There’s a brilliant interview with the CEO of Pixar (which I highly recommend you watch) where he’s asked about harnessing creativity in such a commercially successful organisation.
Surprisingly, he rails against what you might call the tyranny of the creative genius. The idea of the cool, brilliant, creative genius in the corner isn’t just an unhelpful myth – in real life it’s downright bad for business. That guy, though he may be able to come up with the idea that no-one else ever could have, is actually more destructive than creative. He’s probably socially awkward. He knows his power, and isn’t afraid to exercise it. He’s more likely to suck the motivational blood from a company’s arteries than inject it with creative gold dust.
What’s far better, and arguably more difficult to achieve, is the fluid, responsive structure that enables projects to happen with maximum creativity. This is a world where you realise big ideas by allowing the thousands of mini-ideas of which it consists to occur, and to flourish. Where creativity is the stuff that happens between people, not within them. Where the myth of the ‘creative artisit’ is revealed as complacency, and where true creativity lies in the commitment to get stuff done, in the most imaginative way possible.
After all, if creativity is thinking up new things. It’s innovation that is doing new things. (According to Theodore Levitt, anyway.)
In the advertising world, I worry we’re still too close to the destructive myth than the necessary reality. I work at a media agency, and our Creative Director was talking the other day about how the most important part of her role – in fact, pretty much all of it – is to make sure she’s facilitating creativity among everyone at the agency. And not just in the early stages of a brief either – but in the way ideas are built upon, wrapped up, sold, thought about.
This sounded, in a world like ad agencies are still obsessed over the way we define and protect ideas, like something revolutionary. In fact, if my colleague’s role is designed to bring about an ideas democracy, where ‘the people’ are in charge, then the ad agency model, at least from where I’m stood, looks a lot like an aristocracy – as in, the rule of the few.
I was recently working with another agency on behalf of a shared client. This agency strongly requested we refrain from using the word ‘idea’ in reference to anything we’d put in the presentation, since ‘ideas’ where things that arrived from their own internal team. They should be approved by their own creative director, and all but wrapped in a bow with their agency’s name on it. Now, leave aside a moment the integration/collaboration debate (one for another day, that one), this seemed to me extraordinary.
The agency in question is brilliant at ideas, though, and maybe this enforced preciousness is what serves them well. They’re thorough, they’re disciplined, and they do all the things with the design and development of ideas that you would want them to do. But, it doesn’t really allow that much space between people, or for the stuff you’ll never think of to enter the equation.
At our place we work from a premise that says everyone can come up with the ideas, that they’re latent in all of us, and with a creative approach to facilitation they can emerge and add value. Obviously quality control still needs to be exercised, and it’s bloody hard work to get people to come up with good stuff sometimes. But surely the opportunity for ideas that don’t all come from the same place is one worth a bit of extra elbow grease? And besides, don’t we want to foster the sense of inclusion that would bring?
We probably all know agencies where the work feels more like it’s about the agency itself than the client, and we should be avoiding this at all costs, not complacently sleepwalking into genericism (I think that’s a made-up word, by the way). I once heard Rory Sutherland compare the search for insights with the investigative process of a police force. We segregate insight off to our equivalent of the CID, unable to see the detail from their ivory tower, and sometimes uninterested in doing so. Instead we should rely more heavily on the massed ranks of the beat PCs, searching for evidence, uncovering the most unlikely clues.
Creativity needs groups, not just individuals.
And if Pixar think this is the way to go, then who are we to argue?