Close

Idealog's Most Creative: Swibo's Ben Dunn talks creativity

Idealog's Most Creative: Swibo's Ben Dunn talks creativity

Swibo founder Ben Dunn was one of the People's Choice winners for Most Creative in gaming for Idealog and Accenture's Most Creative People. It’s undeniable that gaming is fun, but Dunn’s company Swibo is ensuring it can be used for practical and health purposes too. Swibo’s latest product, Tilt, is a physiotherapy device that engages both the mind and body. Smartphones can plug into the board, which essentially acts as a balancing board, while playing one of three games the company created. The Tilt boards are being used by physiotherapists across New Zealand and Australia. Here, he talks finding inspiration, resilience and where his best ideas come from.

What does creativity mean to you?

That’s a tough one. I think for me, creativity is about being curious and exploring the unknown. It means doing something not because we know it will work, but because we think it might. This could be in business, or in our game design, or anything else.

What do you think it is about your nature/habits/interests that makes you creative?

I think any creativity I do have comes from curiosity and a drive to understand. Which might sound technical rather than creative, but when one appreciates a creative work such as a song, a film, a book, a video game, I feel compelled to try and understand what about that piece is so engaging or compelling. This curiosity leads me to try to apply whatever understanding I can find in my own pursuits.

What first drew you to your chosen field?

Video games are an incredibly powerful tool, my first experience of this was my early obsession with Age of Empires 2, a historical military strategy game. The game was simultaneously an entertainment and an educational experience, giving me an immersive and practical way to not only learn but be excited by the content. This fuelled my interest in history and strategy, and showed me how powerfully video games can shape a person.

What was your upbringing like, and how do you think that led you to where you are today?

My parents are both far more creative people than I, which you wouldn’t guess from their occupations of Economics and Epidemiology, but they are musicians and artists and wonderful creatives in the kitchen. Immensely supportive, they are the reason I’m able to continue in my own experiments with business and video games.

Where do your best ideas come from?

Discussion with others, the ability to bounce ideas around a team is extremely important. Inspiration from seemingly unrelated media. I listen to a lot of audiobooks, podcasts, I read a lot, and all of these mediums can spark ideas that I can apply in our product and games, or in our business.

What does inspiration look like for you?

Inspiration for me is the energy to create something, it can come from unexpected or seemingly unrelated places, but it’s always recognisable as an itch you can only scratch by DOING something.

Is there an ethos/motto you abide by in your work?

Not really an ethos or motto, but in everything I do I try to see another’s perspective. If it’s a negotiation, or designing a new level in our games, it’s important to see things from the other side and think through their motivations, problems, wants, or needs. This permeates pretty much every aspect of my life.

I think for me, creativity is about being curious and exploring the unknown. It means doing something not because we know it will work, but because we think it might. This could be in business, or in our game design, or anything else.

If there were a secret to success, what would it be?

I am nowhere near qualified to answer this!

What were some of the challenges that you faced early on? What went wrong? Any regrets?

A lack of experience can only be mediated by one thing. Experience. So early on we struggled with a lot of things we’d never done before, marketing and sales are a big one. In a start-up you just have to power through and pick up these skills as best you can, and I think this gives you a better understanding of the company as a whole for having experienced the challenges of each and every role.

Do you work a lot? Do you have an obsessive part to your personality?

Yes, most definitely. This can fluctuate of course since we’re all human and need breaks, but in general creating something from nothing is a sh*tload of work, no getting around that.

What’s the secret to resilience?  

Attitude and perspective. I think we’ve been able to be as resilient as we are thanks to a stubborn attitude towards defeat, and the perspective gained from experience to see that some things take time and hard work to make a reality.

What have been some of the highlights of your career?

Each and every time someone laughs or smiles while playing our games, that feels damn good.

What do you think New Zealand is like for creativity? Is there something about ‘Kiwiness’ that helps or hinders?

New Zealand is a great place to be creative, in that we have a generally very supportive community for creatives. It can also be a challenging place to be creative because we are so dang small, which brings it’s own challenges around the size of audience, availability of funding, and all those practical things which facilitate the process of creation.

What would be the advice you’d give someone who wants to turn their creative passion into a full-time gig?

Get used to eating plain rice, soy sauce on special occasions. Alternatively, learn to pursue your creative passion as a part-time project, making sure that whatever else you are doing can pay the bare necessities, but that it doesn’t drain you of your energy to create.

What have been the biggest lessons you’ve learned?

Expect everything to take longer than you think it should. Coming to grips with this has been an important part of not burning out for us. Just because it takes a long time does not mean it isn’t worth spending your time on. Relationships are everything. The next spark of inspiration, the next project, the next customer, or your biggest fan will probably come from the people around you. Treating people with respect and understanding is extremely important and rewarding!

Where to next? Do you have a goal you’re working towards?
We have a long way to go with Swibo, the applications for this type of gamification are near-endless. Right now we are working on expanding the reach of our games internationally, and making more games!

Idealog has been covering the most interesting people, businesses and issues from the fields of innovation, design, technology and urban development for over 12 years. And we're asking for your support so we can keep telling those stories, inspire more entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and keep pushing New Zealand forward. Give over $5 a month and you will not only be supporting New Zealand innovation, but you’ll also receive a print subscription, an Idealog t-shirt and a copy of the new book by David Downs and Dr. Michelle Dickinson, No. 8 Recharged (while stocks last).