Have we always been curators? (Do we actually create anything anyway?!)
My pal Jonathan wrote an interesting post in his MSC Sustainability and Responsibility course scrapbook/ blog over the weekend about our relationship with brands. In it he concluded;
…the majority of our identity is a result of curating the brands we buy, rather than creating and projecting our own identity from within
I’d pretty much agree with this. In terms of our relationship with brands, that’s exactly what we do; we select, organise and in some case nurture and look after our relationship with brands. He then went on to challenge who was in charge of this process – i.e. how much control do you have in creating and shaping your own identity because we largely “sub-contract part of our identity” out to brands.
Again, from Jonathan, this is because;
…in our (western) society our ‘subsistence’ needs (i.e. food, warmth, shelter) are easily met. Therefore, we’ve got a lot of spare time to think about and exercise our higher-order needs – e.g. how do I fit in socially, how to gain peer acceptance etc.
I buy this too but I’m not sure if this is as bad thing as the subtext of his post suggests.
Working as a planner in advertising, I’m pretty interested in the creative process. There are people in advertising who are seen as ‘creatives’. They have the ability to create something new that hasn’t gone before. But if you speak to any creative, or chef, or artist, or designer, or mixologist or urban planner, in fact, anyone in the business of what we define as creating stuff; from ads, to recipes, to cocktails, to town layouts, to pieces of art, to clothes, to products, very very rarely do they start from scratch. What they produce is a something which is informed from a series of life experiences/references which they themselves have curated. From where they shop, what they watch on TV, what they read, what they eat, where they live, who they befriend; these are all acts of curation which define us and the consequent product they create. The creation ends up being something that has been informed by something that has gone before – there has been some influence along the way that has informed the music in the ad, the ingredient in the recipe, the layout of the town, the cut of the designer suit, the painting in the gallery.
Similarly, I’d argue that we have never ‘created’ our own identity from scratch in the first place. Our identity is in fact defined by what/how we curate, which in turn creates something new and unique – i.e. my identity and yours.
Brands are also rarely ‘creators’. They are curators too (even if they do have their own TV channel ;)); from who they choose to employ, where the offices are located, the suppliers they work with, what they choose to say about themselves, the HR policy etc. All these random acts of decision-making and curation over a period of time, which when combined, stitches together the thing we call a brand. A personal brand or a corporate brand.
Hell, even this blogpost that I’m writing has been made up of a smogasbord of stuff I’ve been reading in the past few weeks. There are a lot of references and discussions about content, conversation, and curation; which is king? etc etc. However, given the suggestion that everything we do is an act of curation, to me, a virtuous circle of curation suggests perhaps asking who is in ‘control’ is the wrong question to ask. Rather, those that do well (people and brands), in an increasingly noisy world, is those that do it best.
After all, it’s this act of curating the world around us, which makes us all, pretty unique.