is just such bullshit. Um, there's obviously a responsibility to, um, govern your info security appropriately.
I think for all of you listening who are in the business of understanding people, there's a responsibility to make sure that particularly when you're using AI with consumer understanding that the data is representative, that the data is clean, that the data is harmonized so that you're inferring the right conclusions.
And I think the creativity point you make is important because if you just use language models and you're not creative, you're going to end up with a bunch of homogenous marketing where all the fucking candy bars look the same and that's no fun. Um, so I think, you know, I think that there's just a great opportunity to, um, take all we know about what people do, why and how.
And be more effective at how we harness that be more effective at how we turn those understandings into novel ideas that we can execute, but all all AI. So I'm somebody who's never been worried about technology. And the reason is if you rely on technology, if your job is going to be replaced by technology, you're, you're not relying on the thing you all have, which is curiosity, intuition, soft skills, the ability to, I know soft skills.
I'm not supposed to say that anymore. I think that word got canceled, but empathy, compassion, understanding people, understanding how to connect with people. Um, I view this as awesome superpower stuff, but it is, it is disruptive. I mean, you know, for those of you who've made it this far into the interview, this is being recorded after Mark Ritson put out what I thought was a fascinating articulation of the power of AI in consumer insights. He wanted to understand a correspondence map of brand attributes in the auto space and get the same fucking answer from synthetic data with no respondents as he did from a quote representative panel. And a lot of people are going to freak out about that or dismiss it.
Could never be credible. You're both wrong. What if we could leverage what we know? What if we could ask the right questions? What if we could start by querying data sets that we know are clean and representative and harmonized, use that to create and go learn the two things we don't know? That's how we're going to learn from learning.
This industry is going to get transformed because of AI. And it's going to be a good thing, but you got to adapt to it or you will become irrelevant.
So I hope you enjoyed the conversation with Simon. I should also say I stole his ego idea at a workshop I recently ran. And I would say 90 percent of the people were very honest.
I also was brought to tears reading it. And, uh, I then threw the box away cause I, I just read it after the meeting. But Simon, thank you for the idea. Patricia, thank you for the thought provoking summary as always. Next up is Ivan Arrington from Burt's Bees. You're going to be in for a treat.
Y'all have a great rest of your day. Have a great week. Thank you so, so, so, so much for listening.
This season's gone by real, real quick, and I really appreciate, uh, all y'all listening and getting at us with feedback and thoughts and helping us spread the word about Inside Insights. Um, it's a part of our job that is fun, uh, so we appreciate that you guys are listening. Thank you. Patricia, be well.
Patricia: Thank you.