Are You Really Okay With The Idea Of Creativity?

Ansel Adams shooting in Yosemite, 1942. By Cedric Wright
“There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.” Ansel Adams
What do we mean when we talk about creativity?

Sometimes it’s just a new way of presenting familiar things, but in a way that makes you reappraise them or see them differently. Sometimes it’s an extremely simple solution to a problem, but no one ever thought of it before.

It’s things that connect with people on a human level. Things that surprise people, catch them unawares, that move and motivate people.

Great creative makes things get noticed and stick in the memory, or it makes things familiar to us – so when we see them we’re drawn to them.

I can remember advertising lines from thirty years ago, but can’t remember my own pin number sometimes.

The value of great creativity to brands has always been very hard to quantify, but what we do know, is that when it’s done well it’s extremely powerful. And it’s helped to grow most of the brands we take for granted now as market leaders.

But there’s a mystery to creativity isn’t there?

Because it’s still impossible to pin it down more than that.

Even though people are always trying to define it, to put it into neat boxes.

So unfortunately we work in a business where the most valuable thing is almost impossible to fully define.

That’s hard for many people in advertising and for clients to accept.

When you're running multi-million and multi-billion pound operations, it must be terrifying to think your most valuable commodity is so nebulous and hard to control.

So the non-creatives in the business – the people who buy or sell creativity, but don't do it themselves – are always trying to find a way to control it, trying to systemise it – the same way that people have systemised the building of a car, or a television.

They put processes in place. And rules, guidelines, structures, criteria, systems.

But we aren’t dealing with machines are we?

We’re dealing with people.

That’s where ideas come from isn't it? People’s brains, people’s imaginations.

And people are messy, they have bad days, they swear, they sleep in, and they’re unpredictable.

But business people hate the idea of unpredictability.

That’s why the big advertising networks and the people who run them, and the marketing clients at large companies, love things like big data, and programmatic advertising, and adtech - things that are neat and controllable and easy to systemise.

But with all that technology, data and programmatic buying, what do we have?

As far as I can see, hundred of millions of individually targeted shite.

Ads that people are increasingly trying to block.

And the production line processes and system of these big network agencies don't lead to great creativity.

They've become these huge, complicated and bureaucratic organisations.

They’ve tried to force creative thinking into a production line process, it’s been industrialised.

And that’s a real problem.

Industrial processes don’t produce individual pieces of brilliance.

Production lines are designed to churn out identical products.

Exactly the same, every time.

And they're very good at that.

So they create production line work - the same, the same, more of the same.

Whatever the client, whatever the problem, whatever the product.

More of the same.

But that’s the opposite of creativity.

Creative solutions by their very nature, are different to what was right last time.

And none of it is as powerful as that thing you see that stops you in your tracks, that sticks in your brain, that makes you think about something differently.

Messy, unpredictable, real creativity.

The most powerful, valuable thing that we can provide to our clients.

And, unfortunately, if you want the best, most powerful creativity, you have to learn to be okay with the idea that you can’t define it.

Or even necessarily control it.


  1. All true, and very well put. We need to keep track of the little creative gems that pop up from time to time and document how much harder they've worked (than most of the the bland dross that gets churned out). Then we can make a case.

  2. That's why a lot of the time being a good client, account guy, or strategist means playing defence to create the space creativity needs. Happy playing line backer for a bit, not always having to be quarterback.


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