Thursday, March 31, 2011

A short conversation with...Stephen Brander @stephenbrander

Stephen Brander

Stephen Brander is a good friend of mine. I met Stephen in 1987 at Mount Allison University in Sackville, NB. He was back then, and is now, one of the most creative people I know. He does not work at a school, nor is he involved with education. It’s very important to get perspectives from people who work outside of education so I decided to ask Stephen to participate in this interview series.

Stephen is the co-founder of Razor Creative ( , a boutique design, branding, advertising and marketing firm located in Moncton, New Brunswick. Stephen, along with co-founder Rich Gould, believe that in today’s cluttered and noisy world, in order to get noticed and connect with the intended eyes, ears, minds and hearts of consumers, you have to Cut through™. That is their mission statement, philosophy, and guiding principle in everything they do.

1. Why did you start your own company?
I had been working at a large agency and felt I had grown about as much as I could within the organization. I was looking for new creative and other challenges in my life. I was tired of the bureaucracy of the organization and felt I could be more creative and do better work out on own own, dealing directly with the customer. The wrong structure can kill creativity.

2. I once described your company as an Ad Agency and you corrected me. You said, “we are in the business of ideas.” Can you expand on that?

Ad agency tends to be a bit of a catch all term that people understand. While we fit the mould somewhat, really clients come to us for the most part for our thinking. You can hire lots of different organizations to design a logo, create a website or write some radio spots, but if you want to truly cut through the media clutter, it requires a deeper understanding and brain power to create something never seen before and that will resonate with the target audience.

3. Can you share a few thoughts on the role creativity should play in public schooling?

I have two young children in the public school system with a third starting in September and I really don’t see much creativity at all. Just the opposite in fact. I think the thing that strikes me is the “good enough” attitude that I see.

That’s “good enough” to pass ... you know the work “good enough” ...the effort put forward is “good enough”. A “good enough” mentality for students and teachers create outcomes that unfortunately are not “good enough”. How does that prepare students for anything?

Students should be encouraged to go beyond expectations and be taught that there is more than one way to solve problems. I think students should be applauded for trying new ways to solve problems... to use more creative thinking. Being able to assess a problem and think of different ways to solve it is way more important a skill than knowing an answer. No one has ever changed the world (or their world) by doing things the way they have always been done.

Creativity in the class room can inspire, motivate and engage students. It seems like young people are wildly creative, but once they go to school it is slowly drained from them. That is sad.

The beauty of creativity is that it does not cost a thing. It can be as simple as thinking about things a little different. Instead of saying “write about the book you just read” ... say: “How would a man from Mars perceive this book”, or “write the review as if you were Justin Bieber, Steve Jobs, Oprah, their mother, a cave man...”

Creativity introduces fun into a process and stretches the mind. There is too much “colouring between” the lines at schools. How about practice your multiplication by talking like a pirate, have students create a code -- and then use that code to answer questions.

Silly? Maybe. Memorable. Absolutely. As a parent I’d love for my children to come home and tell me a creative way they learned something. After all, the best way to learn is not to realize you are being taught.

4. Who has had the biggest influence on you as an “idea man?”

Alfred E. Newman.

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