The handbook teaching how to best face a world whose contents and containers have multiplied
Whether we like or not, we are facing a true new world of communication, and the very fact that you may be reading this article from your smartphone or may have received it from a post on Twitter or a highlight on a newsletter is the simple proof of it. We live in an ever-more-circular world in which contents and containers have multiplied, a world in which we all struggle to select sources and news, recognise right news from fake news and keep concentrated without having the feeling of wasting our time.
How can we best face this situation? Independently from our current job or education, are we capable to manage communication about ourselves, our project and its outcomes?
1. First of all, to do good communication today we need to know it very well, starting from the boundless world of web. I don’t mean that we should all have followers on Twitter like Tim Cook or collect at least 1000 likes on our posts in Facebook. We should have a basic knowledge of the containers, the new communication channels presently available to express ourselves, and essential to be searched, met and identified. While we used to rely on world-of-mouth to get a reputation (bad or good, it doesn’t make difference), today it is indispensable to exist also on the web, no matter if you are an osteopath, an upholsterer or the manager of a multinational company.
2. Having said that, an essential skill is that of good writing. It is a hard skill, namely a basic skill that you can learn only through study and training, and can be applied to various contexts of communication: brand journalism, storytelling, social media and, obviously, the publishing industry.
Sixty years ago, a big company like Eni chose a poet (Attilio Bertolucci) to act as Director Head of its house organ “The Wild Cat”, and this shows that the Establishment recognized in his figure all the fitting skills to build its message and gain a position in the market.
The Pirelli magazine “The civilization of cars”, instead, used to feature famous names from the international world of culture such as Eugenio Montale, Umberto Eco and Dino Buzzati.
Olivetti also held many men of culture, acquainted with writing, who could give the company something more for this reason. Once the writing skill is acquired, it can be used for communication purposes in a broader context. The ability to build and tell stories is fundamental in all sectors in the present-day, complex new world.
3. The third key skill is to be able to live, analyse and interpret the context. This skill belongs to the category of soft skills, namely the transversal skills or life skills – as OCSE named them – which are not learned at school but through living.
In other words, the overall context helps to clear the picture, and I am not the first person to say so (nor to do so).
Emile Zola, a Nineteenth Century French writer, journalist, essayist, literature reviewer and photographer had a working method as such: he would not start writing a single word unless he had the chance to take a walk, shoot a few pictures and write down some notes first – as testified by his beautiful note-books. Indeed, he used to go around and pick up the context, something we are now used to do more easily with Google, even if it will never be the same as looking with your own eyes and knowing though your own experience.
4. At this point, a bit of creativity should be added to all these skills. However, are people born creative or can they become so?
“A creative idea comes to light by establishing a relationship among unconnected elements which previously seemed unrelated”, writes JoDorsi in his first book, “Creativity is a fish”. He then adds: “the rules become tools to express creativity and not hurdles”. I believe that rules are indispensable for most people to express themselves at their best from a creative point of view. This can be seen for instance in the stories of many artists who were originally involved in different working and professional contexts and kept their engagement even after having gained success as artists. By reading the book “Originals. How Non-Conformists Move the World” by Adam Grant, I realized how the urge to go against the establishment deeply stimulated many singers, writers, painters and photographers of the past and present.
Complete freedom may bring their creativity to a halt or push them to develop ideas that they are unable to work out. John Legend kept making power point presentations during the day and singing at night even after the release of his first successful album. Stephen King never stopped working as teacher, watchman and petrol pump attendant until seven years after the publication of his first novel. T.S. Eliot kept working in a bank until 1925, three years after the publication of his most popular work “The Waste Land”, while Harper Lee used to work for an airline company when his life-time friend Truman Capote persuaded him to write down the stories of his childhood.
In other words, “to be creative you need rules to break”. Even the myth of the genius who drops out of school is collapsing: people who manage to launch a start-up while keeping their job (often starting the project as a hobby) have 33% more chances to succeed. The most relevant example is provided by Talent Shows, in which hundreds of waiters, students, shop assistants, fashion designers and teachers show their talent in different contexts, such as music or food.
There are also examples of people who chose to devote themselves to art from childhood and could not do anything else: this is the case of Dario Fo, who left us the invaluable teaching to follow our dreams at all costs because “if you do what you like, you live longer”. So, the only useful rule to express creativity at our best is to become aware that there are no fixed rules but that we have to find our own path: studying, making trials and taking risks.
5. Finally, we need to preserve a youthful attitude of wonder and curiosity. David Kelly and his brother Tom wrote in their book “Creative Confidence” that “we tend to associate creativity with artists and inventors, however creativity lies in each one of us. We simply need to get hold of it and share it”. Make a thought about this.
I was born, for instance, among the coloured textiles of the upholstery made by my father and grandfather, the brushes and canvas of my mother, and the fine clothes from my grandmother’s shop. So, unconsciously, I started learning some skills connected with the world of creativity and manual work, drawing and fashion, business and cross-culture. And I never lost a boundless curiosity for the world. How about you?
(Translated by Cecilia Braghin)