We’re talking a lot about creativity at the moment in agencies, aren’t we?

What does it look like? Where should it come from? Who’s responsible? How best to harness it?

There’s an interesting debate to be had, too, over the purpose of creativity within an agency.

Is the model of creativity one built in support of new ideas that we can explicitly work up and sell to clients? In other words, a model focused on consolidating creative output within core, traditionally creative functions.

This means we hire ‘creative’ people who demonstrably somehow different to the rest of us.

Or is it something more devolved? A model where everyone across the agency is ‘creative’, whatever your job title? Because sure everyone’s role in an agency helps work get out the door? This is a model that requires creativity to feel more accessible, more within reach to those who don’t traditionally feel themselves to be ‘creative’ for whatever reason.

This means we make the people we already have feel more comfortable with the processes of creativity.

Of course, we need both.

No agency in the world would say it doesn’t want more creativity at its centre.

But neither would it disagree with what Seth Godin and Ken Robinson would say.

That viewing creativity solely as the preserve of a certain ‘type’ is all wrong, and probably cuts you off from all manner of potential value that people can bring.

Because the way creativity really works places it squarely within the reach of everyone.

Anybody is capable of this.

The difficult bit is making the connections within that knowledge.

This is the subject of this magnificent post from Brain Pickings on networked knowledge and combinatorial creativity.

Please do look at it. Or indeed any post from Brain Pickings.

Also this amazing long-form essay on The Ecstasy of Influence, a hymn to plagiarism from Jonathan Lethem. Artists know that inspiration is often making something new out of something that already exists, and this heady twirl through some pretty highbrow examples will make a lot of people feel a whole lot better about stealing with pride.

One intriguing example highlights the need for a really difficult element of the creative process – the he ability to re-contextualise what you already know.

It’s what turns the familiar into the unfamiliar and new.

Lethem quotes the surrealists, whose belief that the intensity of everyday objects is merely dulled by familiarity is best summarised by this maxim from Andre Breton;

 “Beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table

Lethem says this is “an expression of the belief that simply placing objects in an unexpected context reinvigorates their mysterious qualities”

But lets return to that earlier diagram.

Making connections is important, but I think the implications go beyond that.

It suggests the open-endedness of creativity. That creativity is never finished, or a box that’s ticked.

That it relies on knowing more stuff so that you make more connections.

Which in turn also raises an interesting question.

Regardless of how we define creativity, is it creativity that agencies really want?

Because, creativity, while apparently hard to describe and attain, can actually be harnessed pretty simply given the right processes and a certain level of organisational commitment.

If more connections come from knowing more stuff, then really agencies need to inculcate a culture of curiosity.

Which is a lot harder.

Curiosity is an innate motivation. I suspect it’s established (or eradicated) early on.

It comes from people, as opposed to being systemically engineered.

But maybe it can be stimulated through feedback.

Maybe we could work hard to make sure that curiosity isn’t merely its own reward.

I don’t have any answers yet (as ever), but would welcome (also as ever) thoughts and responses….