OPINION: MILLS ON ... CREATIVE TRAINING

George Bernard Shaw has a lot to answer for. Intentionally or not, the man who coined the phrase ’He who can does, he who cannot teaches’, has probably done more damage to the cause of education in this country than any other individual.

George Bernard Shaw has a lot to answer for. Intentionally or not,

the man who coined the phrase ’He who can does, he who cannot teaches’,

has probably done more damage to the cause of education in this country

than any other individual.



While the saying contains an element of truth, it has also created an

anti-educationalist state of mind in this country not evident anywhere

else. How else can we explain the way teachers are revered in, say,

Europe and Asia, but reviled in the UK? Nor is this attitude restricted

to primary and secondary education: it still permeates every structure

and level of society.



We all know it’s daft, but the prejudice lives on - as evidenced by the

scepticism with which some have greeted the news of Patrick Collister’s

plan to set up a school for creatives. You don’t have to read too

closely between the lines to see what they’re thinking: ’Couldn’t cut it

at Ogilvy & Mather, so he’s setting up a school. Pah! And he’s planning

to teach creativity. Double pah!’



However, it’s not so much Shaw’s aphorism that we ought to challenge -

in Collister’s case it is self-evidently nonsense - so much as the twin

assumptions (perhaps prejudices would be a better word) that the critics

are also levelling at Collister: one, that creativity cannot be taught;

and two, that there’s no need to teach it anyway because, naturally,

creatives know it all - the sort of negative double whammy which seems

to have destroyed John Gillard’s School of Communication Arts.



Let’s start with the first, which seems to have its roots in the notion

that advertising is a form of art, and art is all about inspiration, not

applied perspiration - and therefore impossible to teach. I find this a

curious attitude, to say the least. Advertising is about problem

solving, about taking the client from where they are, which is point A,

to where they wish to be, which is point B. Whatever creativity is

applied must be done so within a framework - one bounded by context,

history, budget, time and possibility. These are the very real

disciplines that impinge on creativity - and helping people to think,

which is what teaching boils down to, can only be beneficial.



And, as for the idea that creatives don’t need to be taught anything,

well, I find this hard to comprehend too. One of the great virtues of

the UK ad industry is the continuous training educational infrastructure

available to account managers, planners and media folk. Why, I even know

a couple of chief executives who slip out now and then for a bit of

private coaching.



So what makes creatives so different? Nothing, as far as I can see, and

yet the very quality that you would want creatives to exhibit above all

the other disciplines - an open mind (not to mention a sense of

humility) - seems to be curiously lacking when it comes to further or

ongoing education.



Curious too when you consider that others whose livelihood depends on

their individual excellence - athletes, actors, opera singers - all

employ their own equivalents of Patrick Collister.



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