Give Me Space! Creativity and the Ancient Japanese Art of ‘Ma’

Being creative means I spend a lot of time watching nonsense on TV to recharge my brain box.

One such evening I came across a travel programme of middling quality on Japan, and one small item struck me as being incredibly important.

Japan is a land of extremes.

We have the sparse yet beautiful Zen gardens, a stone’s (or Koan’s?) throw away from bustling urban neon metropolis.

But, despite these contradictions, there is a quality that the Japanese champion: space. Or, to the Japanese, ‘Ma’.

The concept of ‘Ma’

This in not the way a Westerner would see ‘gaps’, but rather: strategic, well thought out, beautiful space.

‘Ma’ is the concept of beauty within space.

Described, rather pretentiously, in musical terms as: “that little bit between each note – silences which give the form”.

Ma is equal parts space and ‘feeling’. The use of Ma gives Japanese design, art and architecture the chance to really show off precision, detail and quality.

In essence, giving our best work space and time to shine.

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Zen riddle me this

So, out of the tea house and into the agency.

Working for large, blue-chip organisations means our clients have a lot they want to say.

Customers, colleagues, shareholders – the organisations we speak to want to be loved by all.

Many feel that content is the key to this. We must help them feel included by having this film, this infographic, this exhibition, those novelty pens.

Not only that, the messaging must appeal and resonate with everybody. What if leadership see it? What if new starters see it? What will Janice in IT think about it? 

Very quickly, your great creative strategy is choc-full of material designed to:

  • Appeal to everybody
  • Tell them everything in one go
  • Leave no spiel behind

Each and every meeting nowadays echoes with ‘we mustn’t forget to say X, demonstrate Y, showcase Z’.

But in saying too much, we say nothing at all (thanks, Ronan Keating).

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Leave it out, Terry

When we look at successful brands, brands many clients secretly wish they worked for each night, the Google, Apple and Innocents of the world, we realise how little they need to say, to say a great deal.

From design to copy, film and photography, brands that appreciate space and timing are the winners.

They don’t try to be loved by everyone. They don’t throw every word, picture, phrase and film under the sun after them. You come to them because they’re cool…man.

So in the spirit of Ma, here are my top tips to being a bit more ‘Ma’ when working with your agency (or clients):

  1. Never say three things poorly, if you can say one thing well
  2. The more you ‘sell’ your brand, the less audiences are ‘sold’
  3. People remember content like a Haiku. 3s, 5s and 7s if you must batch content
  4. People only digest 20% of words in any one sentence, so don’t waste them on empty phrases like ‘leading edge, best of breed, synergised’
  5. Give audiences respectful room to consider, digest and appreciate your offering

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It’s much harder to be a concise Hemmingway or Basho than it is to be a loquacious Shakespeare but, trust me, it’s worth the effort.

Until next time…Sayonara.

Tommy Moore – Creative Director at drp

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