What if elBulli had been an advertising agency?

On 8th October 2014 will see the opening of this exhibition, organised by the chef and Fundación Telefónica under the name ‘Auditing the Creative Process’. But until that happens there is a team working in parallel to explain what this exhibition involves. It is led by Toni Segarra and Jorge Martínez.

8th October will see the opening of ‘Ferran Adrià.‘Auditing the Creative Process’, organised by the chef andFundación Telefónica.But until that day comes there is a team working in parallel to explain what this exhibition involves.It is led byToni Segarra, creative director of SCPF, andJorge Martínez, graphic designer, founder of the Germinal agency and a specialist in social innovation projects. They have created something calledThe Table…

What is The Table?

Jorge: Fundación Telefónica asked us to do the communication for the exhibition ‘Ferran Adrià. Auditing the Creative Process’ and we decided to set up a specific agency for this purpose.That agency is The Table.

They were clear that they did not want a typical campaign. That is why they were not looking for a conventional agency. They knew that the outcome would have been conventional too. Neither better nor worse. Conventional. They thought I could lead a different kind of project, more consistent with the exhibition and with Ferran’s own aims with it, which is part of a more ambitious long-term project in which communication plays an important role.

I thought it was a formidable challenge, and from the outset it was clear that the person with whom I most wanted to do this project was Toni. What this challenge involves for us has a lot to do with what we have been doing together over the last five years.

The aim is to convert into communication the creative process of a campaign that will be contaminated and infected byelBulli.To achieve this, a new agency model was created, called The Table, which was born in March, with the start of the project, and will dissolve in October, with the opening of the exhibition.

As Toni says, in reality, instead of an advertising agency, what we have done is to create a temporary space that allows us to research and analyse, where the physical space not only does not exist, but is also shifting, and where we want to convert a communication process into a research process that helps us to communicate in a different way.

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Is The Table an agency or is it really a laboratory or an experiment?

Toni: The Table is an attempt to respond to the same objective that Ferran Adrià is aiming at with this exhibition. He wants to exhibit his method so that everyone can learn from his work. It is an exercise in honesty and transparency that is practically unheard-of.It’s something that creative agencies do not usually do either: stop and to reflect, analyse and ask themselves why what has emerged has emerged, and to make that reflection available to people.

Ferran wants the exhibition to be useful to people who are seeking to innovate. And ever since we received the commission to do the advertising for the exhibition, we decided to be the first to perform this exercise by applying the elBulli method to an advertising agency.

We want to reveal the answer to this question: “If elBulli has led to a revolution of the restaurant model, what would The Table mean for the advertising agency model, and what would the “Bullification” of an agency mean?” From this perspective, The Table is a research project.

How are you going to do that research?

Jorge:We don’t really know what is going to come out of this. The most attractive aspect of this project is precisely that. We are going to do something that we cannot accomplish in our day-to-day work: research and investigate. And this is precisely the big contribution being made by The Table. Working in a different way, we expect different results to emerge. We have already begun to see very interesting ideas but I think we are still a long way from knowing what is going to come out of this. It is a living and very open project, which is being developed parallel to the exhibition itself.

Toni: We are sure of what our goal is. We want to discover how the elBulli example could influence the advertising agency model.We are conducting a series of interviews to gather information and we are doing something that agencies do not do and Ferran does: research.

If at the end of this study you establish that the elBulli model can indeed be extrapolated to an advertising agency, do you think that it could also be applied to other industries?

Toni: That’s the premise Ferran has with this exhibition. He thinks his method is universal and can be applied to any discipline. We have turned ourselves into guinea pigs and we are trying to find out if this is the case with an activity that has both similarities with and huge differences to cooking. If it works in our case, I think it would also work in most cases. There are huge differences between advertising and gastronomy. For example, campaigns are made to order and in the kitchen the order is invented first. It’s much freer.

You have included a mathematician in your research. What do you think his vision can bring to The Table?

Toni:Rigour. That is crucial. Rigour is one of the great lessons we will be seeing in the exhibition ‘Ferran Adrià. Auditing the Creative Process’. While it is true that both cooking and advertising use creativity, the goal of both professions has to do with something else. In the case of cooking, it is the creation of dishes, and in the case of advertising, it is the sale of products and brands.We are beginning to discover that there are other elements besides the perennial element of creativity.

