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Creative Thinking as a Force for Good

Innovation Strategy

Tori Flower is Creative Director. She comes up with ideas powerful enough to delicately alter behaviours, without turning audiences off with do-goody branding and messages.

“Products and services can reach a mainstream audience and become part of popular culture. They need to have reason or incentives to use them that go beyond doing good. If they are useful and desirable enough, the good can be incidental.”

Flower and her colleagues believe that overtly marketing a product as good doesn’t help capture a mainstream audience’s attention. In other words, just being good will not entice enough users for that collective good to become significant.

A few examples:

  • In an opinion survey by the Energy Savings Trust, 80% of people believed climate change is a major problem, but only 60% of the same sample actually did something to reduce their personal energy use. (Gauging the Green Gap, The Energy Savings Trust, 2007)
  • We are frequently told that we need to eat five portions of fruit and veg a day, but a study by Pennsylvania State University found only 6% of a sample that had been through an education programme on the importance of eating fruit and vegetables and intended to eat the recommended amount, actually did so.

Flower says: “Just because you know something is the right thing doesn’t mean you are going to do it. People know they should eat their five a day, or that they should give up smoking. There’s a massive drop out between knowledge of what to do about an issue and actually doing it.”

A product’s goodness can even diminish the audience hunger for it. “When something is marketed as good or green, it can sometimes harm its acceptability in mainstream culture,” Flower says. “It becomes relevant to people who have an interest in being green or healthy – but might not reach a mass mainstream audience because the explicit greenness means these people are actually turned off.”

It’s about perception and pay off. Flower says: “People don’t see themselves fitting into that category and also there’s a feeling that if something is good or green or healthy, whilst it’s above average in that realm, it could be less good in other things, for example healthy food is often perceived to be less tasty.”

All this means that We Are What We Do has to embark on a well-balanced strategy of stealth and attraction with every project. One of its current missions is to tackle youth obesity and it has identified the fast food industry and fried chicken shops in particular as compounding this issue in deprived areas of London. The answer? Create a new fast food outlet.

Flower says: “The existing chicken shops are really fulfilling a need in the market. They wouldn’t be as popular or recession-proof if they didn’t provide something that people wanted: very cheap food that’s hot and filling.”

A two-year research programme goes further than looking at health. Fried chicken shops provide a place to meet, especially in areas where the population doesn’t drink and so doesn’t go to the pub, meaning they become a social hub for the younger generation who want to meet up out of school and away from home. By talking to schools, health organisations and the chicken shops and fast food outlets themselves, We Are What We Do aims to tackle wider issues including the ethical sourcing of food, sustainable packaging and employment opportunities and standards.

In September, they will launch their first practical intervention: a fast food outlet in Forest Gate, Newham, serving hot food that’s tasty and cheap. They will serve chicken but in a healthier – and desirable – way. “It will look and feel very much like the fast food experience, taking the existing culture and working with it.”

Healthy eating has been the subject of many high profile campaigns: Jamie Oliver’s attack on school meals and the government’s Change4Life to name just two. Flower highlights the difference as a ‘facilitational solution’.

How do these solutions come about? Working closely with We Are What We Do’s research and evaluation director, Flower is given a list of behaviours and project aims to rectify. “I have to find the vehicle that can take those products and services out into the real world, engaging people so they behave in a certain way.”

Turning an idea into something tangible and covertly good, while also desirable, is a tall order. Historypin – a global online archive of photos and memories – shows it can work with great success. Collating historical photos does more than provide an archive, it promotes digital inclusion by bringing people together across different generations and cultures.

Flower’s own excitement at Historypin’s popularity is testament to We Are What We Do’s passion: “The technology is cutting edge. The app is amazing. You can overlay old photos on Streetview. You can be out on the streets and see history around you on your phone or tablet. We regularly hold things up to the ’17-year-old-boy test’ – would a 17-year-old boy get excited about this – and they really do. Increasing gamification is one way of continuing its success and that’s planned for the next round of developments. It’s something that’s really fun to use and is encouraging digital inclusion.”

Flower’s own dedication to finding the best solutions is also evident, right down to her methods of creativity. “For me, it’s a combination of a couple of things. The first is a grounding in really thorough research. We are always designing something for someone and the more you can know about who you are designing for the better your ideas will be.

“You need to build prototypes to see if something has resonance; always go back to who you are designing it for. It’s about creating a detailed factual grounding your ideas can come out of. The flipside of that is the creative leap. That little bit of magic that makes the product or service really appealing and popular. One tactic I often use to help me do that is changing environments. I might have been in one environment when receiving a lot of information and when I’m walking somewhere else I’m able to process that information in a different way and I’m able to see it from a different side.”

To read more about We Are What We Do, including the statistics and progress on the Chicken Shop Project, go to wearewhatwedo.org.

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