Creativity in an AI World: Cam Brandow (farfar)

Creativity in an AI World: Cam Brandow (farfar)

Read insights from creative experts across a spectrum of disciplines, and discover how they're using generative AI as a supplement, not a substitute, for creativity.

Cam Brandow is a brand strategist who forges words into worlds. She lives in England and spends her days alternating between strategy freelancing, writing and public speaking. Moreover, she runs a creative studio together with her husband, and together they host a podcast for anyone curious about the creative process, relationship to craft, and the inner self.

Toby: What do you find exciting about generative AI?

Cam: I’m excited to see generative AI used as a sounding board and work assistant, speeding up some manual processes to free up time so we can focus intentionally on matters that need our attention.

On a grander scale, it has the potential to revolutionize life as we know it - and I’d be lying if I said it isn’t exciting (and frightening) to be a child of this time. It’s riveting to witness how we, the humans, people of power and influence, chose to confront, use, and control these new megatools. Right now, the debate on its potential vs. its threat is like a blockbuster movie where you don’t know who the crook, hero, or villain is. As a regular citizen I won’t pretend like I have an idea of the actual long-term impact: I’ll just eat my popcorn and hope it has a beautiful ending!

Toby: Nobody wants their role to be completely done by AI, but where do you think generative AI could help creatives in your agency get the most out of their creativity?

Cam: It’s no news that many of us work under hectic circumstances, and the pressure leaves people operating from an overwhelmed place, affecting our capacity to be creative. Ultimately, this is at the risk of harming the quality of our output. It's our job as creatives to protect the creative process so it can move freely and find those new expressions we all look for.

In this instance, generative AI can be of value as it can be an external brain for speeding up tasks you otherwise lose time on so you can focus on what is important; for example, understanding the brand’s actual needs and how to find relevant solutions and not shooting loose cannons left and right in the hopes something might stick.

I want to point out that I fundamentally believe that AI should not be another excuse to further speed up time but rather free up time to bring us back to balance.

Moreover, many freelancers and creatives work alone at home, especially after the pandemic. Here, AI can be a sounding board a colleague would otherwise be, but with faster turnarounds and fewer discussions.

Toby: Do you think generative AI needs regulation -

Cam: My short answer is absolutely. The longer answer is a can of worms, as the forces we are unleashing with AI are beyond my expertise. I have no choice but to blindly count on experts, governments, and their creators to set helpful boundaries and regulations to ensure we use these tools to improve the state of humanity and our world, which currently is seemingly on fire. It’s an interesting time to be alive as we are exploring uncharted territory and quite literally can’t keep up with ourselves or this new intelligence. We are experiencing its potential to propel us forward and its destructive nature in real time and learning to live in uncertainty.

Toby: - and how does that idea connect with creativity?

Cam: I believe that we, far away from the regulatory discussions and their potential impact, need to get curious about and creative with what this technology means to us on a deeper level and perhaps start regulating ourselves. Learning how to utilize and incorporate AI tools in our practices is one thing, but even more importantly, we must examine our innate value as humans.

Never before has human connection been more important, and if we turn inwards, ask the difficult questions, and reevaluate how we spend our time and energy, we have a lot to gain. Many feel a sense of disempowerment in the frantic AI discussions – it's too big, too complex, too fast, and too far away from our control to grasp or comprehend. I always encourage people to get back to the basics. To acknowledge the immense intelligence in your own beautiful supercomputer, to seek eye contact, put your feet in the soil, tap into your breath, pay attention to the information being fed to you in human interactions, to reconnect to where we came from and ask what future we want to envision. A few years ago, this would just sound like mumbo-jumbo. But as science is catching up with what philosophers, spiritual teachers, and new age ragtags have been talking about for centuries, we see that we have forgotten the potential of our own bodies and psyche. Your nervous system is the most powerful place to start, and it will have an immense impact on your creativity and capacity.

Toby: Although generative AI makes it easier and more accessible to be creative, do you think there’s a diluting effect on that creativity because of how accessible it is?

Cam: There is absolutely a risk of becoming complacent. A huge part of being creative is your relationship to your intuition and your craft – a skill you hone over many years and get better at through all the mistakes, trials, and successes.

With generative AI, we tend to leave open learning loops because we skip one or more steps on the journey. If you take creative writing, for example, it’s a lifelong wrestling match with words and ideas. Every day, you get into the ring and wrestle until you have a hold of what wants to be said in a clear grip. The next day, you show up again. And the more difficult your opponent is (the brief, subject, or idea), the harder you must work. Day after day.

Creative writing is a skill that requires practice, dedication, discipline, and grit. So, no wonder when an AI tool shows up and can do the job for us, we are tempted to hand it all over.

Using generative AI requires us to keep a close eye on our habits and truly examine our practices. Because if we aren’t careful, even though we might get faster results on a day-to-day basis, we get diminishing results in the long run and become easily replaceable.

There is so much joy and wisdom to be found in and around creative wrestling matches that go beyond a specific outcome or deadline. As a strategist, I believe the thinking behind an idea is equally important. Scratch that, it's even more important. There, you find the building blocks for continued evolution and development, both for the brand and the creatives, employees, and its organization. When we share our thinking, we not only get our ideas across clearly, but we also allow for a window in, through which we can constantly improve, generate new ideas, and deepen the abstract notion of what we are trying to achieve. It's hard to measure how we train that intuitive, creative muscle and how much knowledge we weave together throughout the process, but it is invaluable, nonetheless.

Toby: So, is it easier or harder to be creative now compared with 5 years ago, with generative AI creating a sort of simulated creativity so easily?

Cam: It really depends on from which angle you look at it. Sure, it’s more easily accessible, but does it make it easier? I wouldn’t say so. If you're a true practitioner of a craft, you are more than likely to experience that it is hard to keep the guardrails up to protect your thinking and not to dilute your original ideas with AI-generated ones or to take shortcuts.

The further away we move from intuitive creativity, the harder it is to evaluate what has value, and the weaker our inner voice or creativity becomes, the harder it is to generate the ideas or processes to come up with them.

However, if we are to look at the glass half full for a moment and pretend that we have a strict discipline on how and when we allow for generative AI to integrate into our work, I definitely believe it’s easier. Because then you would never let machine learning do the learning for you – you would only use it to expand your thinking once the deep thinking is done, and the intuitive nerve has been hit.

Additional thoughts:

Cam: I believe that the discussion around generative AI is usually sidelining a huge topic – human relationships. We are already experiencing a glitch in the relationships between agencies and brands. Trust has been diluted for years, and seemingly disparate desires and agendas make for sour collaboration. Perhaps generative AI is already supporting you and freeing up time, or perhaps you are scared shitless of becoming redundant. Whatever your personal experience with this new age of technological advancements, we should all encourage a bigger focus on the forgotten art of listening and authentic relationship building.

No matter what kind of creative you are, if you're curious about your inner self, curious about others, and keep an innate fire burning to understand the world, you will get closer to creating relevance.

Find what makes you invaluable in the age of technology. If you have a hard time thinking of what that is, there is a golden opportunity to explore it further. And don’t ask ChatGPT.