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Dubai Lynx napkin competition: ‘a blank canvas for creativity’


The humble napkin has been at the centre of creativity for years. Philippe Vignal discusses why, and how it will be at the centre of a new initiative at the Dubai Lynx

An idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of elements, which depends on people’s ability to see relationships in the first place. It’s like a puzzle or chain of ideas that spontaneously come together.

Creativity often comes around in the most unexpected, random moments. You can’t just sit down and ‘hope’ that creativity will happen. But you can allow yourself the opportunity to capture creative ideas when they arise. Leading thinkers encourage people to open up ‘creative spaces’ in their lives. To get off the phone in the elevator and talk to people, to have a pen next to your bed to write down ideas that pop into your head at midnight, to always carry a pencil to doodle on a napkin in the restaurant.

Some of the world’s most creative and powerful ideas have had a very humble start as sketches on napkins. If we look back in history to 1982 the first Compaq portable computer was sketched on the back of a napkin in California. This initial sketch was the stepping stone for the development of modern computing and for what would become the most important computer company of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

It became so common to use napkins to sketch disruptive business plans and tech advances that ‘business plan napkins’ began to be commonly distributed in Silicon Valley during the mid-80s. The napkin sketches of Robert Metcalfe’s Ethernet diagrams are displayed at the DigiBarn Computer Museum in Northern California.

The creative use of the napkin goes way beyond the tech industry. Author J.K. Rowling used a napkin to jot down the initial ideas for Harry Potter while travelling on a train from Manchester to London. Her first novel went on to sell over 100 million copies and the Harry Potter brand is currently valued at $15 billion.

Also, during a lunch meeting, Pixar director John Lasseter drove a brainstorming session with writers Andrew Stanton, Joe Rant and Pete Docter on what Pixar’s next big thing would be. They spent that session sketching new characters on napkins at the restaurant. Those characters would become the lead characters in films like Monsters Inc, A Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo and WALL-E.

There have been entire books written on the subject of using napkins to enhance visual and creative thinking. In his book The Back of the Napkin, author Dan Roam argues that by drawing simple, clear pictures we can communicate and sell our ideas more effectively. A great example of this is Southwest Airlines. The company’s business model consisted of three simple dots sketched to represent Dallas, Houston and San Antonio with three arrows connecting them. Southwest founder Herb Kelleher drew the sketch at a bar on a cocktail napkin.

Creative genius has no boundaries and many creative ideas have begun in restaurants, bars and coffee shops for artists, entrepreneurs and designers on a simple cocktail napkin.

At the Dubai Lynx, Magnet is launching the Creative Napkin Award and will give the winner of the most creative napkin a roundtrip ticket from Dubai to Cannes and a Cannes Lions Mini Pass. Napkin and pen boxes will be distributed throughout the festival.

Philippe Vignal is chief executive of Magnet

* The most creative napkin will be chosen by Dubai Lynx ‘Young Talent’ jury members Ramzi Moutran, executive creative director, Memac Ogilvy Dubai; Munah Zahr, executive creative director, Leo Burnett Doha; and Rayyan Aoun, executive creative director, J. Walter Thompson Saudi Arabia. The winner will be announced on March 9.