As someone who happens to lead a New York agency whose entire business model is built on creativity, I’m often asked what it, you know, is. I usually give the answer that I think is the most practical: that creativity is the ability to see patterns and connections where others don’t, and to express those patterns and connections in a unique and personal way.
Two parts, that. And very difficult to reconcile in one place. But to be a great creative, you have to learn to be great at opposite impulses.
The first part – seeing patterns and connections where others don’t – is the one I think most people think of when they think of "creativity". Seeing the world in a new or different way, finding common themes in disparate images, seeing importance or beauty or sadness or comedy in things others can’t. It takes a fearlessness and naïvety, and a willingness to be absolutely 100 per cent free of preconceived notions, rules or boundaries.
But that will only get you halfway there – and this is where I believe the hardness of New York, the grind and the culture of work as its own reward help make it the best place to learn and grow as a creative.
This is because the part where you have to bring your creativity to its fullest expression – giving that imagination shape in a way others can experience it too – is the part that needs the opposite of freedom.
It needs discipline.
The hardness of New York, the grind and the culture of work make it the best place to grow as a creative
Why? Like an athlete who needs to train their body to react without thinking on the field, a creative has to have a ready tool to fully and perfectly express what they want to express. And like an athlete, it takes an incredible amount of work and practice and time and discipline to learn to really write, or design, or code, or paint, or... well... anything you use to express yourself well.
So, freedom of thought – but discipline of practice. Opposites that, when combined in ways no-one sees coming, are often the way to an original expression. Without them, you will spend your career counting on lucky accidents – which can be fun and even powerful.
But they are just that: accidents. And creativity and what it can bring to the world is just too important to leave to something as haphazard as accidents. New York is fuelled and fed by the energy of all these opposites coming together in one place. That’s why I believe it is the best place in the world right now to start a creative career.
John Patroulis is the chief creative officer at Bartle Bogle Hegarty New York