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Creativity under constraint

Where do creative professionals turn for inspiration amidst a global lockdown? We teamed up with WeTransfer to find out.

Jax Ostle-Evans landscape Illustration by Sergio Membrillas

A lot happened to creativity over the past year – both as a concept, and as an industry.

Creativity has always famously spilled over, if not flooded, the idea of the 9-5 working day, with many creative types daydreaming about getting out of the offices to gain inspiration.

And yet, even the most unpredictable schedules and mildly unusual working habits were turned on their heads in 2020 and 2021, as we found ourselves locked down in our homes.

Remote working became a necessity rather than a luxury, time zones collided, and what we considered work, play, or chore became entirely inseparable over the course of the pandemic.

In order to get a snapshot of lockdown’s impact on creativity, the 2021 Cannes Lions Jury Presidents, shared their personal accounts of how their creativity transformed, adapted and survived during Covid19 with WeTransfer.

Here are their first-hand accounts.

Merlee Jayme

Global President Dentsu Mcgarrybowen/Chairmom Dentsu Jayme Syfu
Radio & Audio Lions Jury President

What did Einstein say about creativity?

"Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world."

Even when you can't travel. I might add.

I accepted this global job at the height of the pandemic. 16 time zones changed my body clock. I worked from home for more than a year. My creative mind missed my biggest source of great ideas: obsessively observing people in airports, streets, cafés, and bars!

But, I discovered that the lockdown can unlock many ideas. I forced myself to get out of my comfort zone at home. I forced myself to do something surprising - something that made my heart beat a little faster. I don't cook, so creating anything from the kitchen scared me. I tried cutting hair too - my husband's, my mom's, my dog's - felt like Edward Scissorhands. Doing things differently jolted my brain too. I combined Yoga with videocalls and watched ‘animes’ without subtitles.

The rush and fun refreshed my way of thinking.

Seemed to work. I won five major pitches since I stayed home.

wetransfer2 sergiomembrillas highres RGB Illustration by Sergio Membrillas

It has provided an opportunity to go deeper and open up a whole new world of creativity.

Wyclef Jean

Wyclef Jean

President and Chief Strategy Officer, Sodo Mood Lab
Entertainment for Music Lions Jury President

In today’s world, creativity can be found everywhere. Everything has closed and slowed down, but for me, it has provided an opportunity to go deeper and open up a whole new world of creativity. To keep things flowing, I always spend time moving. Whether it’s in the gym or out running on the street, movement is one of the most important things for me when it comes to aligning my body, mind, and spirit to stay creative.

I make sure I get into the studio every day I am able. There is nothing like a space that soaks up creative energy and gives it off whenever you need it. In my studio I make the music that comes to me. A lot of times, I am inspired by the next generation of geniuses that I see battle rapping on YouTube or being word smiths on Instagram. They never fail to remind me why I do what I do and keep me on my toes so I always stay fresh and sharp.

Eduardo Maruri

VP Global Creative Board & President/CEO Europe, Grey Worldwide
Sustainable Development Goals Lions Jury President

Lockdown and restrictions opened my mind to new things.

I have been experiencing things that I have never experienced before. I do things that I did not used to do.

I got into electronic music. I am learning to appreciate and admire DJ’s all over the world.

I watch the opposite of what Netflix suggests. As a storyteller I am fascinated with the way the stories of the most unknown documentaries are told.

I became the creative director of my son’s Tik Tok account. It now has 650K followers. I even participate in some of the stories. I spend time with him thinking of ideas for his feed. There is a lot of inspiration in Tik Tok.

I have met new friends. My new group of close friends is probably the most diverse I have ever had.

I am 54, and I have never felt younger, more connected with the real world, and as inspired to create new things.

Thank you Covid.

wetransfer3 sergiomembrillas highres RGB Illustration by Sergio Membrillas

Movies, books, more books, more movies… There’s no better creative retreat to get lost in.

Liz Taylor

Liz Taylor

Global Chief Creative Officer, Leo Burnett / Chief Creative Officer, Publicis Communications NA
Print & Publishing Lions Jury President

Little boxes and constrained spaces. It’s where we’ve been spending our time, in places never intended or designed to be inspirational. I found creativity in creating a workspace for myself during the pandemic. A first-time DIY wallpaper project, the perfect playlists, a carefully curated collection of notebooks, pens, post-its. Can’t go wrong with good old school art supplies. A one-room design project morphed into something much bigger. Filling a whole house with furniture, light, artwork. Endless rabbit holes of artist books and midcentury furniture collections. Pinterest pages became some of my closest companions. Getting lost and inspired by set designs on binge-worthy shows. (Thank you, Queens Gambit.) And always, perennially, pandemic or not—movies, books, more books, more movies… There’s no better creative retreat to get lost in.

Jax Ostle-Evans

Managing Director, Stink Studios
Digital Craft Lions Jury President

I’ve found a sense of delight in the creativity I’ve seen in the community and in the experimentation that has been happening over the last year. It’s been inspiring to see local businesses transition so quickly and become such an essential part of the rhythm and buzz of daily life.

Restaurants, pubs and bars have refused to be silenced by lockdown. Instead, they morphed into delis, hosted pop-up takeaway nights in collaboration with other local businesses and became an essential part of the community. The Friday night pizza queue at our local market in East London has become a social highlight of the week.

The limitations of lockdown life have also awakened the creativity in many of us individually. We started socialising in our front gardens and picked up hobbies like baking, reading, knitting and garden sports. I hope that spirit – the creativity, enthusiasm and support – proves to be a permanent change.

Jax Ostle-Evans landscape Illustration by Sergio Membrillas has allowed for different ways to generate ideas and created a breeding ground for creativity

Philippa Brown

Philippa Brown

Worldwide CEO, PHD
Media Lions Jury President

I’ve heard many people quote Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”.

And you know what? It’s so true.

Whilst the pandemic and lockdown have impacted teams’ spontaneous creative thinking, it has allowed for different ways to generate ideas and created a breeding ground for creativity.

From my own personal experience, there are three things I am now doing differently:

Firstly, I’m walking so much more than I ever did and I love it! I walk everywhere and for long periods of time. When I’m walking, it gives me white space to think and is often when I generate my best ideas. Things around me inspire me and on many occasions, I’ve come home and scribbled down my thoughts.

Secondly, I’ve been dreaming lots more than I ever recall. I now keep a notepad by my bed and the next morning, I wake up and read my scribbles. There’s often some of my most creative and best thoughts within those scribbles!

And finally learning from my kids who help me creatively. They’ve really inspired me and have generated lots of creative ideas. I can now say, I know everything there is to know about TikTok and what’s ‘cool’ to teenagers these days. Spending so much time with them and sitting down to dinner as a family every day, has been great personally but also for work – they’ve become my daily research group!

Start your journey

These are examples of breakthrough work from some of the Jury Presidents of the Cannes Lions Awards 2021. If you are planning on entering your work, get inspired by the real stories behind groundbreaking, Lion-winning work – and learn what truly goes into making moments that push business, society and creativity forward. Entry deadline is 15 April.