October 3, 2012



Has creative lost its true meaning?

You often hear people say ‘she was born creative’. Or ‘from a young age I knew he was going to be creative’. Is it really something we’re born with? Doesn’t every child go through a drawing and painting phase? Surely we’re all part creative – left and right brain stuff. You’re very scientific or very passionate. Am I being too creative now?

Today, creativity is everywhere. We are surrounded by it, and the results of it. We are immersed in it, constrained by it. Some people even live by it (there’s actually a consumer value segment that identifies it). Creative types used to be artists and sculptors, poets and writers. Not any more.

Wikipedia tells us ‘creativity refers to the invention or origination of any new thing (a product, solution, artwork, literary work, joke, etc.) that has value’. I think the majority of us think we’re creative but are we really adding any value? We’re all being motivated to be more innovative and original than our friends, competitors, neighbours and fellow comedians. So what does being creative really mean today?

Fredrik Haren, best selling author and creativity expert, talks about creative confidence. He says everyone thinks they’re creative, particularly in developed countries. A confidence that prompted an American teenager to tell him once, ‘yes I am creative, compared to my brother’. Fredrik goes on to explain the answer was different in Asia – ‘no I’m not creative compared to Leonardo Da Vinci’. So, is being creative more of an attitude, an inherent confidence, maybe even arrogance? Are we all creative groupies?

I believe the answer lies in the process of how you create. In the old days, people came up with ‘lightning bolt’ ideas – inspirational flashes of genius. Bursts of creativity. But on reflection, this was true innovation by genuine original thinkers. Most of these concepts were evolutionary and relevant – ideas that built companies, and truly built brands. With this in mind, is someone like Sir James Dyson the benchmark for today’s true creative? Or does he simply use a creative formula to develop his renowned products like Fredrik Haren talks about, where you ultimately combine knowledge of formerly known concepts in new ways? Do Haren or Dyson possess a better process – do they ‘De Bono’ better? Does this deliver more vision? Is it more EQ than IQ? However you look at it, I believe it comes down to all these things and the physical process you go through when leading creative or the practice of original thinking.

Above all else an original idea should be confronting. It should make you stand up and take notice, make a stakeholder nervous and create generous debate. It should go against convention – which is my first issue, that too many ideas today, too much creative, simply goes with the flow. Avoid research where possible – while still relevant in many business cases, it’s becoming more and more of a safety net and risk management tool. Proper collaboration with your audience should be conducted before any ideas are created, not after.

The other issue is the communal creative approach – to source inspiration, to reference what others have done. ‘We all want what everyone else has’ is becoming the core of more so-called creative briefs – which are effectively execution briefs. They lead to ‘like-minded inspiration’ approaches and the unfounded belief that ‘the grass is greener on the other side’.

This bothers me, particularly in a world where anything can be found in a matter of seconds and you can talk to anyone, anywhere in the world just as quickly, often face to face. Isn’t inspiration now omnipresent? This is why we’re immersed in creativity – being made aware of it by association through feeds, friends, blogs and subscriptions without having to think about it. We’re just waiting for ideas to happen, for them to simply surface around us. We’re getting lazy, being re-programmed from thinking in an original manner to simply thinking Me Too.

The creativity that launched so much of the technology in our lives, making us more creative in the process, might turn out to be our undoing. Has creativity reached saturation? Are we stuck in the fishbowl? I believe we’re close to a pivotal point in our creative evolution and it may have something do with connected devices.

Without getting too dark, let’s just say genuine creativity is at a loss or in limited quality and supply at the moment. At the time of writing, the iPhone 5 and iPad mini have recently been released, and along with Apple’s share price, reviews have headed south. How on earth do you generate captivating innovation in an update or upgrade? I would argue that Hollywood has never made a better sequel than the original. ‘Not enough wow in this version’ they say en masse. We all have bigger expectations, become bigger critics and more sociable on the subject. Let’s not forget this is the social generation and these are the tools that give us the channels to voice ourselves – hence the overwhelming focus and critique.

Speaking of this generation, the Me Too or the Too Me as I prefer, standing out in the world is becoming a standard ambition. The digital age has certainly fueled this further. New site, new app, new platform, new techpreneur. In the digital age, game changing ideas are linked to popularity. But how genuinely creative is an app that millions of people download, use relentlessly proving to be more mind-numbing(transit entertainment) than valuable or beneficial? While not all apps are the same, there are plenty like this. That’s why in part, creativity is standing still, taking a back seat to opportunity. Maybe the formula for success and creativity has become intertwined.

So if you’re still with me, I believe creativity is in danger of becoming a commodity. All things creative have converged into everything we do and the original thinker has become endangered(I was about to list some great examples like Warhol and Dylan, but didn’t want to commodify them in the same sentence out of respect).

If you’re wondering what the answer is, stay true. Be authentic. Work with people you respect – people who can promote relevant change through thinking outside the square more often than in. People who can strategically challenge convention for the right reasons and generate ideas that simply written on paper are powerful and compelling. Someone who can deliver the value in creativity’s definition.

For the time being, I find myself talking to clients and groups about being ‘creactive’ rather than just being truly creative. Creative, for me, is being redefined and revalued.