This special report from the 2017 High Five Conference was prepared by Holly Larson. Follow her on Twitter @HollyKLarson and connect with her on LinkedIn.
Shanteka Sigers, Senior Vice President and Executive Creative Director at Sanders/Wingo in Austin, Texas, delivered the closing keynote on Day 1 of the High Five Conference on Wednesday, March 1, 2017. Sigers spoke on “From 9 to 5 to 24/7: Creativity as Your Default Setting.”
Sigers’ life work is creating brand stories for companies like McDonald’s, AT&T, Verizon, Toyota, P&G, and Nationwide. So it’s not surprising that when High Five conference organizers contacted her, she thought they wanted her to talk about conventional topics, such as advertising, UX, or marketing to African-Americans.
Instead, High Five leaders wanted Sigers to talk about her professional and personal habits of being a 24/7 creator.
“I am not going to talk about how to start your own creative habit,” warned Sigers. She said Twyla Tharp and Gretchen Rubin have written extensively on that topic.
Creativity Starts Early and Blossoms with Family Encouragement
So if you want to fast-track a path to success, “Be born the poor, black child of teenage parents in the most racist city in the country,” quipped Sigers. Sigers’ mother was a creative problem solver, and her grandmother, who raised her until age 12, always nurtured and encouraged Sigers’ creativity. As a consequence, Sigers had the space and emotional strength to develop her own gifts.
Sigers shared an example from her life. At age 12, she left her grandmother to join her 27-year-old mother, Faye, in Detroit. Faye had decided that Sigers needed to be enrolled in the Alonzo Bates Academy for the Gifted and Talent, which was not accepting any more students. Faye marched through an auditorium of crying parents and children who had been declined admission and demanded a meeting with the principal. Sigers’ mother said she would not dream of asking the principal to bend the rules, but showed him Shanteka’s report card and her creative work and asked where should take them. The school then accepted her. Sigers’ mother did that at five schools and got her daughter into every single one every time. “She was a behavioral modification expert,” laughed Sigers.
Sigers was not allowed to say “I don’t know” at home. If she did, she had to stand in the middle of the living room until she could explain her rationale for her actions to her mother. So Sigers started envisioning the consequences of her actions, shaping her behavior proactively.
As a child, Sigers created a literary journal and wrote stories about a fictional rock band Rebelle Alliance. People pay her for these types of ideas now, she said. Sigers is both a creative professional and a business person. A few years ago, only 3% of creative directors were women. Now it is up to 11%.
Thinking Creatively About Challenging Problems
At Sanders/Wingo, one of her favorite solutions was creating a campaign to reach domestic violence victims, who are very hard to reach because their abusers control their access to the outside world. Another challenge is getting the information close to them so they can act when they are ready.
Sigers and her team created a lipstick case. Inside there was a thin-paper information sheet folded accordion-style with all the information abuse victims needed: what abuse is, what to do, and how to contact. The program was rolled out in El Paso. As a result, there are now more prosecutions than dismissals against domestic abusers. The program has been copied by other district DAs in the state.
At Sanders/Wingo, the creative department is her client. She designs brand stories, which remind her to think beyond what she can write. Brand stories are everything that humanizes a brand — the product, the package, and all the ways you interact and think about the brands you like.
The agency wanted to formalize that competency. Sigers used an internal challenge to test the approach. She re realized that her department was treating one department poorly: accounting. They were always late with their timesheets. She called this program – DBSTL – Don’t Be Shitty to Lacie, the sweet woman who worked in accounting, baked cupcakes for Sigers, and rescued cats.
Using Humor and Gentle Shaming to Change Behavior
Sigers sat down with her team and brainstormed: They wanted to take the burden off accounting so they didn’t have to send so many email reminders; they wanted the new process to be automated; and they wanted it to connect the two groups in a meaningful way. The new solution takes all the data off Workamajig and displays it on a screen in the lunch room with a funny message. There are three color-coded screens, and the individuals in the latest group get shamed in a funny way with a quip. It didn’t make everyone magically start doing their timesheets, but people are beginning to change, and the program is being iterated on.
“I just told you lots of things about behavioral science without telling you definitions,” said Sigers.
Fostering Creativity in Children
Eight years ago, Sigers added another professional title to her list: Mom. So now she is not poor, but she is still black and there are a whole set of new problems to solve. One of them is that there are not enough black protagonists in books; they are always sidekicks. So she and her son wrote a children’s book.
The Library of Maternal Nagging is Sigers’ foul-mouthed and award-wining blog on raising her son. He “can’t read it until he is 34,” she laughs. Parenting is about advertising, brand stories, and more.
Sigers has created brand pillars for her son to sell him on himself and become the man she wants him to be when he is 25. Shanteka shows a video of her son reciting his brand pillars. They are a team. For Halloween, the “High holy holiday for creatives,” Sigers’ son was Venom and she was the innocent victim. Last year he wanted to be Pokémon, so she was an in-app purchase.
Sigers is inspired by Cindy Gallop, who says she is the “Michael Bay of business”; David B. McCall of Ogilvie who made School House Rock! to help his son with his multiplication tables; and Ivan Cash, whose Snail Mail by Email program allows participants to send emails for volunteers to handwrite and send to the recipients of their choice.
Sigers’ favorite movie is Amelie, which taught her a new definition of romance; When someone uses their creativity on you. She sent her boyfriend a Chapellegram — a video of the audience saying happy birthday and sent it to her boyfriend to tell him she was taking him to see David Chappelle.
In conclusion, she urged the audience not to put boundaries on their creativity. Professional creatives sometimes feel they must give their all to their companies. That’s not true. There is no limit to creativity.
Shanteka’s mentors all saw creativity in her. If you already have a 24/7 creative habit, help a kid develop their creativity, she said. Too many people will tell kids that their creative pursuits are hobbies and that they need to focus.
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