On Being 'Creative'

Sometimes we think we know something about a subject only to discover, as William Goldman once said about Hollywood, "nobody knows anything."

Such may be the case with creativity, the necessary but missing element in our MediaTech business.

We hear the word all the time, usually in reference to an ad that grabs our attention (and too often without recall of the brand that's paying for the ad, but that's for another discussion). But we seem to dismiss creativity as the purview of others and, as a former U.S. Secretary of Defense once said in a different context, as something "unknowable."

If that's true, it is not for lack of attention. Folks have been writing and theorizing about creativity for as long as folks have been writing and theorizing. We've studied the neurobiology of creativity, developed the metrics of creativity and described the creative process. There are countless books on the subject, including techniques for how YOU TOO can become more creative. Contrary to Goldman's belief, it seems that at least a few think they know at least something.

But as long as most view creativity through the single prism of a single ad's words and pictures, we're limiting our own ability to leverage its greater potential, which is to solve problems.

We've got challenges in MediaTech today. And we have, in equal measure, opportunities. Our best chance for success is to broaden our view of the application of creative thinking, and to think of its practitioners as including each one of us.

The word, creativity, itself comes from the Latin word creo, to create or to make something. Once thought to be a result of divine inspiration, it has evolved to a more modern interpretation, i.e., the very human ability to improve something, to add value. Whatever its genesis, we need to think creatively today in all aspects of our business and our lives.

I recently thought about creativity as problem solving when (talk about chaos theory) a natural disaster in Japan caused a misguided comedian to use a modern communications device to tweet some unfortunate comments about the victims. And shortly thereafter, Gilbert Gottfried, the voice of the Aflac duck, was fired.

Event though it's hard to dispute that firing Gottfried was the right thing to do, it left an unforeseen hole in the middle of an iconic and very successful multichannel communications effort. Very quickly however, Team Aflac turned lemons into lemonade by devising and promoting a very creative initiative to discover who would be the next voice of their duck. Problem turned to opportunity.

I think about creativity in the context of a business model that has recently propelled Netflix beyond Comcast in number of subscribers. And of the initiative begun but not yet completed to bring cross-platform measurement to reality.

Our key challenge today does not revolve around a better execution of the same model. Our challenge and our greatest opportunity involves reinvention. Our individual creative processes need to focus on connecting a new consumer dynamic with new functional capabilities, sometimes by integrating formerly discreet disciplines. When we talk about data and its application as "the new creative," and about ROI accountability, we cannot ignore the special skills and approach that the direct marketing community brings to the discussion -- even if they would like us to.

Creativity is an everyday and an everyone requirement, and it demands two things of us. First is clarity, a laser-like focus on the outcome we seek. And second is responsibility, that characteristic that leaders at every level of an organization display, that says I've got this one, whatever it takes.

Maybe you can take a moment to think about it today. How do you become a Creative Director?

Tags: television, tv
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