Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Students: The key to success is failure

Quality over quantity.

That's what we believe to be true and what we're taught from a young age. Try and get it right first time, no mistakes. Oh, and if you do fail, well, it's probably not meant for you so try something else. Something different.

The truth is you can't get to quality without quantity. Sure, quality is the destination but the journey to quality is filled with wrong turns & dead ends; with flat tyres and steep hills; with speed checks and red lights.

You could take the safest route to get to quality, but that's the route everyone takes. So now you're stuck in traffic, bumper to bumper for miles & miles, waiting in line to reach your destination. Along with everyone else.

Or, you can turn off your GPS, put away the road map & ignore the directions and just drive. You might get lost or end up at a different destination entirely, but there won't be any traffic on your road. No speed checks or red lights, just a series of dead ends and wrong turns. That's the beauty about the journey though, you can turn round & find a new road.

We say quantity over quality. Get lost, fail, make mistakes. That's real learning.

For those who don't know what White Headphones is all about, we've put a series of nifty little posters for you to peruse below;


Ilfracombe, North Devon is a sunny, stunning sea-side town inhabited mainly by seagulls and a group of young creative minds, ready to take the first ever White Headphones; be the difference creative workshop.

The Ilfracombe academy, specialist art school & sixth form sits atop a high-reaching hillside, overlooking the sea. It is higher education in the most literal sense. And this is where our journey begins.

White Headphones is about looking at what's around you, seeing your competition and finding a way to be the difference; to be heard in an overcrowded marketplace; to stand out against the other 90% of like-minded people.

Our version of events.
The day starts with loud music blaring from an overhead projector. On the projector, runs a series of iPod ads, you know the ones, silhouettes of all ages & races dancing without a care in the world. The students walk in, dreary, as it is a Monday but on hearing the music they spring to life and start chatting away about the previous weekends events.

It begins.
Alvo (that's Gareth Alvarez teacher in charge of media) and Ad (that's Adam Playford creative/graphic designer for NBTY Europe) start the day with a series short stories. You can see these below;

"If you obey all the rules, you miss out on all the fun". Alvo (or Mr Alvarez) discusses this Katherine Hepburn quote with the students. 
Adam Playford talking Jobs and asking "Why is it better to be a Pirate than join the Navy?
Alvo introducing the students to the rules of Fight Club and why it's important to sometimes break the rules.
Please note, no children were harmed during this workshop.

Adam Playford using the story of mass producing Henry Ford's Model T car and telling students to look for inspiration outside of their comfort zones. 
Adam Playford (again, he doesn't half waffle) explaining why Thomas Edison didn't fail 10,000 times when inventing the light bulb.
We find that, at White Headphones, people learn better by doing so we dropped the lectures and jumped into some real quick, creative games for the students to participate in. They were more than happy to oblige.

30 Circles.
Students have one minute to fill the A3 sheet of 30 circles with illustrations; happy faces, sad faces, traffic lights, a snowman... Anything. Just go for broke.

This teaches the students something that all of us already had when we were children. We learn as we have grown, to "self edit," discard ideas and just stick to what's acceptable.

This is where we want students to "unlearn" what they've been taught, go for broke and push for quantity over quality. It's difficult to fill all 30 circles in one minute. Younger children can do it without breaking a sweat.

#BeTheDifference. One student didn't obey our rules and completed the task in seconds.
This is the kind of thinking that we like at White Headphones.
Tear-annosaurus Rex.
We asked the students to take a piece of A4 paper, place it behind and their back, and gave them one minute to fold & tear it to resemble a dinosaur.

The results were horrific. Just as we anticipated. The idea here is to embarrass everyone by allowing them to fail. Once embarrassment is out of the way the real fun, creativity and sharing of ideas can begin.

Sticky Tape vs. Blu Tac
Once the activities started, you could sense a real buzz around the room. What better time then to get these students competing. We split the students into two groups, gave one group sticky tape and the other blu tac. The brief; promote your product over your competition's.

Both ideas were pitched back to Alvo & there was some great thinking behind the ideas.

When two things do the same job, how do you differentiate?
OMG it's OMB
We were privileged to have a helping hand from none other than Nick Entwhistle & James Clancy of McCann Manchester and the ever popular @OneMinuteBriefs on Twitter.

The guys were kind enough to prepare a short video telling the students what OMB is all about, how to do a One Minute Brief and how to become an OMBle.

Coming to you live from McCann Manchester...
The next task was a simple one. Identify your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Then use those to pair up with another student and create your own creative team.

The catch here though was that not only were the guys asked to team up, they were asked to promote themselves on Twitter and go head to head against the OMBles in several One Minute Briefs. The students work and ideas would be seen by up to 5000 followers from all walks of the creative industry. What followed was an on line collaborative cooking pot of ideas, advice and encouragement that the students simply could not get enough of.

Brief after brief, the teams delivered fresh ideas on tight timescales. One of the creative teams (Sam Squared) even won an OMB the same day. It was a great effort by all and an important learning curve for the students. Teaching them that ideas, ALL ideas, are worth sharing.

@SquaredSam winning idea for #advertise #aftersun
The big one
All of the students work was set in preparation for the afternoon brief. The big one. Promote your sixth form to increase the number of applicants for next year.

The students had around two hours to create their campaign and had to come back to explain it to the rest of the group, Alvo and Ad.

The campaigns, ranging from poster ads to a full blown mascot themed video were so creative & so simple that we honestly could not pick a winner. In fact, we've asked these ideas be presented to the head mistress of the school as they will undoubtedly lead to attracting more like minded, fresh, creative thinkers just like the students we were with on the day.

You can see more about the White Headphones creative workshop on the schools website

If you are interested in White Headphones coming to you, or perhaps you're a fellow creative who wants to get involved, then get in touch with us here;

"Being wrong and making mistakes, brings you one step closer to the right answer."


  1. I like the idea of having a place where kids don't have to be afraid to try and fail...and fail again. Instilling this attitude will lead to fearless creators not afraid to share their ideas whatever they may be.

    Looks like the kids got put through their paces and came out better for it.

    1. That's the essence of our workshop. Things like syllabus in education or budget restraints & sign off processes can hamstring creative thinking because, if you get it wrong, you're punished in some way. So we wanted to create a safe haven for creative thinking that encourages mistakes which lead to better ideas & solutions. Thanks for the comment Trev.