Anna Wintour On Creativity: Constantly Redefine Your Comfort Zone

  • by , Staff Writer, June 21, 2016, 8:45 AM

    CANNES, FRANCE — Creativity is often challenged in an era of 24-hour, fast-churning digital production cycle. Yet digital presents opportunity to reach new audiences and tell more in-depth stories, said Anna Wintour, artistic director, Conde Nast during a Tuesday session the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.  

    There’s more access than ever with too much information battling for distracted audiences, says Wintour. “But how to address this? How to engage audiences and keep work relevant and original. [It’s] part of puzzle we all are trying to solve.” 

    Conde Nast is thinking – or stressing – about this disruption a lot, says Wintour. How does Conde Nast battle Buzzfeed-worthy click baits like 10 surprising facts about Donald Trump’s hair, she asks. 

    “All questions have the same answer,” she says. “The artistic director helps find the way in the digital age. Not just surviving. Not twisting tastes around search engine algorithms or Facebook. It is old hat.” She advises people push to do something new and take it past where they have been. “Stay nimble and make mistakes.” 

    Wintour offers four lessons in maintaining creativity in today’s digital world. First, she recommends people be unafraid to take risks on big challenging stuff. Too many have given up on digital audiences by catering to the bottom feeders, she says. “They invest less time for unpolished and unoriginal content. Then they are surprised when audiences are distracted?” she asks.  

    As a result, many at Conde Nast are experimenting with “shooting for the moon.” The New Yorker, for instance, published a 25,000-word expose on Scientology when many claimed people don’t read long articles anymore. Not only was the article the most read piece via its website in 2011, the article expanded to become an award-winning documentary and best-selling book. The company’s ethos is to publish stories with immediate interest, but lasting significance. You “can’t cut your way to creativity,” she says.  

    Second, Wintour challenges people to dare to be different. In fashion, advertising and journalism, there’s constant pressure for volume, she says. Rather, she believes people need to stay true to themselves. To that end, hermits aren’t really a hot topic, but GQ published an article about hermits that the author had been chasing for several years. On paper, this story did not seem like it would resonate or be successful, yet it turned into one of its most popular stories. Personal experiences, sincerity, and emotionally-driven stories connect audiences, she says. 

    Third, it’s critical to chase after your goals and constantly redefine your comfort zone. Vogue recently experienced a security breach where hackers published untouched images featuring model Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik that were scheduled to be printed in Vogue‘s May issue. The fashion magazine then went against its usual practice and released the images to beat gossip sites. “The leak did more good than harm,” she says. It forced us to share and built up a bigger audience. Learn from what you have done, not in spite of it.” 

    Fourth, Wintour wants people to make interesting friends. It’s obvious, she says, but people spend too much time in offices and on their devices. Wintour retells how Ryan Seacrest continues to wake up at 5 a.m. for his radio show since, as he told her, “’interaction with people on a daily basis makes me better.’”  

    Wintour realizes that disrupting the status quo isn’t easy. “Try what hasn’t been tried before than what has worked,” she says. “Being true to your vision takes great confidence.”

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