Hi, my name is Ian Flynn. I’m the Head of Creative Solutions. I’m going to talk to you all about how mindfulness helps me be a better marketer. So, I’m going to tell you a story, I’m going to tell you a story about my experience with mindfulness. How it’s helped me in my life, and how it’s helped me in my career and being a marketer. Hopefully it can help you guys too.
Beforehand, I’m going to talk to you about what mindfulness is. Some people might have heard of it already, and it usually goes into these two categories: it usually goes into hipsters, or buddhas. For me, doing mindfulness isn’t about being cool, it isn’t about being spiritual, for me it’s literally optimising the way I think.
Let me define it a little bit more. Mindfulness, from the external perspective, is being aware of the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of the present moment. So, it’s really checking into your senses and understanding what’s happening right here and right now, noticing exactly what’s happening right this second.
Internal is having awareness of our own thoughts and feelings as they happen moment-to-moment. It’s using the same kind of thinking behind the fact that it is moment-to-moment, it’s very present, but you’re actually doing it within yourself. So, understanding when thoughts appear and when they leave. Naming these thoughts. I know we’ve all been when we’ve got deadlines to meet and we’ve got too much work on and so forth. Instead of getting caught up in those emotions, it’s understanding that okay that’s me just feeling anxious. It’s actually stepping back from that a little bit and getting a sense of clarity that these thoughts they just come and they go.
What does it involve? Like I said, it’s like noticing the present moment. It’s really being here and now as opposed to past and future. It’s trying to experience new things, so it’s, I guess, the antithesis of mindfulness is being on autopilot. Again, we’ve all probably been there in life where we’re just going about our days of getting up at the same time, going to work, eating the same food, coming home. We’ve all been there. It’s fine, nothing wrong with it, but it’s not really living life to its entirety. This usually partners with mindfulness really well.
It’s reconnecting your body and mind. I know I’ve heard a few times, we’ve had days where we’ve lived in our own heads and our body’s just been a transporter for our brain. Mindfulness helps you reconnect everything in one place, so you’re understanding that it’s not just about your brain, it’s not just about your thoughts, it’s about everything. It’s about living in the present moment.
It does involve meditation. It’s not essential. I know when you think of meditation you think of lotus position and that kind of stuff. For me, the reason why I think meditation is important with it because it allows you to take 10 minutes out, however many times out, and really notice what’s happening inside and outside.
As I say, it’s not essential. You can do it at any time. You can do it while going for a walk. You can do it on a lunch break. Really pay attention to the food that you’re eating. It can last 30 seconds, it can last 30 minutes. There’s no real rules to it. It’s just constantly checking in, and it’s trying to get that within the way you live on a day-to-day basis.
The reason why I don’t think it’s a fad, I don’t think it’s something that is going to come and go is because there’s quite significant evidence that mindfulness can literally reshape your neuro pathways. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but brains have that neuro plasticity where they can adjust and move and change. It’s an adaptive thing that happens constantly. Constantly practising mindfulness, like constantly going to the gym, actually affects your brain in different ways. It can actually strengthen your brain in certain ways.
I’m going to tell you how that’s happened with me over the past 10 years or so. Let’s start from the beginning. I was a big Power Rangers fan, still am sort of, but when I was about eight years old I was obsessed with them. Me and my cousin used to do play fights out in the garden. I used to be the blue one, I don’t know why, he was the kind of nerdy one, I should have gone for the red one, but I loved the idea of being a hero and beating the bad guys and trying to be the good guy and all that.
Thankfully, I grew out of it and got into football, about 10/11. That’s me with ridiculous ginger curtains and I don’t why I adopted those, but that’s us, Crawley town FC, beating Three Bridges to get the knock out cup I think. One of my proudest moments in my life. I think that there’s more since that, but at the time it was pretty proud.
I got rid of the ginger curtains, thankfully. Found girls as a result and I found skateboarding. I was a bit of a delinquent for about three or four years and, as we all are I guess when we’re in our teenage-hood. I then found music, which I still do to this day, I think as you guys know. I then studied politics in A levels and then graphic design and product design within A levels as well. Then got a degree in graphic media.
I went to University, as everybody else does, but ended up with a degree. At that point, I felt like I was ready to conquer the world. I think I had everything lined up. I had all my qualifications in place, had a real understanding of what I wanted to do for a living, and I had a kind of thirst to try and change the world for the better. Because of the politics that I’d been studying, I realised that everyone was doing it wrong and I could a lot better, so now I’m going to do it and just show what it’s all about.
I got a job, luckily, after University. It was just three of us in a publishing company in Tunbridge Wells. The first couple of years was going well. I was learning my trade, learning how things worked in business. Then it got to a point with publishing where, as we all know I think we’ve all, some of us have discovered as well, where it started to take a decline because of the growth in digital. I saw redundancies happening around me. I saw, one of our biggest clients actually left to go in-house to try and save money. As a result, it really hit us as very small team, so we ended up getting bought out by another client of ours, which is struck quite odd getting bought out by a client, but we got bought out by a client and we moved to Hammersmith.
