On the Campaign couch
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch

People say creatives have different brains from planners and account people – is that true (scientifically) or just a little bit over the top?

Opinions differ. Even the universally accepted distinction between the respective functions of the left brain and the right brain isn’t universally accepted. What I am sure about, however, is this: people who are thought to be creative are far more likely to be creative than people who are thought not to be creative.

Now, I know you’re going to get all pernickety about this and say: "Of course, you idiot. The only way that someone’s going to be thought to be creative is to have done something creative; so, by the time they’re thought to be creative, they’ll already have shown that they’re creative, whereas people who’ve never done anything creative won’t have. So WTF are you banging on about?"

I’m sorry to have to say this again but, not for the first time, you haven’t been listening.

I’m not talking about people who have earned a reputation for being creative. I’m talking about people who are thought to be creative; and it’s perfectly possible to be thought to be creative while having said, done, made, drawn, daubed or whittled not one single creative thing. I’ve met a few and so have you.

It’s amazing what unusual footwear and barbaric manners can do for a person’s creative reputation.

But what I’m actually talking about is people who may have no more than an average creativity quotient built into their genes – but because creativity is expected of them, they become more than averagely creative.

The acceptance of an idea – at least in our trade – is not, I’m sorry to say, solely dependent on the intrinsic merit of that idea. It’s at least as dependent on the source of that idea.

An idea proposed by a person thought to be creative will be received and considered open-mindedly; or, at the very least, won’t be met with instant, contemptuous rejection. The very same idea proposed by an account person – or even, heaven forbid, by a client! – very well may.

Put five moderately intelligent people in a room. They are of roughly the same age and appearance, they are all dressed in roughly the same gear and they are total strangers: they know nothing whatsoever about each other. They are then invited to start generating ideas and to make judgments about them. The result is likely to be stasis.

It is very scary indeed to be invited to express an opinion, in front of other people, about something as fragile and untried as a new idea. To be either in favour of that idea or against that idea leaves you nakedly exposed.

We search desperately for some external clue, some crutch, some tiny prompt that just might give spurious support to our otherwise baseless guess; that makes us slightly less exposed to potential derision.

When no such clues are available – no job description, no black T-shirt, no facial hair, no tattoos – we flounder.

Like it or not, we find it extremely difficult to judge an idea that’s totally uncontaminated by context. And that’s one of the reasons why agencies need departments.

Members of creative departments know that the responsibility for having ideas lies immovably with them – and only with them. Fear, vanity and deadlines between them ensure that ideas will ultimately emerge.

And because the ideas that emerge have emerged from the minds of people who are called "creative", others will hope and expect them to be good.

So to return to your question: I suspect that, if you took a sample of planners and account people, labelled them "creative" and subjected them to exactly the same demands, pressures and levels of expectation that real creative people face every day, you might well end up with ideas almost indistinguishable in quality.

Except, of course, the moment it became known that they were just planners and account people masquerading as creatives, everybody would know that their ideas were rubbish, after all.

What do you say if a close friend asks you for an opinion of their work, but it’s awful?

You say: "Oh, wow, Milo! What can I say!?"

‘Ask Jeremy’, a collection of Jeremy Bullmore’s Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10.Telephone (020) 8267 4919
Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, Teddington Studios,
Broom Road, Teddington, TW11 9BE