Where Does Creativity Come From?

March 4, 2015
Contributor: Tom McCall

As management consulting firms are moving to acquire creative capabilities and creative agencies are building out business strategy consulting, over time how will they differentiate and how does this impact digital marketers?

The Gartner Magic Quadrant ranking Global Digital Marketing Agencies published in December. Among all the capabilities we consider (business strategy, creative services, experience design and technology) last year creative capabilities won the day. This year it dropped to second place giving way to clients demanding their agencies of record had a grip on their business strategy. The management consulting firms are moving to acquire creative capabilities and the creative agencies are building out business strategy consulting. Over time how will they differentiate? Perhaps by bringing both together in the name of great ideas that move buyers, create new markets and redefine industries.

Strategy or Creative? How about both.

What’s really happening is that strategy and creative aren’t worth much as distinct disciplines anymore. They are inextricably linked and related to concepts like design thinking that draws upon logic, imagination, intuition, and systemic reasoning. It’s about focusing on the possible – not the problem. Whoa! Now that’s a reverse process for the typical leadership team. Think about how much time the marketer today spends fighting fire drills or playing the ROI Report Out game. Imagine spinning yourself around each morning, clicking your heels three times and focusing on new opportunities, challenging conventional thinking, and hanging out on the edge.

As the global digital agencies line-up for examination, we see some reaching out to those edges and either acquiring start-ups or brokering their capabilities; responsive design, connections to the Internet of Things, and new ways to exploit emerging tech. Having a pipeline of great innovative ideas that continuously create first mover advantages, build brand equity and deliver sustained growth can only be accomplished when the whole company starts thinking, “What if?”.

Marketers need diversity of thinking like they need air. It’s one huge draw for working with multiple agencies, free-lance writers and designers, and today even “the wisdom of crowds”. But as my colleague, Richard Fouts advises, “Beware of methods that shoehorn new ideas into old paradigms.”

Brad Smith, CEO of Intuit, says designing great products is a team sport. “We developed D4D (design for delight), which clearly articulated Intuit’s approach to design thinking, based on deep customer empathy, idea generation, and experimentation. D4D is vital because it provides the entire company with a common framework for building great products.”

The Onion’s top editor Joe Randazzo, says, “We find that the creative process works much better when we function as a kind of collective mind.” The publication has turned the editorial process upside down. The ten member writing team creates outrageous headlines, then invents the stories and every bit of it is created by committee. These guys have no downtime. They are constantly on the job feeding their brains with Red Bull, Sudoku puzzles, and origami.

Steve Jobs said, “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something.”

If you wonder why your brilliant idea suddenly starts showing up in odd places and claimed by others, it might be because there really are no truly original thoughts. Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like An Artist, makes the point that truly creative people steal ideas from all sorts of places almost unconsciously. But then they make connections and assemble raw ingredients, building on past works in new and amazing ways.

But who has the time?

We’ve made ourselves available 24/7. Who has bandwidth for creative thoughts? Oral Roberts University professor, David Burkus, highlights two recent studies that suggest boredom breeds creativity. Not a new concept. Academic and scientific papers on this notion go back 50 years. We’ve all had the experience of trying to remember something or someone – and it’s on the tip of your tongue — but out of reach in those memory banks. “Never mind, it will come to me when I’m not trying so hard to think about it.”

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