Jorge: We started with a somewhat obvious starting point, in which the concept of creativity seemed to be the most important thing. Now we are starting to understand that, in fact, it is the concept of research that generates a differentiated value in the process.Research has been very important in elBulli and, if we want to become a “Bulliesque” agency, we know that research must also be a key part of our process.

We had always thought that elBulli was a restaurant – different, unusual – but nevertheless a restaurant. Now we have realised that elBulli is closer to a research laboratory than to a restaurant, and this changes everything.

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Toni: elBulli fought against its condition as a restaurant. Clearly it was a restaurant, but many of its decisions were about denying that.I think in the end Ferran closed it as a natural step towards something else.

You are interviewing people who have achieved great success in their creative work. What are you looking for in these conversations with Stefan Sagmeister, Andrés Jaque and Andoni Aduriz?

Toni: In each interview we delve into a particular aspect and then compare it to elBulli. In the conversation with the designer Stefan Sagmeister we research the concept of the sabbatical year, which coincides with the idea Adrià had to close the restaurant for six months every year to devote them to thought and research. That decision led to the transformation of elBulli.That’s when it stopped being just a restaurant and became a sort of Jekyll and Hyde entity.

The idea behind this project is to investigate how the elBulli method can be transferable to other disciplines. That’s why it seemed vital to us to have a dialogue with other disciplines regarding processes and methods.

Imagine that you discover that you can create a Bulliesque agency; would you set it up?

Toni: We can’t rule out that possibility. I doubt that we’ll find the Holy Grail of advertising when so many people have been looking for it for so long.But I’m sure we’ll find other interesting formulas that we will be able to apply in the future.

Jorge:   What I hope is that such a model can be replicated with other projects or brands. This would lead us to think that in October the first project for The Table will be dissolved, but not the model, and that we can reactivate it for another campaign. That is something that, in some sense, Toni and I have already been doing in recent years. During this time we have carried out unconventional communication projects.We have organised a different sort of master’s degree in design with the IED.We have worked in a creativity laboratory, MilMilks, to find answers outside the usual context of communication… we have always worked together to ask ourselves questions and to carry out projects which are removed from advertising as we understand it.The Table allows us to reflect on things we have already considered many times and to apply things that we have learned together in this time.

You say that you are applying some methods from elBulli in The Table. Which ones?

Toni: I’ve been working in advertising for 20 years and this time I’m doing something I didn’t do in the past: reflecting on my activity. I think advertising in this regard is a black sheep. We tend to think very little about our work. This is probably because we work in an industry based on differentiation.Our obsession with originality and for every job for every client to be different makes us despise what has already been done.

Jorge: To create a Bulliesque agency, we have to really understand what elBulli was. We are now in a phase of analysis and discovery of the creative process that Adrià was talking about. And one of the things we have to do is to question that very process. It is one of the issues that Ferran always raises. He tells us to question things.When we can say we are sure of what elBulli was, we will begin to apply that Bullification to The Table.

Ferran Adrià always talks about combining disciplines to make new discoveries. He says that the cooking workshop ended up becoming a laboratory where physicists and chemists worked. How can this be applied to a Bulliesque agency?

Toni: Advertising has always been a mixed bag of disciplines. My partner Luis Cuesta, for example, is a physicist. This activity encompasses a wide variety of professionals: painters, sociologists, linguists, philosophers… I don’t think there was such a combination of disciplines at elBulli. In the process of mutation towards a laboratory, it naturally became more of a science laboratory than a restaurant kitchen. I think it was not so much a result of combining disciplines, but rather because the process led them to become more a science than a business or an activity involving the reproduction of dishes using others’ recipes.I think it is now, carrying out this research, that it has been most necessary to be surrounded by people with different profiles.

Jorge: I think Ferran’s curiosity was a big part of it. He loves to talk to very different kinds of people. And the laboratory, in the end, is everything. Not only what is within four walls. Ferran’s laboratory was not just the restaurant at Cala Montjoi.It was his travels, his conversations… He calls this group of people hisangels.They are architects, neuroscientists, designers, communications experts… People who are very close to him, teaching and feeding him.

