Back You are reading: It’s not business, it’s personal.

It’s not business, it’s personal.

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Juicebox Chief Creative Officer, Brett Novak, reflects on Emergence Creative Conference, the value of creativity and the essential need for off-roading.


“I am not from this world.”

I switched off the Pajero, stretched my legs and stepped inside the venue. It had been the mantra cycling through my mind as I navigated the buzzing energy of opening night at the Emergence Creative Conference. Nestled in the heart of Margaret River, this event is dubbed an “anti-conference,” a term that intrigued me as much as it intimidated me.

PolaroidMy journey into the creative sphere isn’t one of conventional pathways (although, whose really is?). While my title as CCO for Juicebox may hint at a grand story of agency lineage, my roots are far more humble and solitary.

My career didn’t begin amidst the bustling halls of a major agency but rather on the client side, learning the ropes from a perspective often overlooked by my peers. Mishmash in some design, coding and consulting along the way, and hey presto – I had established a strategic brand/tech agency that caught Juicebox’s eye and was subsequently acquired.

Despite my successes (and let’s be real, some truly epic failures), my fiercely independent nature meant that my interactions with the broader creative community were limited. The idea of mingling with a sea of creatives and specialists, each with their stories and insights, felt foreign—a world away from the solitude of my beginnings. Yet, there I was at Emergence, flanked by my immensely talented team and then enveloped by a wider group of individuals whose very essence oozed creativity and innovation.

PolaroidAs the conference unfolded, I found myself drawn into conversations that stretched far beyond the surface level. It was not about networking; it was about forging meaningful connections.

Each speaker, whether they were discussing their tests, triumphs, or sharing their journey in overcoming challenges with creative thinking, emphasised the importance of doing work that really mattered. Not just in terms of purpose – a term that gets thrown around – but rather, in terms of relevance.

Too easily as marketers, we get pulled into conversations about trends and tools, but at the end of the day, the true media is the people it is designed for.

These are the ones that actually have a challenge to overcome.

That will actually use the product.

That actually engage in dialogues.

That will ultimately share their experience with others.

You can’t shortcut that, and you sure as hell can’t manufacture it. Technology continues to evolve at a breakneck pace, but the core of our industry remains unchanged: the human experience.

PolaroidWe’re living in a time where technology drives wonders – it’s like magic at our fingertips. But without that spark of creativity that encapsulates meaning, empathises personally and engages in relevant ways, it’s just cold, hard tech.

Like much of the AI generated imagery and content that is permeating the web today, it simply lacks soul.

Technology has always needed creativity to make it relevant. Car manufacturers have known this for decades, designing the front of cars to mimic human characteristics – effectively humanising giant chunks of metal, giving it a personality that we somehow identify with.

On the flip side, creativity, with all its wildness and wonder, thirsts for technology to reach further, to touch more lives – scaling those human stories, those connections that make everything so much more meaningful. Just like the cars we drive, people don’t just associate us with the utility, they draw connections with the personality of the car and the lifestyles that they represent.

This balance, this symbiosis between tech & creative, is where the magic happens. It’s almost laughably logical when you think about it. Why wouldn’t businesses leap at the chance to embrace this? To put the human experience first and prioritise those meaningful connections – owning a greater share of hearts, minds and ultimately wallets.

Yet, I get it, it’s seen as risky. We’re used to telling people about what we do, rather than allowing them to feel something. It seems safer to stay in our lane, be practical and simply follow the status-quo of our respective categories. So we continue to produce one-way messaging, click bait CTA’s and one dimensional brand identities that don’t allow for human flexibility – so of course, stepping out of that traditional, efficiency-driven mindset feels like veering off a well-paved road. But maybe that’s exactly what we need – a bit of off-roading.

PolaroidTo embrace this interplay between technology and creativity is to embrace the future. It’s not just about keeping pace with competitive offerings of the past; it’s about creating something timeless and profoundly human.

And profoundly human the speakers at Emergence were. From pioneers in commercial and creative arts to trailblazers in craft, all echoed a similar sentiment: as we edge into new technological frontiers, our focus should not solely be on innovation for its sake. Instead, we should prioritise ‘making space’ to create meaningful connections in everything we do.

PolaroidHumans are off-road creatures, so we’ve got to meet them there. How often have you had to learn ‘the hard way?’ Taking the longer path, the scenic route, getting bogged at times, connecting and commiserating over the bad and revelling in the glory. This is a meaningful, human experience.

We’ve got to be ok with letting go of control. Whether it’s between brands and their audience, among team members, or within our personal networks, these connections all have the potential for meaningfulness, yet that requires making space for being thoughtful. And that requires a decision to invest in thinking, which also requires a decision to listen and observe. If we are not interested in the people we are serving, why serve them in the first place?

But in the age of metrics and big data, how do we measure this? It’s easy to get lost in the numbers game, mistaking quantity for quality. Keeping on the off-road theme, sure, you can talk about the distance covered, the steepness of the inclines, or the depth of the mud pits, but those numbers barely scratch the surface of the experience. The real magic? It’s in the surge of adrenaline as you navigate uncharted terrain, the sense of accomplishment with every obstacle overcome, and the stories that become part of your very fabric. (All things my Apple Watch is probably tracking lol).

As I left Margaret River, my perspective had shifted. No longer did I see myself as a solitary figure, navigating the edges of the creative industry. Instead, I was part of a vibrant, interconnected community of thinkers, creators, and innovators. The realisation was profound: this was always my world; I was merely running on a different track.

For those of us who have ventured to Emergence and made it back, the view now is spectacular. There is no right or wrong path, it’s simply about doing the best you can in any environment, under any circumstances, with and for those that matter.

If it’s about the journey and not the destination – then it’s definitely about making space in our strategies, our projects, and our daily grind to ensure that at the heart of every decision, there’s a heartbeat.

Because at the end of the day, what are we doing all this for if not to connect, to feel, and to enrich human experience?

(Off)Road trip anyone?