A creative response needn’t be arty-farty, and involve crayons and poetry.
Creativity is actually about exceeding the expectations of another person or presenting a solution they couldn’t have thought of themselves.
‘Well son…’ his father began. ‘When grown-ups don’t really know what they want, or when they know what they want but feel they can’t explain it to someone else, then asking for something ‘more Creative’ is the perfect default setting.’
The child was unsure whether this was another example of grown-up evasion, so he tried again.
‘So it’s a vague and abstract concept, 100% subjective and of very little help to anyone trying to determine what someone actually wants?’
‘No… but at the same time, yes,’ the father replied, wondering why his 5 year old was using phrases like ‘abstract concept’. ‘It’s a catch-all way of buying time and hoping you’ll get lucky. It usually pops up when someone doesn’t really doesn’t know what they do want, but they’re pretty sure that what’s on the table in front of them isn’t ‘it’. The sad thing is, people think they’re always expected to ask for ‘something creative’, because asking for something ‘that just does what I want with the minimum of fuss’ doesn’t justify their pay grade.’
‘Ooh, look who’s Mr Cynical,’ said the child. ‘So does this mean all of the Editorial staff of the Creative Review don’t have a clue about what they’re talking about?’
‘Good question,’ his father replied. ‘Most people think they know what creativity is. They reckon they could pick it out of a line-up, but the fact remains that one man’s creativity is another woman’s arty nonsense.’
‘Ah,’ the child replied. ‘You’ve mentioned art. Surely that’s creativity writ large, isn’t it? Along with theatre, poetry, literature, sculpture, synchronised swimming… even that weird modern stuff you like, the blue stripe on a white canvas. That’s creativity… or is that, literally, arty nonsense?’
The father paused, blew out his cheeks and said, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to know where babies come from?’
‘No’, the child said. ‘I want to understand how we can fill museums and galleries with pictures that just as many people hate as love. How modern jazz can be considered music. Why Catch-22 is one of the greatest works of modern literature when Good as Gold is such a pile of crap. Surely creativity is more than just about convincing people to believe in you?’
‘You’re five,’ his father said. ‘What the hell are you doing reading Joseph Heller?’
‘Because I’m a literary creation,’ replied the child. ‘And this isn’t an actual conversation. It’s just some slapdash creative device the author has invented to obfuscate his total lack of research.’
‘Right… I think he’s overstepped the mark with giving you a vocabulary where ‘obfuscate’ could possibly be part of it?’
‘Indeed,’ said the child. ‘But you get where I’m coming from. I don’t know what I want, but I feel I ought to want something creative. Why creative? Why not something ‘short’ or ‘musical’ or ‘reasonably priced’, or ‘immediately forgettable’? How pointless is ‘something creative’ as a brief? Because, following your premise, the ‘creativity’ of a response is only defined by how another person perceives it, as opposed to delivering on a tangible objective? What about those conferences you do Daddy – how often do your clients ask for a ‘creative response’?’
Oh nice! thought the Father. A simple device to draw the article back into the arena this blog is written for – clever, clever child.
But then again, he did have a point. How many times had he heard ‘We want something creative.’ as an introduction to a response, rather than a clear rationalisation of what the final objective of the exercise actually was? And how often had he questioned what someone really meant when they said ‘creative’. Creative from what angle?
God, the bloody word was up there with ‘innovative’ – ‘We want something innovative!’ Really? Do you? How about we just start with ‘something done properly’ before we swan dive into innovative?’
But, of course, he never said anything, because he hated conflict and loved the security biting his lip gave him. But it made him think – what is creativity, really? The ‘arty nonsense’ definition was too easy, in the same way that one man’s public art is another woman’s graffiti/vandalism.
‘I sense your inner dialogue is tying you in knots,’ the child said. ‘How do you feel about the propositions: “Creativity is whatever you want it to be.” and ‘Saying “This is creative.’ makes it so.”?’
