The Constraint of Examples

(From Contagious’ Georgia Malden)

Dr Anna Abraham (reader in psychology at Leeds Beckett University in the UK) discussed a bias that she called ‘the constraint of examples’. This is the notion that if you show people examples that are very salient to the problem at hand it imposes huge limitations on their ability to generate new solutions. This is based on an experiment conducted by a team of cognitive psychologists of creativity in the 1990s. They asked two groups to come up with ideas for a toy that had never existed before. To one group they showed ‘inspiration’ examples of toys other people had come up with; to the other they showed no examples. Lo and behold, the group that had seen the examples came up with ideas that shared many similarities to what they’d seen; while the group that hadn’t seen the examples came up with more innovative toy ideas.

The results of the experiment felt all too familiar. Have you ever been in an ‘ideation’ workshop where the ideas generated bear a remarkable resemblance to some of the inspiration material just shown, however much people are encouraged to ‘think wide’? (By the way, according to the same toy experiment, asking people to ‘think wide’ has no effect whatsoever.)

Dr Abraham explained in the podcast (check it out here, from about 20 minutes in) that there are two key factors at play when it comes to creativity – novelty and usefulness. That is: the generation of original ideas, and the selection of the most useful idea based on past experience or memory. For something to be creative, it can’t just be new, it also needs to have practical value. These two processes are not linear, nor present in different hemispheres of the brain (the old left-brain, right-brain theory) but they are constantly interacting.

The problem is that the usefulness route offers the path of least resistance. The easiest way to come up with a solution is to draw on the most applicable known precedents, particularly from recent memory. But if you do that, you’re not going to come up with anything new. Meanwhile the novelty function requires what Abraham calls ‘conceptual expansion’ – the ability to broaden the parameters of what you think is relevant.

The good news is that you can help people do this by juxtaposing or connecting previously unlinked or loosely related concepts in a new way. I.e. use examples, but make sure they come from tangential and seemingly unrelated categories to start making connections people might not previously have thought of. This is not miles away from the combination or recombination theory of creativity, which argues that new ideas are really the product of combining or remixing other ideas (see for example Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From and William Duggan, Creative Strategy).

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Topshop 2014-15

Or what I have done on this past year…

Won some awards:

Topshop x Instagram, London Fashion Week SS15.
Topshop’s positioning is “democratisation of fashion”; all very well ten years ago, but digital and has truly overtaken – or allowed – that positioning to come to life. We partnered with Instagram and every hash-tagged image relevant to our account was embedded to be a part of our Runway video. Each pixel was an image from our Instagram community. Fans could view their images as the video played out by motion-capture technology in store windows.

See what PSFK had to say about it here

This won an award – Draper’s “Best Use of Innovation” 2015

Topshop x Twitter, London Fashion Week AW15.
Twitter is where the conversation happens at London Fashion Week, but why limit our fans’ insight with tweets just about our show? We listened to a select group of 200 fashion-world Twitter users and pooled their trend reports from all the shows. Rather than have them talk about trends that won’t be available for another 6months or more, we translated this data into products available in stores now. Tomorrow’s fashion, today. We then shared the ahead-of-the-trend items on mobile, online and on digital billboards all within a 10min walk of a Topshop store, across the UK.

See what others had to say – Marketing Magazine, The Drum, Ocean Outdoor

This has won a number of awards – Clio’s “Digital and Social” Grand Prix, and Clio’s “Out of Home” Winner

Launched some stores:
A new flagship in NYC, Topshop’s first foray into mainland China with e-comm partner ShangPin, the first owned (not franchise) store in Europe and many more stores across the world.

Met some fashion icons:
Launched the second collection of “Kate Moss for Topshop” and launched the first ever solus model campaign, featuring Cara Delevigne.

Generally had a good time!

…but no time to have posted anything this past year, sorry!

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Middle East and North African Dubstep, Metal, Two-Step and Ambient

Koudede by Alice Mutasa Photograph: Alice Mutasa/

Essential listening and passionate writing from The Quietus, on The Guardian for the Playlist series.

Learning a lot, and definitely getting my head-nod on to this.



