Silver Linings: Disruption Could Make Us Better

| By Eric Gunzenhauser

The current disruption in all our daily routines reminded me of a TED Radio Hour episode released almost a year ago. I caught a rebroadcast of it in late February and it turned out to be quite timely. The episode is called “Jumpstarting Creativity” – and the whole episode is worth a listen – but the first segment is what got my attention as especially relevant to our current stay-at-home situation.

The basic message is about how disruptions in the ways we normally operate can actually lead to improvement — and in some cases, brilliance — through creativity and problem solving in even the most mundane routines.

In the radio segment, writer and economist Tim Harford relates the tale of how jazz pianist Keith Jarrett inadvertently created one of the most celebrated live jazz recordings. The short version of the story starts when a 19-year-old concert promoter mistakenly had the wrong instrument delivered to the concert hall. Jarrett, known for demanding perfection, reluctantly agreed to perform on the broken-down rehearsal piano; but he and his manager decided to record the concert as a cautionary tale. Instead, the already brilliant artist put on what many consider to be his most brilliant performance.

Jarrett was forced to approach the performance, albeit reluctantly, from a fresh perspective, resulting in an extraordinary work. The disruption in what was “normal” led to something wonderful. And if there are silver linings to any of the crises we are facing now, this has to be one of them. It’s the opportunity that we have today to do things differently, to do things better, to do something extraordinary, or at the very least to do meaningful good.

From an advertising standpoint, we’ve already seen a shift in messaging and creative approaches as brands pivot to show consumers they are here to help—and that is certainly a good start. (See AdWeek’s “18 Tips on Advertising During the Coronavirus Crisis” if you need a quick primer.) What’s more inspiring is seeing the brilliance of people “pivoting” to express brands in a more authentic way.

More broadly though, the disruption in our everyday routines and processes can also usher in a wave of breakthrough ideas that may not have otherwise happened.

Harford goes on to describe another example: the shutdown of the London Underground. Millions of Londoners had to find new ways to commute to and from work until their mass transit system started running again. When the Underground finally opened back up, many stuck with their new transportation routines, having found a solution that suited them better. The disruption led people to find a better way.

As creative marketers, writers and designers, we now have an opportunity to rethink processes, approach brands with a fresh perspective and figure out new ways to get our ideas out there. And when we eventually turn the corner on this pandemic, we might find that we like our new “normal” better.


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