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Creativity is Real, “Original” is Not

September 20, 2010 8 comments

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Creativity. The ever elusive, hard-to-pin-down, sought-after trait. It’s the difference between those who “make cool stuff” and those who merely “do stuff.” It’s the reason people like Lady Gaga wear a dress made out of meat and get away with it. Being creative is very lucrative, so it’s searched for and cultivated in many industries. Creativity is as elusive as “cool,” and like the concept of “cool” people always try to chase it down and define it.

Being immersed in the advertising world online, I come across a lot of articles about creativity. I read about what it is, what it isn’t, and what it can be. Other articles instead focus on how to become creative. I’m interested in all of it.

Defining Creativity

We might as well start from the root and build on that: According to Wikipedia (the end-all for half-assed research), “creativity comes from the Latin term creō ‘to create, make.'”

Being creative is making art that gets a person thinking, stringing words together in a beautiful way, and making music that is catchy and remembered; these things (defined as “art” in one form or another) are undoubtedly creative. They evoke emotions of wonder, they make people laugh or cry, and they usually make people think “damn, I wish I thought of/could do that!”

But creativity can also show up in a well thought-out argument, or a perfect line of code in a website, or a new equation in mathematics. Creativity is a new product idea, but also a compromise between warring countries that nobody has tried before, or finding a different way to fix a leak in someone’s plumbing system. This is why it’s such a hard concept to nail down: Creativity comes in many forms.

Nothing is Original

You know that scene in Garden State where Natalie Portman says she wants to do something that nobody has done before? You don’t? Here. People think creativity is like that; “creative” people are able to invent something new and original.

Well, I’ve got a sad story to tell you: Nothing is original. Everything is a mutation of a previous idea; it came from somewhere. It’s a recombination of previous words, objects, and technology to build something different. There’s a quote that gets used a lot by Faris Yakob (which, of course, he stole from someone else): “Talent Imitates, Genius Steals.” Now, that doesn’t mean copying. We all know plagiarism is a bad idea, and taking credit for something someone else made isn’t cool.

One of my favorite musicians of all time, Bob Dylan, spent most of his early career appropriating identities from various cultural figures of the past, but he also injected new meanings into the music and words. He didn’t copy Woody Guthrie, Robert Johnson, and Rimbaud; he just stole from them, and that is a good thing).

Another quote from Chuck Palahniuk’s Book Invisible Monsters goes like this:

“Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everybody I’ve ever known.”

Anything that happens now is a remix of something that already happened. We’re all just mashups of previous bits and pieces of culture.

All Past is Prologue

Nobody has experienced the world in exactly the same way. Anything you make, everything you do, and any ideas you think of are combinations of every bit of the world that you’ve ever encountered. Nobody has been subjected to the same stimuli. Nobody has had the exact same conversation with the same person, and nobody has devoured the exact same media, pop culture, and advertising as everyone else. Your creative output is defined by your past. It’s only fitting that creative things come in many different forms.

I think that truly “creative” people are simply able to take all of this information, mash it up into a broad insight about a group of people, and create something that evokes a response and becomes part of culture. Then, it can be stolen by others in the future to make more cool stuff. Creative people are curious about the world and love to tell stories. At its essence, advertising is simply telling a story.

So that’s my explanation of creativity. Feel free to steal any ideas I have…that’s sort of how it works.

What do you think creativity is?

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Crowdsourcing in the Idea Mosh-Pit

August 18, 2010 1 comment

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Sometimes, the internet reinforces my belief in humanity because of the vast amount of creative energy and raw intelligence that I see while surfing. Everywhere I look, there’s an idea being hashed out, a hilariously unexpected joke created, and something new being created. There are people with great ideas all over the internet, but the only place they are able to express these ideas is in the comments section of blogs or on their own blogs and social media accounts.

Advertisers and creative think-tanks are providing a new arena in which people can let their creative juices flow: crowdsourcing.

Regardless of what you call it (apparently it’s now called “creative collaboration”), crowdsourcing aims to take the creative energy of the masses and focus it on brainstorming, innovation, and other projects. Think of it as mass freelancing with even less commitment. Basically, crowdsourcing is outsourcing a project to a large amount of people through an open invitation to collaborate (often on the internet). Crowdsourcing is a major trend in advertising and marketing, and I think it can be beneficial for both parties. Here’s how.

Agencies

Crowdsourcing can be a valuable and worthwhile practice for agencies. Don’t believe me? Here’s a snippet from the website of a crowdsourcing ad agency in Boulder, Victors and Spoils:

“Current factors such as radical transparency, the consumer’s demand to be more involved and a growing cost consciousness regarding clients’ budgets have all made crowdsourcing especially timely for today’s marketers”

Let’s touch on each one of those points:

-Radical transparency, as I’ve talked about before, is really popular with my generation. We as consumers want to know what is going on with the brands we buy. What’s more transparent than consumers actually having a part in creating the ad? Brands can gain consumer’s trust by using crowdsourcing principles.

-Because we want greater transparency, we want to be involved. Consumers just like to have a say in things. Just look at how many people vote for the next American Idol every year. People want to participate. Again, this allows the ad agency and brand to gain the trust of the public.

-There’s a famous quote: “Half of all advertising is wasted, I just don’t know which half.” These days, it’s even harder to determine the return on investment of your advertising (though there’s a surplus of “experts” out there who can do it for you). This makes clients even more wary of spending their money on advertising.

Individuals

Crowdsourcing can also be beneficial for people wishing to get their ideas out there. As I said before, people just want to participate and help out. Crowdsourcing allows individuals to let their voices be heard. Here are some other reasons why I think the masses want to join in:

Foot-in-the-door: It’s a tough job market out there. Anything an individual can do to stand above the clutter is great; your chances of being noticed in the ad community would definitely increase if you showed off some of your work in a crowdsourcing contest.

Practice: Participating in crowdsourcing also allows you to hone your creative skills. If you join in, you can work on many different projects; use this to your advantage. Play around with different writing/design skills; you know you can’t get fired, so you can really go big or go home. Practice working on real brands and products with real briefs is important, so you should take any opportunity you can to hone your craft.

Rewards: Sometimes, brands will crowdsource ideas through a contest. Netflix did this about a year ago when they wanted a new recommendation algorithm. The prize was $1,000,000! Crowdsourcing can be quite lucrative for the winners of these contests. Even if you don’t win, you still get some practice in your field and some notoriety in your industry for trying.

Counterpoint

Of course, there are going to be some horror stories. Vegemite tried to crowdsource a new name, and the crowd picked “iSnack 2.0” as the new name (seriously). Agencies can’t let the crowd do everything; copywriters and art directors are hired for a reason, and many in the crowd simply aren’t as good as agency staff. Crowdsourcing is great for brainstorming new concepts, ideas, and rough drafts, but agencies probably shouldn’t crowdsource an entire project. Brands still want an agency’s expertise.

Crowdsourcing obviously isn’t the solution to every brand’s problem, but it is an interesting new way to think about innovation and brainstorming. Once we learn how to effectively tap into the internet for ideas and we learn how to incentivize those participating in crowdsourcing, I see it becoming an even bigger trend. Ideas are all around us; it’s just up to us to find out how to use them.

What do you think? Is crowdsourcing worth it? I’d love to hear your responses.

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