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    Creativity Corner The Creative Process

    The Creative Process – Meet Mike Abrahams

    March 18, 2013

    This is the second instalment in this new category here on colourliving, which I hope will provide some inspiration and insight for many of you.

    For new readers:
    Much has been written about The Creative Process, which in its purest form is simply a way of solving a problem. That sounds simple, doesn’t it? Creativity and its process, contrary to popular belief, is not just reserved for artists and designers. I believe that everyone can benefit from learning and understanding the numerous ways of the creative process. I will invite people to share their own personal creative processes with us and hope this will help you with identifying your own.

    I am thrilled to introduce my second guest contributor, Mike Abrahams, designer, curator and strategic thinker extraordinaire. Mike has done far too many interesting things to list here. Some are mentioned in his piece below. Here are just a few: years ago Mike worked at Negus & Negus where he was part of the team that created the English Heritage, Emirates Airways and Waterford Crystal brand identities. He mainly worked in creating brands – for Wentworth Club (for those that know golf), Ferrari F1 team and Alpha Bank in Greece. He’s had a successful studio since 1996 and now is moving into new territories. He explains: ” I’ve always been concerned with the business models of most creative companies – the 80/20 principle applies – 80% of work pays the bills (that nobody sees) / 20% is what we love and we are proud of. So in recent years I have become more entrepreneurial. I don’t necessarily want to work with clients, I want to be my own client – so now I work with businesses where I have a share of the company, where we are making the new, the different, and design is an attitude rather than my profession.”

    I met Mike quite a few years ago and from initially having irregular coffee get-togethers, we are now firm friends and collaborating on some projects. Let him dazzle you with his creative process!

    The Creative Process – Mike Abrahams

    dock licking

    Q. Why do dogs lick their balls?
    A. Because they can. (That’s Dougal – if you want to know!)

    mike bike

    Q. Why do people create things?
    A. Because they can.

    If I was ever to meet the Duke of Edinburgh, I’d answer his usual question “What do YOU do (as if he’s really interested)?” saying, I’m a maker and curator of brands, business, books and events. I’m also an athlete. I have no idea what he would reply. I’m not sure that either of us cares!

    So what has that got to do with my creative process?

    I view both our athletic and creative abilities as innate. While we are all born different, we all have a lot in common. If you can hold a pencil, you can draw. If you have legs you can run. How well you could draw or how fast you could run is the issue. We all have potential, and we have the choice to realise it.

    OK, so what do I do?

    Five years ago, I started running on the track, and I got myself a coach whose job was to get me to be the best I could. What distance? What target? What else? I learned there are three things in running (and I guess it’s true for all sports and I know it’s true for creativity):

    1. Talent That is fixed and you can’t change it. So if you are not Usain Bolt, born with the fastest of fast twitch muscles, you will never ever run as quickly as he could.

    2. Nutrition This is what you put in – to get your body working efficiently for the tasks you are asking it to perform.

    3. Training You can do it on your own or get a coach to help you define a goal and ensure you get there, write a training programme (day-by-day, week-by-week), avoid and manage injuries, encourage you and help you deal with the nerves when you’re standing on the start line.

    The great thing and biggest difference between running and creativity, is you can measure the ‘what you put in’ and be pretty certain of ‘what will come out’ in running. Eat healthily, keep the weight down, train well and a PB (personal best) will come. Simple. Satisfying. Measurable. Definite. I went to the masters (over 35s) World Championships and ran for GB in the 1500m. I wasn’t last and ran a massive PB. What more could I want?

    Mike running B

    That’s me flying at the front at 400m, it was a different picture at the end of the race!

    I approach my desire to understand, realise and indulge my creative potential in the same disciplined manner as my athletics.

    So what do I do?

    1. Talent I have got what I have got and am not hung up on people being better or worse than me. Comparison is futile, painful and a waste of time.

    2. Nutrition This is the stuff I put in. I consume everything I can. I am ‘incurably curious’ (thanks Wellcome Trust) or as Michael Woolf says “I’m obsessively interested in everything”.

    As I type I’m listening to Late Junction on Radio 3. On my bedside table is stuff that sends me to sleep and greets me when I wake up. I know we all do that. We all go to exhibition, conferences, talks, watch films etc etc.

    mike's desk

    But I do specific things as well (like my athletic focused nutrition) that feeds me appropriately.

    In 2005 I set up two event series, Designer Breakfasts (with the brilliant Amanda Tatham) and at abrahams with Claire Curtice publicists. Designer Breakfasts puts me in touch with my peers and we curate the (almost) monthly events at the Design Museum, around annual themes that interest me – ‘designers tell the truth’, ‘making waves’ and in 2013, ‘collaboration’. I have the chance to fill my head with ideas, generously shared by my peers, specifically for my professional activities.

    Designer Breakfasts – learning from my peers



    The at abrahams events were a roving series, about three times a year, where a bunch of interesting people from the arts, science and business were invited to respond to things like, ‘what is good?’, ‘back to the future’ and ‘against the grain’…  It is fascinating how people from wildly different disciplines respond – really not what you’d expect. And that ‘eye (mind) opening’ is something we lack in our silo based industries where we share education, heroes, opinions and angst!

    at abrahams – Learning from creatives from other disciplines is even better

    at abrahams 1

    at abrahams 2

    at abrahams 3

    at abrahams 4

    3. Training This is the stuff I do to improve the output. In my studio since 1998 we’ve been making artist books as self directed projects. They are a series of creative exercises done on my own or with my team and invited others within my particular genre (or ‘ism’) that we call alphanumerism (The use of letters or numbers to explore and investigate).

    artists books 1

    A-Z 2000 – it was part of a group show called ‘Inside Cover’ for the millenium that toured the world for seven years!

    artists books 2

    A-Z 2003, 2004, 2005

    artists books 3

    One to One Hundred 2013

    artists books 4

    Optimist / Pessimist 2007

    Twenty Six Alphabets 2010-date


    artists books 6

    artists books 7



    artists books 12

    artists books 11

    So the theory is really simple.  Talent + nutrition + training = PB

    The practice, however, is hard – it requires serious dedication, you have to be selfish-making you unpopular, there will be dark days, but wait until you get there. I am addicted to the pleasure of creating. I’ve gone over to the dark side (though it’s really the multi-coloured side). Moholy Nagy said, “design is not a profession, it’s an attitude”, I completely agree. I say that creativity is a way of lfe.

    We have our choices, and I’ve made mine.


    Thank you Mike for generously sharing your pearls of wisdom. See you all Thursday!