You can’t own creativity. It owns you.

January 3, 2011


I find it fascinating how many people who call themselves “creatives” spend a lot of effort defending their ownership of creativity and subsequently, their value within it. After spending two decades of creative education and professional experience from a BFA in Graphic Design to Designer, Art Director, Creative Director and Creative Educator, I’ve realized the approach of defending the subjectivity of the creative process and who has the rights to it is futile.

It seems that the evolution of creative ideation and collaboration has some running scared. The concept of joining forces with the consumer, client and the “suits” of an agency to develop strategies and medias designed to communicate in new ways is arguably the sign of the creative apocalypse. It also appears that the ability to conceive ideas and execute and evoke engaging conversations with consumers to uncover honest brands with believable products are only left for a gifted few.

Now, before I get shunned from the creative community, let me clarify. I’m not talking about the creative capabilities of talented artists trained and educated to execute and produce these ideas with the latest technologic tools of the trade – that can be victoriously argued. I’m simply suggesting that today it is time to evolve the belief that creativity, the use of imagination, isn’t for everyone. Creativity can be birthed from anywhere by anyone. I’m not saying that it will be, but that it CAN be – the idea that opportunities presented are possible.

To prove this is a global issue, about a month ago an article, who’s author will remain anonymous, was posted on an online creative professional community called Linkedin titled, “Should we have Creative Departments in the 21st century? Our Creative Director, would kill me if he read this, but surely the whole agency (including client and consumer) is creative now?” Started by a CEO of a London based ad agency. It’s also important to note that the Creative Director mentioned here is quite possibly the alter ego of the CEO and author of this article. After 203 comments, it was enough to warrant me writing this new post.

I think it’s worth sharing a few of those comments, who’s authors will also be anonymous, to frame the calamity that presents us. The conversations between these Creative Directors, CEOs, Writers, Designers, Account Execs and at times clients epitomizes the idea that ownership of creativity and it’s process is in fact coveted. First, a few who are really defensive:

“Asking a questions like that in this forum is really only going to start an argument in my opinion. Most creatives do so much more than generate just ‘ideas’ – the same ideas that you go on to take the plaudits for in meetings and in the end sell to clients to create revenue. Have a little more respect for others trades and skills and they might have a little more for yours.” –Anonymous Creative Director

Who says Client and Consumer are creative, the Client and Consumer? If Client and Consumer are creative why stop at the creative department lets just close the doors and all walk away! Advertising need not exist, your talking about an entirely new industry which basically sounds a bit like a dictatorship to me. Client “Lets make that logo even bigger now that we’ve increase the headline and body copy it’s getting a bit lost.” Mac Operator “Oh what a brilliant idea, how creative you are, lets not worry about your USP the logos much more important.” I’ve got a better idea, lets loose all the suits.” –Anonymous Creative Director

“The idea that “everyone is a creative” is just a further devaluation of what creatives do. There is a lot of that going on. Acct execs who are creative are a blessing. Acct execs who think they’re CREATIVES are not. I have respect for any and all co-workers who do their job, let me do mine and understand that we’re all pulling oars on the same galley.” Anonymous Art Director/Writer

“Funny how people always admire to be creative, I don’t blame them we are lucky! I would hate it if I was a suit man, and I would hate it more if I don’t create. After all what’s in and idea if it is not executed and polished by the creative people. Would you let anybody operate on you other than a professional Surgeon? Enough said, let’s all work together and be happy. Amen.”–Anonymous Creative Director

And now a few post from those who are trying to suggest a new perspective:

“Only if all other departments involving passion, study, and intensity continue to exist, then, for the sake of fairness if for no other, of course we should(get rid of the creative dept.). That’s the cool part! And everyone is certainly creative. That’s the coolest part!” Anonymous Designer/Illustrator

“The ability to work as a team and respect everyones ability to contribute within their area of expertise is the key answer to this question. At all levels, in all departments. Yes, lord knows even accountants can be “creative”. See it for what it is and let it breathe.”–Anonymous Creative Director

“Why do these barriers and pigeonholes exist? I’m CEO of our agency but i’ve always seen my role as listening out for the germ of an idea in everyday conversation, perhaps in a brainstorm, that can form the basis of a great campaign. Because these throwaway comments come from real people, if they’re used as the basis for a creative campaign, they’re much more likely to mean something to the people they’re aimed at, precisely because they’re from real experience and not an advertising cliche or formula thought up and developed in a room where an art director faces a copywriter. Ideas can come from anywhere and now can be spread by almost anything. We’re all creative and my advice is: use your ears. The answer you’re looking for is being spoken somewhere right now”–Anonymous CEO of ad agency and author of the original post

On a final note, I would like to include this comment:

“PS Crowd-sourcing is the lazy man’s/woman’s answer to creative development. As Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked Americans what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” – Anonymous President of an ad agency

This last statement I think is the most fearful of all. It also has some validity in claiming that fear. Crowdsourcing is a new term on an old idea…brainstorming. The only difference is that the later is more believably trustworthy. Why? Because it is consistently controlled more effectively based on years of an experienced process. The wrongful thinking that crowdsourcing can save time and money is also why it is a threat to creatives everywhere. On the contrary, this process can actually be done successfully. The trick is the answer to this entire blog post’s debate.

I agree that everyone has the potential to be creative. AND we should always allow for that creativity, especially when it comes to engagement and communication strategies with mobile, guerilla and social initiatives. However, not everyone that has a creative idea can make great decisions on what to do with them. Creative leaders bridge planning and strategy into creative executions with their teams. Experience pays off in this area.

What assets do designers and creative writers have that can benefit the agency? Adhering to the science of a creative process, understanding composition and design is a learned skill. Not to mention the countless hours of time spent using the tools of a creative artist/designer. If you aren’t confident with your value within the creative process, it might mean you need to focus on some personal growth and change that perspective.

It’s the idea that everyone has the “potential to be creative” is what we have to be open to. You never know where a great idea will be birthed. Claiming ownership to “creativity” in that sense is a missed opportunity. I admit, this takes a special environment free of egos and respect to the talents of everyone to do their specific jobs aligned with their skill-sets.

Today’s conversations about brands are bigger than ads and scripts. Embracing today’s social technology and the evolving contributing personalities that will develop and collaborate with trained creative professionals is the key to new generations of consumers who will embrace brands that are transparent and honest about their products and services. Am I suggesting an advertising and marketing utopia? Not really, it’s the way we should have been doing it all along. Is this kind of change to much to ask? Will our creative ownership continue to be threatened by change and new ideals and the need to control outcomes that were never meant to be controlled by anyone in the first place? Yes. This isn’t a new argument, but hopefully it is a new perspective.


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