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Google Maps – You’re a Wreck!!!

Google Maps UnderwaterGoogle Maps still has the ability to surprise and reward those who are prepared to explore – above ground or underwater. That’s great web-design, content and conversation strategy. A literal “deep dive” for the seriously engaged.

See what (and who!) you can find by clicking this link,-82.624532&spn=0.18,0.3&cbll=26.551294,-82.624532&layer=c&panoid=OfNKVnUILnUAAAGuvUsr7A&cbp=,91.29,,0,-0.0&output=classic

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Hungry? In Shanghai? Read this!

Chinese, Russian and Ethiopian restaurants have been reviewed by me on another site that I write for, The Trainee Chef. More to come from this new venture!

Read my review below of the best “Chinese” restaurants in Shanghai, or click the link

Read More »

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Hungry? Read this! (Samarqand)

Chinese, Russian and Ethiopian restaurants have been reviewed by me on another site that I write for, The Trainee Chef. More to come from this new venture!

Read them below, or click the link for Samarqand.

Read More »

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Youth Subcultures: What Are They Now?

Seapunks, Psychobillies, Haul Girls, Chav Hipster, Bronies, Normcore, and more. Today’s youth movements are a little more blurred, surprising, fast-changing, knowing and irony-fuelled than they were yesterday.

Alexis Petridis at The Guardian has a go at trying to label the unlabellable. Read below, or click here.

Read More »

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Generation whY. As in: Why Can’t I Have It All, Now?

From The Guardian’s Pass Notes series:

In a nutshell, baby boomers are wealthy and selfish. Generation Xers are disappointed and cynical. And millennials – that’s you – are whiny and entitled.

You want the latest phone and you want the best job, even if you haven’t earned it. You think you’re special, even though it’s painfully obvious to the rest of the world that you’re just as mediocre as everyone else. Your life is a mess of unrealistic expectations.

…And The University of New Hampshire did a study and found that all your impossible expectations make you horrible employees.


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Best Actress Ever

Matthew Frost has directed a series of knowing, funny, observational and in some places insightful films, for Vogue and others. About celebrity, beauty, fashion, fragility, absurdity, irony and the arts.

Here are some of them:

FASHION FILM from Matthew Frost on Vimeo.

BEST ACTRESS OF ALL TIME from Matthew Frost on Vimeo.

SLOW MOTION from Matthew Frost on Vimeo.

EDIT: Relatedly, you should also watch Vogue’s 73 Questions for Sarah Jessica Parker – don’t judge before you’ve seen it. You might be surprised!

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Physical Retail Matters More Than E-Commerce, in a Digital World

Business of Fashion published an Op Ed by Ari Bloom of A2B Ventures on the importance of physical retail vs e-commerce, despite us being in a digital age.

…While Emarketer predicts that e-commerce in the apparel and accessories market will grow at an astounding 17.2 percent annually between now and 2017, one would be hard-pressed to find reliable projections that show offline sales accounting for less than 75 percent of total apparel and accessories sales for the foreseeable future.

Fashion, especially at a higher price point and in its broadest sense, is an industry that relies on brand experience and “value for money” (not actual cost, but the value exchange). Brands are more than just the products they sell, they are the reason people are prepared to pay more for one than another, to collect and covet, to spend time and money. And though e-tail and digital presence have improved significantly over recent years (slower than in other industries, I hasten to add) the experience in store still offers the ultimate experience of the brand and emotional sell necessary.  That’s the “value”, rather than the actual amount of money being spent – not to mention the immediate gratification.

But considering any of your marketing and sales channels in isolation from each other is a mistake – immediate store sales and branded bags prompt other purchasers to act, being an advertising medium in themselves. And digital is increasingly part of the sales experience in store, as much as brands are seeing retail as experiential spaces not just sales locations. Hence emergence of stores like Burberry and their interactive changing rooms and music venue, 10 Corso Como and their bookshop and cafe spaces, or Louis Vuitton and their exhibitions and collections of modern art.

Ultimately, fashion brands, whether they are born online or offline, should harness and integrate the strengths of both channels to create a better consumer experience and build more effective businesses.

Read more at Business of Fashion.

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