The Contradiction of Creativity

There was a recent article in Advertising Age sponsored by USA Today that asked advertising executives what “Creativity” meant to them. Responses ran the gamut. Below are some examples:

“Creativity is surprise and delight”
“Creativity is taking existing things and recombining them in ways that are completely new and fresh.”
“True creative is original, which is a very high standard.”
“To me, creativity is something that sparks the imagination [about a brand] in an ingenious way.”
“Creativity is leaving an old belief behind.”

My sister, who is an artist, is fond of saying “creativity is messy.” And I think that gets to the heart of the mythology of creativity. In hindsight, you can see the results of risk-taking and innovation and it seems ingenious and inspired. You know it when you see it. But creativity is actually a process of failing. Most of the failings are not in the public eye, but the result of experiments. Experiments conducted by folks who are not afraid to make mistakes and do things that others may not be willing to do. So unwilling, in fact, that the idea never occurs to them at all.

Most of us are subconsciously constraining our creativity. It is constrained by our fears and self-doubt, but also by our own experiences, expertise, and good judgment. Not everything is a good idea and quickly identifying and filtering out the bad ideas to get to the good ones (and then filtering out the good ones to get to the great ones) creates less waste and allows you to focus on the opportunities with the biggest impact. It is those high impact ideas that earn people the moniker “creative”. And yet, creativity generates waste. That is the first contraction of creativity. The most successful creatives, fail the most.

And that same experience, expertise and good judgment that we bring to our work and play can lead to new combinations, new solutions to old problems, and old solutions to new problems. So, our point of view is both a constraint to our thinking and a catalyst to it. That is the conundrum.