10 things you didn’t know about creativity

BENT ANTENNA - Audrey N. Carpio - The Philippine Star

Dr. Joe Adam Fry works for Google  you know, that tech company that comes up with seasonally appropriate logos on your browser’s homepage? He’s a creativity geek — he studies how creativity comes about, from the point of view of advertising and branding, particularly in the digital realm. Rather than look at the design of a thing itself, he’s interested in understanding how it gets created within an organization, and firmly believes that creativity is a complex process that involves thinking about culture, context and how different people interacting with different things. “I like to see the good side of advertising,” he says. “Making things that people want instead of making people want things they don’t need.” He shared his insights on the processes of producing great creative work in a lecture hosted by the British Council.

1. Back in the day, creativity was seen as a mystical and spiritual thing, divine inspiration. Plato said you can only create what the muse dictates. Rudyard Kipling often talked about his personal “daemon” whom he had to obey. In Da Vinci’s time, creativity was attributed to genius, a frenzied madness. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, tests sought to quantify creativity and predict what your children will be. In recent years, Edward de Bono proposed the six thinking hats, or the different types of individuals. Dr. Fry  doesn’t think any of these is how creativity really works.

2. There is a distinction between personal creativity (i.e. a child’s finger painting) and historical creativity (an invention or innovation). Creative work should be both original and useful. 

3. A blank canvas is undesirable. Having complete creative freedom isn’t going to produce great work. There is no creativity without constraints. So, spell out the problem really clearly, define the space, and, in other words, “Give me the freedom of a tight brief!”

4. Briefing is a process and not just a piece of paper. At Google they have developed an online tool where more than one person or organization can give input on creating the brief, resulting in a common understanding and ownership of it. Because you’ve worked on the brief together, you can’t just blame the art director when the output is rubbish.

5. Digital has changed everything, but people still don’t fully understand what the web can do. Many websites are merely online brochures, and many online ads are just regular 30-second TV spots with no interactivity.

6. Arcade Fire’s The Wilderness Downtown is an interactive music video that does it right. You key in the zip code of the town where you grew up, and an amazingly emotional piece of film is created using Google Maps, showing a character running through the streets of your hometown. “It started to stretch what the platform could do. Arcade Fire wasn’t being wacky with technology for the sake of it, but were understanding of what their fans are about.”

7. Using data this way, you can create better art. Art doesn’t need to be based on data, but it’s easier to come up with solutions when you have a lot of it.

8. It doesn’t need to be about the latest technology either, but just using simple tools to find out what people are talking about on social media. VW developed a very successful online campaign that targeted millions of women who put makeup on while driving (their message was to stop doing that). They tapped a hugely popular YouTube star who gives makeup tutorials, and turned one of her videos into a jarring lesson in car crashes.

9. At Google, they believe that the focus is on the user and all else will follow. “It’s our guiding principle number one. Don’t focus on your brand and what you’re trying to say — focus on what your users are doing. Think about the ‘moments that matter.’”

10. Often, advertising is focused on creative execution, but unpicking an idea can bring you back to what the business idea was about in the first place. “Show the thing that you do. Advertising should be the story, and not just a story in itself. Ideas should come right from the heart of why a business exists.” The Chipotle short film Back to the Start (Willie Nelson covering Coldplay’s The Scientist) animates the story of a farmer whose farm turns into a nightmarish industrial animal factory before turning back to a more natural, sustainable system — the story of Chipotle itself. Who would have thought you would ever cry to a burrito commercial?

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