The concept of cultural capital refers to the role that diverse and distinctive kinds of cultural experiences, knowledge and abilities play in relation to the processes of class formations in contemporary societies.
While theories of class formation are not my prime area of interest, I do believe that there is a very interesting point to the notion that diverse cultural experiences play an important role in shaping an individual – especially when it comes to creativity.
Allow me to explain.
I recently watched an interview with John C. Jay, the global Executive Creative Director and Partner of Wieden+Kennedy. Among the many great takeaways, he talks about his 12 years working for Bloomingdale’s – specifically, how fortunate he was to have a CEO that wanted to send him around the world to:
“Soak up as much culture as possible.”
Jay calls this experience a kind of “post-graduate degree of culture” about “cultural authenticity” and “inspiration”.
As a junior creative, when the global ECD of Wieden+Kennedy is kind enough to offer a few words of wisdom, you’d be a fool not to listen!
As with many things in life – even the high-end, creatively-based ones – what Jay says is common sense. But it doesn’t receive too much attention or thought until after it is brought to your attention.
I mean, it stands to reason that the more culture you experience and “soak up”, the more inspiration you will have to draw from when it comes to your work.
And the more ideas you will have.
As Joji Jacob, the ECD of DDB Singapore, so succinctly puts it:
“If there’s no life outside advertising, there will be no life in your advertising. You must have a rich and varied life if your work is to be rich and varied.”
Jacob, another figure admired and highly respected by creatives from all around the world, is a living testament to the theory of cultural capital of creativity – his career began in South India before moving to JWT Singapore a few years later.
But it’s not just creatives in the industry who have felt the benefits of diverse cultural experiences.
Pete Heskett, Planning Director for South East Asia at JWT Singapore, was born in the UK to an English father and a Latvian/Australian mother, and by the age of 21 had already lived in four different countries. Since graduating he has worked in London, Shanghai, and Singapore. And according to the JWT site:
“He (Heskett) is heartened by the academic research that supports the idea that people who combine experience of different cultures become more creative.”
So let the wise words of these individuals be food for thought.
Exposing themselves to cultural diversity has certainly seemed to work for them.
As graduation season is upon us and ad students from around the world are looking to make the transition into the “real world”, I would urge you to look outside of your comforts zones. Your creativity will only be enhanced by these contrasting cultural experiences.
In fact, I believe in it so much, I’m currently living it.
I was born in the UK to a Maltese father and German/Scottish mother, moved to Malta until I was 11, then back to England until the age of 22. By then, I had finished my Masters and was offered a job by Ogilvy & Mather Dubai, after a little stunt I had pulled during my internship there whilst on holiday.
And while it wasn’t an easy decision by any means, I’m glad I did it.
While I’m here, I’m trying to embrace and learn about as much Middle Eastern culture as possible – I’m even currently reading the Quran.
Being here has opened my eyes to things I had never seen or thought about before; it has only made me hungrier to experience more. Asia, South America, North America, India – who knows where I may end up next.
To conclude, I’ll leave you with some very wise words given to me by a couple of members of the Advertising Week Social Club Family when I was debating my move to the Middle East.
Firstly, Zarya Rubin, who had the chance to meet with Scott Goodson, Founder of Strawberry Frog, during last year’s Advertising Week, summed up what he said:
“If I were a young person just starting out, man, I would say go to Brazil. That place is happening. Or just go anywhere, really. Travel. See the world. It can only increase your creative perspective.”
And then Anthony Kalamut gave me some advice that he gives to his own students:
“I am so telling all my students to get the hell out of their comfort zones…go to Brazil, Dubai, India anywhere…if you’re under 30, now’s the time.”
I can only thank Zarya, Anthony, and the rest of the AWSC family for their words of encouragement ten months ago – and I sincerely hope that any of you junior creatives out there may be encouraged to expand your horizons and open yourselves up to as many different cultural experiences as possible.
So far, it seems to be working for me.