The Clearing

Create your own energy

Imagine, innovate, inspire, express... just what is the elusive force that is creativity? Richard Buchanan, managing director and founder, The Clearing, on what creativity means to him

There’s that word again. You know the one. Clients keep asking for it. The thing that keeps you up late at night. The holy grail we all search for but that often eludes us. No one knows exactly what it is, just that they want more of it. Its name? Creativity.

The problem with creativity is that it’s so difficult to define. You find it in every walk of life and yet true creativity is rare. It often borrows (steals?) its best ideas, but it can’t be copied. It’s a term loaded with so much power and meaning, yet one so overused and misappropriated that it can feel impotent and meaningless.

Yet creativity ties the artist, scientist and your accountant closer together than first appears possible. Whichever field they move in, truly creative people share originality of thought and expression. They see things differently and communicate ideas in a way that lets others do the same – vanquishing established ways of thinking, and offering new and better ones.

To help people do that, creativity needs to be able to be different things. It can even pull off the greatest trick of all – being many different things at once.

Creativity is...a problem-solver 
To us, creativity can be an approach to ideas as a means of solving problems. And ultimately, that’s what we do at The Clearing. We help our clients solve their problems and find a better way forward.

Does describing creativity as an approach to problems feel a little reductive? Well true, it may not always be the abiding motive, but it feels like there’s a problem at the heart of most, if not all, creativity.

Whether that’s obvious, like putting a man on the Moon or getting people to buy more stuff – or it’s more intricate, like the tempestuous artist making sense from the chaos within – creativity is used to search for an answer.

Creativity is...not always pretty
It’s not just an act of self-expression or freedom to make pretty things. Constraints and pressure often lead to the best creativity. A child isn’t being creative because they paint a picture, but because they’re learning new things and beginning to master themselves and the world around them.

Creativity doesn’t even need to be beautiful. When easyJet whacked their phone number on their planes in the mid 1990s, it was a creative triumph. It defied convention and expectations of what an airline should look like, heralding a new and glorious era of stag dos and hen nights.

Creativity is…destructive
It’s not just about making something. Tearing a wall down in Berlin back in 1989 was one of the most creative acts anyone more than 28 years old is likely to have ever seen. It was a wholesale rejection of the old way of doing things and the creation of a new way of living. For Picasso, "every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction".

Creativity subverts the way things currently are to escape what’s become rigid and routine. And that means having a bold point of view. Knowing when to stand in and where to stand out.

Creativity is…not like the others
In our world, the most creative brands are often the most opinionated. Creativity at The Clearing is built around establishing a clear point of view that allows brands to own a unique space in their market. We call this Clear Defendable Territory. It’s about avoiding narrow, limiting category conventions. Standing out, being different, relevant and above all – interesting.

Creativity is…a sweet-talker
But that’s only part of it. Creativity relies on clear communication – if great ideas fall on deaf ears, then they may as well not exist. You need to be able to take people on the journey with you. The best brands solve this problem by building from the inside out.

They can be niche or mass, have an altruistic motive or simply be cool, but when people inside organisations buy into their ideas, it makes others want to get involved. Think Patagonia – they have creativity running through their organisation, helping build conviction and advocacy for their ideas, which they then communicate externally in innovative ways.

Creativity is…in touch with its emotions
It requires having bags of emotional intelligence to understand what matters to people and being able to communicate in a way that makes them care. Being original and distinct – being creative – is often the best way to do this, aiding innovation and putting those bold points of view into action.

You can’t always beat the competition on price. But looking for opportunities to stand out in unexpected ways – creating credible points of difference – enables you to win.

Creativity is…not for the few
Although our thinking is creative, until it’s put into practice it remains just that – thinking. You need to be able to execute ideas for them to take root. Maybe it’s because creativity is elusive, but working in a team helps – applying many minds from different backgrounds to the same problem.

When you have all the experiences that different people have collected over their lives – the more diverse the better – you have a deeper pool of inspiration to draw from and more chance of making interesting, creative combinations. Together we become more than the sum of our parts. And that leads to innovative, more interesting answers, quicker.

Creativity is…a magpie
For Steve Jobs, creativity was about connecting the dots. Well, you’ve got to collect them first. Luckily, they can come from anywhere – art, music, literature, film, science, nature, food, architecture, people – the list goes on. It’s a case of staying curious and asking questions, embracing change and difference.

Truly creative people are like magpies, collecting, borrowing, stealing bits of ideas and remaining childlike in their approach to life. Then, when posed with a problem, the materials are there to find an answer. If you work hard at the problem, eventually your subconscious will pitch up (late as usual) and do the heavy lifting. Using the dots you’ve collected.

Everyone’s different; for some, the solution arrives while riding their bike, or brushing their teeth, or taking the proverbial bath. Personally, I favour the quiet, lucid, moments that arrive at 2am while sipping something cold and white.

How to create your own energy…

  • Don’t take life too seriously
  • Gorge yourself on music, art culture and travel
  • Live in the real world, spend time with real people
  • Balance work/play
  • Unlock your inner child and have fun
  • Find space and time to think
  • Don’t forget your roots
  • Be open to new ideas
  • Break from routine, never walk the same way to work
  • View the world from a different perspective, look sideways
  • Find the extraordinary in the ordinary
  • Spend quality time together
  • Expose yourself to new experiences