Creative leaps don't come from out of the dark
A view from Simon Wall

Creative leaps don't come from out of the dark

We need to redefine the way we talk about 'creativity' in our business, argues Now's director of analytics.

"Eureka" yelled Archimedes, as he jumped naked out of the bath and streaked down the street. The ultimate ‘I’ve cracked it’ moment.  Every creative person knows that feeling.

Back in 250 BC, this genius was lolling in his bathtub when it suddenly struck him that you could work out the volume of a body by the water it displaced. This wasn’t a one-off either; he also developed a beautiful theoretical method for approximating Pi, a leap so blindingly brilliant that it still melts our brains today.

But these creative leaps came from a scientist. Not an artist who sat in the bath drinking absinthe having ideas out of nowhere, but a proper scientist with a headful of knowledge.

Einstein’s theories of relativity were both scientific and creative masterpieces. His thinking turned complexity into blinding simplicity in one breathtaking creative leap. A piece of thinking whose impact is felt all around us.

But they didn’t happen in a vacuum. Both men had absorbed a wealth of existing knowledge – let’s call it data – to create the ideal environment, a fertile climate in which their ideas could flourish.     

And here’s the problem.

Popular modern culture has us define ourselves as ‘left’ brain and ‘right’ brain, ‘scientists’ or ‘artists’. The left brain is logical, analytical and objective, while the right brain is intuitive, thoughtful and subjective. Anything to do with analysis sits on the left while ‘creativity’ is firmly positioned on the right.

We’ve let this thinking taint the way we work.

We have ‘consultancies’ to do analytics, and ‘agencies’ to do creativity. Analysts do the stuff before the leaps happen, right? Or they make a case to post-rationalise the creative idea.

This of course is nonsense. As Archimedes and Albert E proved, the science creates the climate for the leap.

I’d like to make my own hypothesis if you’ll allow me. It’s not exactly the theory of relativity, but hey.

My theory is that we need to redefine the way we talk about ‘creativity’ in our business. To put analysts alongside the craftsmen/women of our trade and create a new ecosystem in which our leaps may be strategic as much as executional. Where we ask more intelligent questions of the problems our clients present us with.

To get to the good answers you have to be the one who thinks of the good questions. The questions that no-one else is thinking of. You need to dive headfirst into the data and follow the breadcrumbs. Harness the information. Follow those unscheduled diversions through the data until you come up with a piece of insight, a redefinition of the question that connects all the other disparate thoughts in your head into a single perfect eureka moment.

Yes, I’m an analyst, but I can tell you that ‘that’ moment is as endorphin-creating, spine-tingling and creatively-satisfying as anything.

I promise though, I won’t be leaping out of the bath anytime soon.

Simon Wall is the director of analytics at Now.