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The Many Facets of Creativity

The Many Facets of Creativity

Michael Carnevale

Michael Carnevale

August 7, 2018

It can come in all shapes and sizes.

"Moving to Havas felt like a logical next step."

I think to be creative, you have to be highly aware of what’s happening around you,” says Niko Suomalainen, head of creative at Havas Helsinki. Niko talks about his upbringing, his biggest creative influence, and reveals his best and worst ideas.

 

So, tell us your story.

Well, I grew up in a small town in eastern Finland called Varkaus. It’s a typical Finnish town, dependent on a lot of heavy manufacturing, and not much to do. I used to snowboard often, and the same people I went snowboarding with were super into hip-hop culture. They introduced me to art, too. I started painting graffiti as a teenager, and a bit later I bought turntables. Snowboarding, DJing, and graffiti were pretty much all that I did before the mandatory military service we have in Finland.

After the military service, I moved to Helsinki to study business management. At the time, we also had an imaginary punk band called Shitty Puppies. The band was just a front so we could print T-shirts. I had a sweatshop in my basement where we printed T-shirts and drank beer with friends.

During the last year of my studies, I was asked to join a small service design team at the university that I was attending. I did that for a couple of years, but in the end, I felt that we weren’t business-oriented enough, so I left the team and pursued marketing. After having a couple of jobs in marketing consulting firms and a media agency, in 2016 I was asked to join Havas. So here I am.

Oh, I also had a start-up called Neonflare with a couple of friends. It’s a self-service tool that enables marketers to create social media referral campaigns. I sold my share of the company this spring.

And why Havas?

I was asked to join Havas Helsinki to enhance the collaboration between the creative and media teams. Before moving to Havas, I helped to launch a creative unit inside the Dagmar media agency with a small team of creatives.  

Moving to Havas felt like a logical next step. Our thoughts on what should be done to make the collaboration work were well-aligned with the local Havas management.

Why the recent switch from accounts to creative?

I’ve actually been working with the creatives the whole time I’ve been at Havas Helsinki. We are a small agency, and so our people need to be able to take many roles—like me participating in all phases of the creative process, and our creatives being in direct contact with the clients. During the last year or so, we have been cutting unnecessary processes as much as possible.

The switch to creative must seem more dramatic to those outside the office than it does to us, I guess.

What’s the biggest impact that you’ve made on the creative team and their work, so far?

We’ve been changing so many things during the last year. We are now way smaller, with only senior creatives on the team. I feel that we are like a start-up with nothing to lose. We try to act accordingly—be bolder and always hungry for money and fame.

I think we have been able to stabilize the situation of the agency, so we can now focus on serving our clients, finding new business, and creating cool passion projects.  

"Work-wise, I feel that my grandest idea is yet to come."

The impact they’ve made on you?

I learn something from them every day. They push me to be better, and they sure aren’t afraid to give me critical feedback. They’ve been amazing.

What’s the most creative thing you’ve ever seen, heard, or experienced?

I don’t think I can name just one thing. I am amazed all the time at how creative people are, just by studying ordinary, everyday things. I’m really into history, and for me, it’s hard to understand how people were able to develop such amazing machines and structures with such simple tools. Last summer I visited NASA, and I saw one of the spaceships—from the 1970s, I think. From up close, its technology looked like something you would use in a sea vessel. How on earth can you go to the moon with something like that?

Who is your creative muse?

Not a muse, but my father has had a huge influence on me creatively. He’s half entrepreneur, half art photographer—and he has dragged me to his photo shoots a million times. I’ve learned a lot from him about style and beauty. He also encouraged me to study magazine ads to learn how they are made. You know, to learn about the proportions, lights, and such.

What is creativity, anyway?

There are so many ways to be creative. But in the end, I feel it’s about making unexpected and unorthodox combinations of existing things. Therefore, I think to be creative, you have to be highly aware of what’s happening around you.

How do you spark creativity among your team?

I often feed our team raw and unfiltered ideas. Most of them are somewhat bad, but there have been times when we have been able to develop something good out of them. It’s usually like me just yelling “Hey, would it be cool to do this!” I feel it has created an atmosphere where everybody is free to abandon all filters and just share even the lamest ideas and nobody thinks that that guy is a moron.

The best idea that you’ve ever had?

To get a dog. Work-wise, I feel that my grandest idea is yet to come.

Worst idea?

In 2010, my colleagues and I heard about Bitcoin, and we were thinking about buying something like 20 euros worth each. I suggested we eat first, since I was super hungry. After lunch, we totally forgot the whole thing. That’s the only idea I regret a bit.

Must-see in Helsinki?

I strongly suggest that anyone visiting Helsinki should try the restaurant Ultima. They play with the idea of how Finnish food might look in the future, by using only super-local ingredients, insects, etc. Also, the interior is crazy—for example, the lighting was designed by the same team that was responsible for designing the lighting in the recent Star Wars movies. You can also meet my wonderful girlfriend, Aura, who works there as a pastry chef.

And whenever you find yourself in Helsinki, make sure to pay us a visit.

Must-see in all of Europe?

