Creativity is the currency of the future

13 DEC 2019 Creativity is the currency of the future

I’ve spent most of my life learning about and trying to understand creativity and the creative process. My exploration started very early as my mother is a fine artist and she was always either making art or teaching art, so I was lucky enough to grow up surrounded by the opportunity to be creative.

There were always art materials around the house and I would spend hours, that seemed to go by like minutes, drawing, painting or sculpting. So, for me, creativity wasn’t something that was reserved for special people with a special gift that you did at a special time. It was just something that you did all the time. I never realised how lucky I was to have the opportunity for creative exploration in my foundation years and that probably had a lot to do with what I ended up doing for a living.

As much as my formative years were engaged in making things, whether drawings, paintings, sculptures or any other manner of often uninterpretable abstract objects, it’s important to point out that for me the definition of creativity is not art.

Often, when people hear that I work in a creative field, they might say: “You’re so lucky you’re creative, I’m not creative at all, I can’t even draw.” While art is certainly an output of creativity or creative thinking, I see creativity as something much more fundamental and it is certainly not dependent on an artistic output like drawing.

As I moved into a field that requires creative thinking, and in fact sells creativity, I’ve come to realise over time that creativity is essentially an elevated form of problem-solving. And in my experience, the best creative thinkers are often the most passionate, disciplined and tenacious problem solvers.

The tenacity is important because a creative process requires an unreasonable amount of focus and commitment. If you want to create something valuable out of nothing, you have to figure the best way of getting to the solution. Whether it’s a drawing or a business, it’s the same process, and that often involves trial and error. You start with a very clear point of view or at least a vision of what the end product will look like and then methodically work your way towards getting a result. That, in my view, is creativity. And it’s not just reserved for artists.

There are, of course, many creative artists (and some not-so-creative ones) but there are also creative business people, educators, entrepreneurs and even accountants. That last one always gets a laugh, but I don’t mean creative accounting as in “dubious”. I’ve worked with some very creative accountants who are able to solve complex problems within a very bureaucratic construct to enable businesses to be more innovative and productive.

Ironically one of the fields where creativity is sorely lacking is education. I came to learn a lot more about creativity and analytical thinking when our youngest child started at a Regio Emelia inspired pre-school. My wife and I consider ourselves profoundly lucky to have been exposed to a system of learning that fosters deep inquiry and honours every child’s ability to learn in their own unique way, and that they are innately curious, collaborative and creative.

Without wanting to oversimplify it, the most fascinating thing about the approach for me is that there is no syllabus and they don’t give the children any pre-prepared answers. This was quite unnerving at first, but once you see how the children flourish and how deeply they learn and how creative and innovative they can be, it makes you wonder why every school in the world doesn’t work this way.

It took us a while to wrap our heads around this and stop ourselves from jumping to answers when our children ask us questions. Answers, or facts, are now ubiquitous. You can get any answer to any question at any time. It’s not important, or even helpful to remember a large number of facts by rote, what’s important is how you apply the knowledge you have. If you want your children to be prepared for the future, probably the most important things you can teach them are analytical thinking (creativity), leadership and collaboration.

The reason for this, as I’m sure you’ve heard, is that creative professions are predicted to be relatively immune from a future where AI is able to do a lot of things better than humans, including processing facts, and so in the past few years many companies, businesses and educational institutions have become more interested in creativity — and yet in the field of marketing and communications, which has fostered creativity for more than a century, some seem to be ignoring its power.

This is not a new syndrome. I started in advertising before there was social media (like tots OG, I know) and even then, some marketers and agencies hankered for a “formula” that would make creativity far more structured and predictable. Well, the bad news is there is no formula, but the good news is, just like a schooling system that has no structured syllabus and is not focused on answers, creativity can still be very consistent if the system it’s in is agile and adaptive.

As I mentioned in a recent trends article, there seems to be a correlation between Moore’s Law and the levels of anxiety that agencies and marketers have around navigating the complexity that technology brings. Like the very steep price-performance technology curve, there is an equally steep incline in the panic-proliferation curve, which also seems to be doubling every year.

Technology and the resultant complexity it brings to marketing is causing many brands to aim for measurement and control at the expense of creativity. Fortunately, we work with many clients who place more, or at the very least equal, value on creativity and technology, appreciating that creativity can have an exponential impact with technology in support, and just like brands that enjoy exponential value by continuing to spend on marketing in a recession, I believe those that focus on creativity while others are avoiding it will ultimately win.

We are entering one of the most exciting eras in communication. There is so much potential in data, artificial intelligence, automation, martech platforms, voice and image recognition, among many other things that we can’t yet even fathom. These technologies will fundamentally change how advertisers operate and make storytelling exponentially more powerful, but only with creativity at the core.

Whether you’re manufacturing widgets or building brands, the more technologically advanced we become, the more important creativity will become. We should be implementing it in our businesses and teaching it to our children. I was given that gift as a child (thanks mom 🙂 and I intend to give that gift to my children, to help them understand that the creative process and the act of creative problem solving is not the domain of a few, lone geniuses.

Anyone can be creative and creativity is no doubt going to be a currency of the future. So my advice would be, if you haven’t already: start investing in it.

Author: Nahana Communications Group CEO, Brett Morris

This article first appeared in Daily Maverick on December 13, 2019.