The relationship between technology and creativity in this tech-fueled world of ours is interesting. Organizations invariably feel more comfortable with technology, which is measurable and predictable, than they do with the uncertainty of creativity.
And because uncertainty is probably any business’ least favorite thing, it’s no surprise that truly creative organizations are few and far between.
If you look back, you can see a pattern of companies taking the advantage by adopting new technologies first. After those technologies became ubiquitous, however, the power shifted from those who had the technology to the creative side of the equation.
For example, in the early days of TV, creativity didn’t matter as much as it did when it became a widespread technology in the ’70s. Similarly, 15 years ago nobody was talking much about creativity in digital; it was all about the technology.
In a recent article on CMO.com, I wrote about the importance of having a really good strategy that takes into account the complexity of the modern, digital marketplace. In some ways, I downplayed creative as a focus in favor of strategy. While I think a strategic emphasis is right for those brands that don't have it mastered, it will not be long before brands have figured out how to make that work, as well as how to use all of the new technological capabilities that are reshaping marketing.
When that happens, all of those strategic and technology advantages will become the new table stakes, and the game once again will be decided at the emotional end of the spectrum, in the creative realm. For agencies and brands, this means making sure we are enabling creativity in our organizations, not inhibiting it.
So why is one person or organization creative and another not?
A few weekends ago, I ran across a remarkable video about creativity by John Cleese of Monty Python fame. It is particularly relevant now not only to brands, but also to their creative agencies because I think creativity is about to become a lot more important in the marketplace again.
Cleese made the point that creativity is not talent or intelligence; it’s a way of operating. People who use creativity well simply have “a facility for getting themselves into a particular mood, a way of operating which allows their natural creativity to function.” His point was that the normal mode of operation for most organizations is task-oriented, focused, purposeful, time-pressed, and decisive. He calls this the “closed” mode, and it’s exactly what inhibits creativity.
Conversely, he said, creativity requires a relaxed, expansive, less purposeful mood that is more curious, inclined to humor, and, most importantly, playful (in other words, an “open” mode). Cleese told the story of Alexander Fleming, who prepared four dishes of bacterial cultures. The next day only three had cultures, but instead of just being focused on the task of creating cultures and throwing the errant dish away, Fleming was open and curious, and the rest is history.
There is nothing wrong with the “closed” mode in organizations. Without it we would never get anything done. But in a world where every brand and its agency will be armed with smart, informed strategies and the latest technology, original ideas will once again be the great differentiator.
Brands and their agencies that create environments that enable and engender original thinking will be ready.