Friday, November 7, 2008

Shanghai Trip - Day 12 - Break the Rules ..Dammit

I had the chance to be a part of a Brainstorming session today. We were a group of 30 people gathered from various fields, marketing, sales, advertising, public relations and what not. We were supposed to come up with ideas for the latest campaign to be run for the brand that i was working with. After the brief, we were divided in four groups of equal size. The experience in the group was really different

I have done brainstorming before but that was always with either friends or office people who were all INDIAN, and I had no realization that it would matter so much. Here, everybody in my group was Chinese except me. Well what does that mean. It unfolds slowly. So the first thing the moderator of the group do is make a timetable of our target consumer like 8:00 am - wake up, 12:00 noon lunch 6:00 pm - free time and so on. I kept watching. It was amazing to see how the entire group agreed to the timetable. I resented and said that how can all people have same timetables. I have a different one, because i don't wake up so early and don't work seriously everyday. I play, I scream, I shout, I listen to music, I do lots of crazy things, which is nowhere reflected in the plan. The audience had a puzzled look as if asking me , "Why the hell do you do things that are crazy?" I decided to shut up. The discussion went on and some of the basic marketing book ideas came up like organize an educational lecture and sponsor an event, and then i came up with an idea of having a cartoon character for the brand. Everyone laughed. Okay !!! I know cartoons are suppsoed to be funny but the laugh intended something else. They reacted, why would you have a cartoon character, that's so weird. I felt like screaming and saying - that's the whole point guys, it's weird and so people will notice. Puzzled look again. Twice.

Then it came down finalizing the plan and the moderator nicely organized it on a yearly calendar. Now this was the limit, how could he have decided that the group was convinced about the ideas and that it shall fit certain months of the calendar. And, hello, where is the cartoon idea? Why did he not put it. Because he didn't feel it would work. might not work, but it is a brainstorming and the brief said that all ideas are welcomed, nothing shall be discarded at this stage. But, the group gave me puzzled look the third time. I finally succumbed and kept thinking why this was happening.

Now I know what communism can do. It puts you under rules, so many rules that you forget thinking. I was reminded of a Charlie Chaplin movie in which he played a Factory worker and all that he did was tightened screws at regular intervals on some device. The routine had caused him such bad habit that his hands kept twisting after regular intervals even when he was off from work. But that movie was supposed to be a satire on capitalism. But here i was witnessing just opposite of Capitalism - it was communism, where everything belongs to everybody and each one according to his ability gets what he deserves. This is supposed to embark equality. But somehow the Chinese leaders got it all wrong. Rather than communism, they implemented something which, badly put can be called state capitalism. A system where no one owned anything and all was decided buy the government. There were rules. Rules of going to school, of choosing your profession and of getting married. And also on the number of children you could produce. I don't know if there was also a rule on how many times you could have sex with your spouse. And when you had chosen a career or a spouse, there was no way to change anything. Your life was decided till your last breath.

All this has percolated down the psyche so heavily that the moment you ask a chinese to think freely, s/he gives you perplexed look. Creativity has got limited to making a few paintings and staging few theaters. Even the sports that Chinese excel in are games of pefection - Gymnastics and all. No one seems to play football, or baseball or cricket or anything that is crazy, where you shout and you cheer and you go nuts... Going nuts...i am sure no mandarin translation would be available to it.

I felt choked. I wanted to shake them all and say. Think out of the box, guys. Think something which is not obvious. Think creative. GO CRAZY !!!. But then i realized our target consumer was also the same chinese who would get puzzled if s/he saw something crazy. They are so used to see all those government TV channels - it is called CCTV and has numerous channels all of which remind of the doordarshan days when even if a hero said "kameene" to the villain, the voice was silenced. I was puzzled, more puzzled than the looks I got. I thought to myself, how is possible that such rule-abiding people could create something like the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Financial Center (also called the Bottle-opener, coz of its shape). These are some of the most awe-striking buildings with unmatched architecture.

And then I turned to the mighty Google to dig for answers. I was amazed. Except for the Oriental Pearl Tower, the other famous skycrapers of Shanghai like the Jin Mao tower or the bottle opener were designed by foreigners. I don't say that I am not appreciative of the Chinese. They are very hardworking, undoubtedly and any job assigned to them will get finished on time and exactly how you would define in the brief. But if you leave them to think and come up with something new that is cool, you can see the puzzled look. I can relate to it because even in the society that we were brought up, this was something that was highly professed. But India is a changed country now. People think and they think crazy. Look atthe innumerable websites and the innumerable companies that have opened in the last ten years and you would know what i am saying. China has changed too, but not to the core.

I think, one thing that Chinese need to realize (something that Indians have realized it way too much ) is that Break the Rules. Remember the rules were made by someone like you and me and he has as much brains as we have and as much guts and balls that we have. So why listen to some old crazy guy who taught you that to paint you should first draw a rough sketch. No...just pick up the brush..put it in the color pot and swooosh..strike the paper whichever way you feel like...a beautiful picture will come out naturally...and even if it is not shall be FREE....

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