Ferran is a person who is always trying to meet people of all kinds who can feed him with references. Afterwards he processes all that information and applies it to his work. Toni and I are also very interested in this interdisciplinary work. We both look for other disciplines to contaminate the creative process at our agencies. It is quite common in our work.

In this project, the process and the final conclusion are equally important. In addition, you have decided to talk about your discoveries, just like Ferran Adrià is going to do with ‘Auditing the Creative Process’. How are you going to be showing the development of your research?

Jorge: There is anonline platformwhere we are working with Fundación Telefónica, which is being set up byMario Tascón.In that space there is information about the exhibition and we will also be publishing our interviews, as well as any doubts or thoughts that may arise. People can follow this research and we are also encouraging participation.We want them to make comments and ask questions.That way they are also an active part of this process.

When will we see the results of this study?

Toni: We will be beginning to see some of the research at the end of May and the results will be presented in October, when the exhibition opens. Our commission is to talk about the exhibition and The Table has been set up to show the experiment live. Communicating this experiment is to communicate the exhibition. And surely, when ‘Ferran Adrià.Auditing the Creative Process’ is over, we will be able to draw clear conclusions from what happened.

In the course of this research a book has appeared that has had a great impact on you…

Toni: Yes. When you hear Adrià talking about this exhibition you realise how little analysis creators usually make of their work. This is very common in many disciplines. In part, this is due to the difficulty of reflecting and, in part, because they try to protect themselves by hiding their methods.In this exhibition there is a highly transparent attitude which is commendable and quite unusual.

The other day, in a bookstore, I found a book next to the cash register when I went to pay.  I saw it as a sign, but these things also happen when you are looking for them.  It is a short book containing a lecture by Stefan Zweig, entitledThe Mystery of Artistic Creation.Obviously I could not avoid buying it, and in it I found a reflection by Edgar Allan Poe.The writer is one of the few who did try to explain step by step why and how he composed the poem ‘The Raven’.In fact, he goes as far as comparing it with the scientific and mathematical method.In the essay he says one thing which, for me, would be a good introduction to the exhibition on Adrià:

“I have often thought how interesting a magazine paper might be written by any author who would — that is to say, who could — detail, step by step, the processes by which any one of his compositions attained its ultimate point of completion. Why such a paper has never been given to the world, I am much at a loss to say.”.

This is what Poe in the end gives us. I will explain to you what I have done, how I have done it, what I have discovered while reflecting on what I have done so it can be of use to everyone. In fact, at the end of the lecture, Zweig says: “Believe me that when we follow even a single artist through all the stages of their work, this effort teaches us more about the nature of art than a hundred books or a thousand lectures.”

This is what Adrià is trying to do and what we are trying to do with The Table. We want to be the first people to be contaminated with the elBulli virus.

The research you have done so far suggests that creativity is more about methods and techniques than about muses and inexplicable processes, as is often believed. It seems that behind painting, cooking, literature, music and other creative disciplines there is also method, but often the artists are unaware of it.

Jorge: What sets the work of elBulli apart is precisely that. It is not just the result of an act of genius. This is so clear.In case of elBulli the answer is very clear: yes.

Toni: It is clear that at elBulli the reflection that was done after the fact is a method. The big lesson is that getting time to reflect and inquire about what you’ve done, on the information you have generated, ends up building knowledge and a method that can be used to improve, advance and evolve.Surely if you do not do that, you have a much better chance of stagnating.

Jorge: Ferran Adrià is so aware of the importance of reflection that this exhibition has been set up for that very reason. His obsession is to share his knowledge and methodologies.This is very unusual in a creator.

Toni: What Ferran wants in the end is to create a habit. Innovation is more about habit and discipline than about a random process. What Adrià is saying to us is:“Have this attitude.”

Jorge: Adrià is also an expert in communication, the result of the thousands of interviews he has done throughout his life and his relationship with the media, and he knows that this exhibition, this milestone, is an important part of this new phase where the need to explain is essential in being able to share his legacy.If he had limited himself to the culinary sphere, Ferran and the spirit of elBulli would be part of our memories, of the past, and yet right now, Ferran and elBulli are more alive than ever.