Sunday, February 15, 2009

Creativity: A Visitation of Sorcerers or a Process?

Should Creativity Follow a Process?
It should follow a process. The complexity in Marketing Communications with the advent of interactive, addressable Internet media now requires technical deftness. It is no longer art, or copy in isolation. It now integrates art and copy and also technology: cross cutting skill sets. The goal is not just art but a meaningful product. As Jaffe (2008, p 1) says:

"Creativity is just way too important to be left to a single person, a dynamic duo or a department anymore."
He warns us to know ourselves (p 2):

  • "how much time is wasted by slowing down the process”
  • “how little time is actually spent collaborating with insiders and outsiders”
  • “how many different platforms or approaches [technologies] were taken into account”
Koslow, Sasser and Riordan (2003, p 6) imply that creativity is already subject to an implicit process “imposed by strategic considerations.” They go on to say that the strategy brief provides a framework that “gives [creatives] latitude to define the opportunity, like a canvas for a painting. “

An expressly defined process from Graham Wallas (see Stultz, 2009, p 1), or James Webb Young (see Drewniany, 2008, pp 129-30) gives us the framework to focus and orchestrate work from various contributors to meet the needs of the client. Creativity becomes less arcane so well heeled account professionals can fit it into their business routine. Koslow, Sasser and Riordan (2003, p 5) observe that creatives are most likely to step back and let account execs control the creative dialog. With a well known creative process, the competitive account team knows when to take a back seat and let the less aggressive right brainers have a say.

Kracauer (1926/1963/2005, p 78) takes the opposite viewpoint. Kracauer was a cultural analyst and member of the applied social sciences group at Columbia University. His work laid the foundation for modern film criticism. He argues that an artist is too big and will appear out of place in a “mechanistic” process. His analogy was for Weimar Germany but an equivalent modern American example is that the exquisite Suzanne Farrell could never be just a line dancer for the Rockettes, not that there is anything wrong with them. She is too creative and their routine too mechanical.

However, Stultz (2009, p 2) points out, the purpose of creative advertising is not patrician art but sales so we need to produce what is appropriate for the target market. Koslow, Sasser and Riordan (2003, p 6) are more harsh and note that even if creatives think of themselves as artists they haven’t left their day jobs. They may want to be artists but are not big enough. So they apply their less certain creativity to further the aims of their patrons, and those banal brands.

Koslow, Sasser and Riordan (2003, p 2) provide a working definition of creativity as a combination of originality and appropriateness. Originality is easy to spot but conversely, appropriateness is difficult to assay (ibid, pp 2-3). Appropriateness is the basis of our paycheck from the client. The creative strategy is the roadmap to appropriateness. A well known creative process helps to ensure that everyone is singing from the same page so we avoid a mismatch between creative team and the account exec: one providing artistry and originality while the other is expecting strategy fulfillment and originality (see Koslow, Sasser, and Riordan, 2003, p 9).

Can Creativity Follow a Process?
Yes, creativity can be made into a process and the proof is that successful agencies like J. Walter Thompson (see Drewniany and Jewler, 2008, p 129) have defined and incorporated a creative model into their work. Yes, it can because certain techniques create an atmosphere of creativity so we can hot up the copy or visuals (for example see Stultz, 2009, p 3). Finally, yes because if a definitive process like the mind-numbing tedium of American public schools took our creativity from us (see Stultz, 2009, p 3), it is safe to assume a reverse process can help us to regain at least some of it.

Karl Weick, the noted psychologist believes that creativity follows a process and says (1979, pp 252-4) that “creativity is putting old things into new combinations or new things into old combinations. “ He describes techniques to cut through the overpowering tangle of words and images to arrive at a salient idea. Crovitz's Relational Algorithm is one of them.

To generate creative ideas, Crovitz uses a basic sentence structure: "Take one thing in relation to another thing." For us, the things are the key brand values, customer characteristics or market conditions. They can also be symbols or colors. The [in relation to] is a set of 42 relational English words. A substitution is iteratively applied: brand values into [one thing], customer attributes or market conditions into [another thing], and for each pair a rotation of the 42 relational English words into [in relation to]. Each sentence is then evaluated. For more information see Crovitz Relational Algorithm.

Weick also advises (1979, p 44) that creativity requires think "ing." By this he means that we should attempt to use verbs rather than nouns. Verbs anticipate objects and events, and apply meaning to them more so than nouns. Also, studies show that future perfect tense rather than simple future tense is more conducive to creativity (p 199).

Simple Future thinking is starting in the present and working to the future. Future perfect tense starts in the future, assuming the event occurred and works backwards to the present. Simple future is difficult because any possible outcome is considered in our thinking, including those not on the path to the desired result. One creative technique he suggests is to write yourself a congratulatory letter from the future that explains in detail how well your creative strategy worked.

The Risk of Bounding Creativity with a Process.
A fundamental risk is that we use yesterday’s vocabulary to understand today’s problem and to generate tomorrow’s solution. Furthermore, we risk reapplying a comfortable but characteristic design and so become predictable. What’s more, keeping in a “comfort zone” may be dangerous because we may lose the exuberant intensity that comes from being in an uncomfortable spot.

Another concern is that it is questionable how well a mechanical process understands meaning and so incorporates it into the solution. Hope is another part of the creative process. Again, it’s uncertain how well a mechanical process understands hope. Hope cushions the shock of setback so it may be that a non-process creativity is more persistent, especially after mechanical tricks don’t give a desirable solution.

Finally, in Kracauer’s view (1926, p 70), bounding creativity with a process is simple minded.

Drewniany, B and J Jewler (2008). Creative Strategy in Advertising. Wadsworth

Duncan, T (2005). Principles of Advertising & IMC. McGrawHill/Irwin.

Jaffe, Joseph (April 14, 2008 ). “Is it time to phase out the creative function?” AdWeek. Retrieved on January 27, 2009 from

Koslow, S, Sasser, S and E Riordan (March 2003). What Is Creative to Whom and Why? Perceptions in Advertising Agencies. Journal of Advertising Research.

Kracauer, S and T. Levin (2005) The Mass Ornament. Harvard.

Stultz, L (2009). In Search of the Big Idea. Retrieved on January 27, 2009 from WVU.

Weick, Karl (1979). The Social Psychology of Organizing, 2nd Edition. McGraw-Hill.

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