‘Go on,’ said the father.
‘You need to turn off your inner dialogue,’ said the child. ‘I can’t hear you.’
‘Go on,’ externalised the father.
‘Two statements. Creativity is anything you want it to be. Creativity only exists in the eyes of someone else. You can try and guess what’s going to work for them, but ultimately, it’s a pointless quest. Anyone who says, “Hey, I’m being creative.” is being…’
‘An idiot?’ suggested the father.
‘I was going for misguided,’ replied the child. ‘But why not? ‘Creativity’ is an abstract element within a process that demands tangibles…’
‘Ah, but like grit in an oyster,’ interjected the father, the bit now firmly between his teeth. ‘Sometimes that grit can create a pearl.’
The child stared at his father and sighed. ‘No. Forget the analogies and focus on the actual. A creative response needn’t be ‘arty-farty’ and involve crayons and poetry. Creativity is actually about exceeding the expectations of another person or presenting a solution they couldn’t have thought of themselves. That can and should apply to everything – accounting, logistics, people management, sandwich fillings…’
‘OK, so what would you think if a company used the word ‘creative’ in their name?’
‘Give me an example,’ said the child.
‘Hmm…’ The child thought for a moment. ‘Balls of steel. They’re just lining themselves up, aren’t they? I could give ‘em the benefit of the doubt and say they wanted to differentiate themselves from the Outlook Dry Cleaning Group. At least the word ‘creative’ suggests that they have someone in the building who uses crayons… but it’s still a bold statement.’
‘Picasso,’ said the father.
‘Go on,’ said his offspring suspiciously.
‘Yes… as a painter, a sculptor. I’ll go along with you on that…’
‘But do you think old Pablo sat down during his Blue Period and thought: a) This feels like my Blue Period; b) I’m being jolly creative; c) A quick sketch on this restaurant napkin and dinner’s on the house!’
‘Interesting,’ said the child, ‘I’d say no to a), no to b), and yes to c). Because whatever internalised self-justification Picasso created for his daubs and lines, it’s only other people that made it so. His Blue Period was just an art critic’s construct. I think our boy was too busy trying to sleep with his muses to decide the nomenclature of a particular period of time!’
‘Nomenclature?’ said the father. ‘For God’s sake… So, where are we?’
‘Absolutely no further forward than we were five minutes ago,’ said his son, ‘and that’s the point. Creativity is a state of mind. It’s personal, it’s ephemeral. Creativity is the means to an end, never an end in itself.
‘It’s equal parts smoke and mirrors and being obtuse, just because you can. It alienates as many as it envelops. You can never define it, but as long as people keep trying, the world will be a much more interesting place.’
‘Dolphins… they’re supposed to be intelligent. Do you think they have a concept of creativity?’ mused the father.
‘No,’ said the child. ‘With a dolphin it’s food, sex and balancing balls on the end of their nose.’
‘How about whales?’
‘Same thing, bigger balls.’
There was a pause.
‘Father,’ said the child. ‘What’s creativity to you?’
The father sat back and formed his fingers into a pyramid. ‘Well…’ he sighed, gazing into the middle distance. ‘It’s Gaudí, Miró, Van Gogh (but only after he went mad), Turner, Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, David Lean, Michael Mann, Ian Fleming, Christopher Wren, Blade Runner, Guernica, Penelope Cruz, The Beatles, John Donne, Aretha Franklin, bulldogs (not French), paella, gin, Austin, Pet Shop Boys…’
‘That’s just a list of things you like,’ sighed the child.
‘I know,’ said the father. ‘That’s precisely my point. That list represents creativity to me because everything on it makes me feel something I can’t replicate anywhere else. It delivers an emotional punch I can’t create.’
The child narrowed his eyes. While he was sure they weren’t even scratching the surface, he also recognised that he wasn’t going to get a lot more out of his father without resorting to a flip chart and a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
‘So Daddy,’ he said wearily, ‘Where do babies come from?’