The Austrian Alps, for sure. I go there at least once a year with my friends to ski and snowboard. The views are amazing and the mountain air is so refreshing.

"Moving to Havas felt like a logical next step."

I think to be creative, you have to be highly aware of what’s happening around you,” says Niko Suomalainen, head of creative at Havas Helsinki. Niko talks about his upbringing, his biggest creative influence, and reveals his best and worst ideas.

 

So, tell us your story.

Well, I grew up in a small town in eastern Finland called Varkaus. It’s a typical Finnish town, dependent on a lot of heavy manufacturing, and not much to do. I used to snowboard often, and the same people I went snowboarding with were super into hip-hop culture. They introduced me to art, too. I started painting graffiti as a teenager, and a bit later I bought turntables. Snowboarding, DJing, and graffiti were pretty much all that I did before the mandatory military service we have in Finland.

After the military service, I moved to Helsinki to study business management. At the time, we also had an imaginary punk band called Shitty Puppies. The band was just a front so we could print T-shirts. I had a sweatshop in my basement where we printed T-shirts and drank beer with friends.

During the last year of my studies, I was asked to join a small service design team at the university that I was attending. I did that for a couple of years, but in the end, I felt that we weren’t business-oriented enough, so I left the team and pursued marketing. After having a couple of jobs in marketing consulting firms and a media agency, in 2016 I was asked to join Havas. So here I am.

Oh, I also had a start-up called Neonflare with a couple of friends. It’s a self-service tool that enables marketers to create social media referral campaigns. I sold my share of the company this spring.

And why Havas?

I was asked to join Havas Helsinki to enhance the collaboration between the creative and media teams. Before moving to Havas, I helped to launch a creative unit inside the Dagmar media agency with a small team of creatives.  

Moving to Havas felt like a logical next step. Our thoughts on what should be done to make the collaboration work were well-aligned with the local Havas management.

Why the recent switch from accounts to creative?

I’ve actually been working with the creatives the whole time I’ve been at Havas Helsinki. We are a small agency, and so our people need to be able to take many roles—like me participating in all phases of the creative process, and our creatives being in direct contact with the clients. During the last year or so, we have been cutting unnecessary processes as much as possible.

The switch to creative must seem more dramatic to those outside the office than it does to us, I guess.

What’s the biggest impact that you’ve made on the creative team and their work, so far?

We’ve been changing so many things during the last year. We are now way smaller, with only senior creatives on the team. I feel that we are like a start-up with nothing to lose. We try to act accordingly—be bolder and always hungry for money and fame.

I think we have been able to stabilize the situation of the agency, so we can now focus on serving our clients, finding new business, and creating cool passion projects.  

"Work-wise, I feel that my grandest idea is yet to come."

The impact they’ve made on you?

I learn something from them every day. They push me to be better, and they sure aren’t afraid to give me critical feedback. They’ve been amazing.

What’s the most creative thing you’ve ever seen, heard, or experienced?

I don’t think I can name just one thing. I am amazed all the time at how creative people are, just by studying ordinary, everyday things. I’m really into history, and for me, it’s hard to understand how people were able to develop such amazing machines and structures with such simple tools. Last summer I visited NASA, and I saw one of the spaceships—from the 1970s, I think. From up close, its technology looked like something you would use in a sea vessel. How on earth can you go to the moon with something like that?

Who is your creative muse?

Not a muse, but my father has had a huge influence on me creatively. He’s half entrepreneur, half art photographer—and he has dragged me to his photo shoots a million times. I’ve learned a lot from him about style and beauty. He also encouraged me to study magazine ads to learn how they are made. You know, to learn about the proportions, lights, and such.

What is creativity, anyway?

There are so many ways to be creative. But in the end, I feel it’s about making unexpected and unorthodox combinations of existing things. Therefore, I think to be creative, you have to be highly aware of what’s happening around you.

How do you spark creativity among your team?

I often feed our team raw and unfiltered ideas. Most of them are somewhat bad, but there have been times when we have been able to develop something good out of them. It’s usually like me just yelling “Hey, would it be cool to do this!” I feel it has created an atmosphere where everybody is free to abandon all filters and just share even the lamest ideas and nobody thinks that that guy is a moron.

The best idea that you’ve ever had?

To get a dog. Work-wise, I feel that my grandest idea is yet to come.

Worst idea?

In 2010, my colleagues and I heard about Bitcoin, and we were thinking about buying something like 20 euros worth each. I suggested we eat first, since I was super hungry. After lunch, we totally forgot the whole thing. That’s the only idea I regret a bit.

Must-see in Helsinki?

I strongly suggest that anyone visiting Helsinki should try the restaurant Ultima. They play with the idea of how Finnish food might look in the future, by using only super-local ingredients, insects, etc. Also, the interior is crazy—for example, the lighting was designed by the same team that was responsible for designing the lighting in the recent Star Wars movies. You can also meet my wonderful girlfriend, Aura, who works there as a pastry chef.

And whenever you find yourself in Helsinki, make sure to pay us a visit.

Must-see in all of Europe?

The Austrian Alps, for sure. I go there at least once a year with my friends to ski and snowboard. The views are amazing and the mountain air is so refreshing.

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