'Creativity is a fantastic opportunity to live a more fun and interesting life'
A view from Mick Mahoney

'Creativity is a fantastic opportunity to live a more fun and interesting life'

Promoting the benefits of creativity to the broadest possible audience is in adland's best interests, Mick Mahoney writes

When I approached the head of one of our more august industry awards and education bodies to write a review for our new book, The Creative Nudge (written with Kev Chesters my strategy partner at Harbour), they declined, citing a concern that it would encourage clients and account people to write ads. And that wasn’t something that they were willing to do.

I share this story only to highlight the odd relationship that the advertising industry often has with the idea of creativity. It’s most commonly defined as a piece of advertising in one form or another. And only people with creative in their job title have permission to be creative.

I understand why that view pervades. Writing ads is a craft skill. It is learned and honed. And, without question, is better left to experts. I’m a big believer in the power of specialists, as my own business, Harbour Collective, is a testament to.

But creativity itself, isn’t exclusive to the creative department or to the writing of ads. That’s a narrow view that limits the industry and promotes an unnecessary divide. We should all be in pursuit of creativity, in whatever form that takes for us to flourish individually and collectively. Creativity can be and should be applied to any role in an agency.

Promoting creativity to the broadest possible audience is in everyone’s best interests, because, as the recently departed Edward de Bono stated: "Creativity makes life more fun and more interesting." And that has to be a good thing right now, right?

Now that we have that straight, on to the premise of The Creative Nudge and the cause of the aforementioned refusal to review: we are all born creative. Yes, really. In fact, we all have the ability to think laterally. To problem-solve creatively in everyday life. Capable of original ideas and thoughts.

Creativity isn’t a job title. And it’s not about being an artist. Creativity isn’t even about being able to draw (despite what your art teacher may have told you). Some of the least creative people I know can draw brilliantly. Creativity is a way of looking at the world in whatever field you are in. Even a big, muddy field. There’s creativity in every industry, every walk of life. Breakthroughs in science or technology don’t come by accepting what people have already told us. The future is in the hands of creative thinkers. 

Creativity demands that you force your brain out of autopilot. Engage it. Train it to accept new things. Creativity is being brave enough to do new things in new ways – exhilarated by the challenge and the fear. It’s about taking risks. Being open to new ideas. Following your own path. Turning your back on the familiar and the ordinary. It’s about being extraordinary.

It allows you to look and think beyond the constraints and pressures life imposes on you, sprinkle magic onto the mundane. It doesn’t matter who you are, how old you are or what you do for a living, you were born with the ability to think creatively.

Unfortunately, creativity is something that many people have unwittingly unlearned. Evolution, society, education, the workplace, life, all do a great job in helping us to unlearn it. They tell us how to think, how to behave, how to fit in. Don’t rock the boat; stick to what you know; failure’s not an option. These are the insidious little thought worms that are holding you back. It’s very unlikely that there was a point in your life when you decided that you were no longer going to be in any way creative. Instead, creativity has been stolen from you bit by tiny bit without you even noticing.

As creatures, we are desperate to fit in – to be accepted by the herd. It’s how we have learned to survive. We’re hard-wired to emulate the behaviours of others. This is the reason why the fashion industry, for one, is so successful; we signal our desire to identify with others. Why else would rational beings all wear ripped jeans, then flares, then skinny fit, then stone wash, then hipsters? But it is possible to reverse the process. To overcome this biological and sociological double whammy and let all that wonderful, brave, original creative thinking come flooding back into your life. 

All you need to do is unlearn everything. Don’t worry. It’s easier than it sounds. Well, I say it’s easy more to encourage you than because I really believe it. Nothing worth doing is ever easy. But it is possible. Kev and I, with the help of a team of brilliant behavioural scientists have developed a series of nudges to make it happen.

The Creative Nudge isn’t really intended as an "industry book". But it is a book that promotes the benefits of creativity for everyone. Which, in my humble opinion, should make it an "industry book". Advertising and communications would benefit enormously from parking its mistaken belief that creativity is a job title and not a fantastic opportunity to live a more fun and interesting life. Then perhaps we might start to look like a more fun and interesting career choice to a much broader church.

Mick Mahoney is creative partner at Harbour Collective

The Creative Nudge is written by Mick Mahoney and Kevin Chesters and published by Laurence King. It is available to pre-order in the UK and Europe, where it will be released on 5 August.