There was no increase in my salary at this point. I was going from about a four hours’ a day commute and I’d just got my mortgage with my wife for my first house. Yeah, it started to get a little bit ropey because I was getting the mortgage and I was leaking money. Literally leaking money, and actually made me quite poorly. I had bouts of anxiety and panic attacks and had to do something about it. It was part me and part of a lot of other people within that generation, it’s still happening now, where anxiety and depression take over because there’s so much expectation to try and change the world and to try and make a difference in that sense.
I really felt that and I felt like I had all these expectations to do something and then got hit quite immediately with the reality of life. The NHS really wasn’t adapted to mental health, it’s a lot more now, so what I had to do was I had to find my inner Power Ranger, the blue one over there, and I had to find…I found mindfulness and I found lots of books and so forth and started practising it.
What I did, with mindfulness, is I started … It was really difficult at first, I’m not going to lie, it was really difficult. It took me a long time to retrain my brain to start thinking differently. because I was worrying a lot about things. Worrying about what job I was going to get and if I was going to afford the mortgage, all this kind of stuff. But wasn’t really noticing about the present and about now. It took me a good couple of years to really start to understand the benefits of it and to start to see things in a lot clearer way and I ended up being a lot more calmer in the way I was dealing with things.
Back to the subject matter, the fact that we’re marketers and something that we can all connect with, is how did mindfulness help me? Well, how does it help me be a better marketer?
Firstly, it’s all the inspiration I needed was right there in front of me. I think we can all, we’re all familiar with forecasting and projections and targets and numbers and all this kind of stuff, which is absolutely essential to marketing. It will never change. It’s something that’s part of marketing. But it wasn’t the be all and end all. It’s not about what’s going to happen now and what’s going to happen then. It’s about what what’s happening right now.
The inspiration I needed was right there in front of me, actually paying attention to things, paying attention to how people acted, how people behaved, what cultural shifts were happening. That is what it was about and actually me noticing that in the present was all the research I needed. Good example of this is one of my heroes, John Lasseter who’s the Chief Creative Officer of Pixar. And one of his big things, he’s massive on R&D – research and development – and what he does is he spends about a year before every film to really understand the subject matter of what they’re trying to animate for. He’ll get his team to really immerse themselves in certain subjects. He does this with his directors. Brad Bird was one for Ratatouille, and what they did is they actually got a rat into their offices for an amount of time and studied it. Studied how it interacted, how it behaved and that really spawned how Remi acted as a character.
Similarly, they took some of his animators to France and they went to kitchens and they studied the chefs, how they behaved, how they looked. Studied the kitchen, studied the sewers, studied the meals, everything and you can start to see that there’s a degree of authenticity with this animation because they felt it and they were there first hand to see it. They actually interviewed a top chef with the best meal that they’ve ever had, and this top chef was choked up about how lovely it was and got quite emotional. That actually spawned the narrative for Ratatouille and they managed to convey that within the storyline. They would never have done that if they didn’t consciously try and pay attention to these experiences.
So, what does mindfulness do? Two bits, the amygdala, which some people might be familiar with, is the reptilian part of your brain. I know some of you might have read the Chimp Paradox. It’s that inner chimp that acts on fight or flight mentality, so when you’re feeling fearful or when you’re feeling anxious or whatever, it’s that instant reaction of trying to protect yourself.
When you do mindfulness, that section of the brain actually shrinks, physically shrinks. The pre-frontal cortex, which is the most evolved part of the human brain, deals with a lot more human based things, so rationality, creative problem solving, strategising, hypothesising, visions, all that kind of stuff, imagination, empathy, all the things that you could class as things that are original to humans happen within this section. Lo and behold, when you do mindfulness over time this increases.
The things that I just listed off there, especially strategising, hypothesising, problem solving, massive, massive part of marketing for me. I think without realising, we’re not doing it with that aim, I think me practising mindfulness allows me to do those things with a little bit more clarity. I touched on empathy just a minute ago, but good marketing is about empathising. I’ve said this a few times before. It’s about understanding what people want right here right now, within the current culture. What materials they want, what social requirements they need, anything, there’s so much to it. It’s understanding how we can empathise with these people and how we can make a difference to the communications between them.
I guess that’s it. That’s my story of mindfulness and how it’s helped me and helped my career. I guess for me it’s trying to encourage you all to maybe just give it a go. It doesn’t have to be meditation, but just think about it next time you catch yourself getting caught up in really worrying about this deadline or something, just catch yourself. That’s half the battle. If you catch yourself doing it, it actually allows you, it empowers you to then start thinking about the present and start being a lot more effective as a marketer.
If you’re interested in it, I’ve got lots of books that I’ve read that are super good. Mindfulness is the first one I read. Creativity Inc is about Pixar and Mindsight talks about the neurological side of things if you’re interested in the science, so come speak to me. That’s it.