The Brain Tap Series: Interview 6 – Dave Birss

I’m having such a lot of fun getting these brilliant thoughts from brilliant people through this interview series. Dave Birss is the Creative Director of Poke London, a company I’ve heard interesting stuff about right from the beginning, and I mean that in a good way. Read the ‘About’ section of his blog to find out more about his personality, as it were. I like the way you can figure out the essence of the man from it!!

The interview:

1. What is the most interesting job you’ve ever held and what lessons did you learn from it that you’ve been able to apply to what you do now?

I’ve had so many jobs in my life, it’s hard to choose. I don’t know if it’s my most interesting job but I learned a lot about creativity when I worked as a musician many years ago. Some of these lessons would be:

– Subtractionism
Keep removing stuff until you can’t remove any more. Then you have the pure essence of your idea.

– Humility
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be arrogant to be successful. Passion and talent are far more important. And welcoming criticism will help you grow and learn.

– Polish
What differentiates the good from the great is the amount of effort that’s put in after the idea. Coming up with the idea is the fun bit – but it’s the work that goes into honing it that makes it stand out.

– Realism
All that passion you put in, those strokes of genius, the late nights, the pain – nobody gives a shit. Deal with it.

2. Does creativity=innovation, according to you? What companies/brands can claim to be really innovative and creative today?

In one of my former careers, I lectured in trend forecasting (another of my many jobs) so I’ll take this opportunity to share one of my hokey theories.

‘True’ innovation would be creating something hitherto unseen by the human race. Something so totally fresh that nobody has thought of it before. That’s a big ask. It happens – but it’s unlikely to be embraced and change the world. For an idea to be adopted it needs to have some level of familiarity for the audience. So, as an example, here’s how the telephone evolved:

– Ships used to have speaking-tubes that they could talk down to connect the captain with the engine room. The idea of remote conversation was born out of a simple necessity.

– The speaking-tube was then adopted by many homes and offices. There was still no technology involved here at all.

– The telephone took this idea further by using electricity to transfer the sound. This was a box fitted to a wall with a bit to talk into and a bit to put up to your ear. And the distances involved could be far greater.

– This developed into a smaller device that you could move around thanks to wires. The mouthpiece and earpiece were now put together in the familiar handset arrangement.

– Then someone invented the cordless telephone.

– Then the mobile phone arrived so that you could take your conversation with you wherever you went.

As you can see, this was an evolution. You couldn’t jump straight to the mobile without the preceding steps. Not because of technological reasons – but because people needed the familiar overlap of each stage of the process to get them there.

Lecture over.

So – with that in mind – the company I’d like to pick is one that has taken a great evolutionary step. They’re called Zopa ( And the wonderful step they’ve taken is to offer banking services without being a bank. They are a social bank where everyday people lend money and other people borrow it. And the rates are better for everyone. The modern entrepreneur will see an opportunity in an existing market and create something new to fill it.

This is something I’m very interested in. As well as being Creative Director at Poke, I’m also one of the founders of And the big thought behind that is to give independent shops more power by bringing them together and offering them the benefits that are usually only available to massive chainstores – marketing, buying power, training, community and more.
It’s not necessarily about reinventing – more about rethinking.

3. What is the one ad campaign or event that made you take two steps back and go ‘Wow!’ and why?

I suppose the big freeze in Grand Central Station was one of the things that really impressed me this year:

It’s such a simple and beautiful idea. I hadn’t really been that impressed with flash mobby stuff in the past but this one left me moist eyed and slack jawed. And like all good and original events it’s inspired numerous copies. I know of two versions of it in London and a couple of days ago I saw a very similar stunt for the new M. Night Shyamalan film, The Happening:

It seems that the future of creativity isn’t about coming up with great headlines and visuals – it’s about creating a meme. And that requires much bigger thinking and much braver clients.


Dave, I really appreciate your time. This has been great. To my wonderful readers, thanks for dropping by. Let me know what you think!

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