I am sure everyone in our industry would agree with Donatella Versace’s assertion: "Creativity comes from a conflict of ideas." It’s not a new theory but where once it was based on intuition, now we have a growing base of research that gives us much greater insight into how creativity happens.
Neuroscience shows us that highly creative people have a more active associative cortex – the part of the brain that connects all the other areas. That’s important because knowledge does not reside in just one area, it’s distributed across a range of networks in both sides of the brain. Creative leaps and lateral thoughts happen when people connect experiences and new ideas emerge. Maria Popova, a proponent of ‘combinatorial creativity’ says: "To truly create and contribute to the world, we have to be able to connect countless dots, to cross-pollinate ideas from a wealth of disciplines, to combine and recombine these pieces." It’s a process that has resulted in paradigm shifts in science, medicine and design.
In an industry where the currency is creativity – and that measures its value on the impact of bold ideas – arguably, marketing is poor at actively managing for this type of creativity. Marketers employ creative agencies, and agencies employ creative people. Yet the processes we create together mean that, too often, we collude in safe approaches rather than generate genuinely creative thinking. So what should we do differently?
In an industry where the currency is creativity – and that measures its value on the impact of bold ideas – arguably, marketing is poor at actively managing for this type of creativity
1 - Force collaboration between unlikely partners.
Collaboration has produced some of marketing’s most lauded campaigns. ‘Daily twist’, the result of a close partnership between client, PR and social media teams, transformed the Oreo brand. However, collaboration is generally restricted to specific categories of agency and expert – media plus creative, digital plus data, PR plus social media. These are disciplines that feel comfortable together, that have evolved alongside one another and speak a more or less common language. But what happens when you force collaboration between people who meet less frequently and who have more capacity for provocation and disagreement? Data scientists and creatives, corporate reputation experts and brand planners, employee engagement and customer relationship marketing? I suspect the brilliant Barclays ‘Digital eagles’ campaign emerged from a mash-up of some of these more diverse skills and points of view.
2 - Recruit more diverse talent.
Our industry still feels homogeneous – white, middle class and full of arts graduates. In a world that is increasingly multicultural, we must cast the net wider. Initiatives like the IPA’s Creative Pioneers are a step forward in attracting more diverse talent, but the industry needs more radical change if we are to harness the potential of this technology-rich and data-driven world.
3 - Champion the stuff at the edges.
Marketers must champion the new, the weird and the eclectic – the stuff that usually happens on the fringes of a campaign and is often a ‘pet’ project that gets little airtime. When developing the tobacco-control campaign for Public Health England, we used a modelling technique normally employed by scientists to predict the spread of pandemics and explain wave turbulence. It was unfamiliar, complicated and difficult but it helped us understand, better than ever, how advertising worked to sustain quit attempts as well as trigger them.
4 - Create space to embrace chaos.
Creativity is messy, unpredictable and frequently results in failure. Not a recipe that boards and finance directors like. But, when it goes right, the potential gains are so great that it’s incumbent on all of us to create the financial support, the time and, most crucially, a culture that is happy to take risks and learn from mistakes.
We need to manage for creativity in a more conscious and active way. Creativity is often framed as an instinctive and intuitive process but there is much that we can do to fuel it and, as marketers, we should regard it as a core skill.