Creativity Is Hard Work

March 2015

The path to creativity needs to be built on a strong focus, attention to detail and the ability to genuinely challenge orthodoxies, said artist Grayson Perry at Adweek Europe 2015.

There is no recipe for creativity but there are guidelines, in the widest sense of the word, which might help nurture inspiration and ideas.

The advertising industry is obsessed with trying to define the elements that make up a creative genius but developments, advances and breakthroughs will not come by donning a uniform of creativity.

This is the view of Turner Prize-winning artist and ceramicist Grayson Perry. His advice about bringing creative thought to fruition delivered at Adweek Europe challenges, as one might expect, received wisdoms about the creative process.

Don't try to be original

It is easy to be misled into thinking there is some kind of pure originality. Every piece of work is inspired by something already in existence and Grayson says: "Don't be embarrassed about borrowing stuff". Within this process fortuitous errors can occur that are transformative. Perry stresses: "The process of culture is to copy stuff and get it wrong."

Play seriously

What you might consider doodles, sketches and daydreaming may eventually become components in an important idea. Treat all your thoughts and ideas as important and "take all your musings seriously", urges Grayson. He points to the 'secular church' on which he collaborated with Living Architecture as a project that started off as one of his aimless doodles.

Be specific

There may be a rush to develop a global culture but creators should not be afraid of being specific and local to find their own voice. Grayson takes aim at youth culture for now having a homogenous look across the planet and says: "Don't worry about being global. There's nothing worse than a desperate attempt to be universally applauded."

Put in the hours

Working up inspiration into valuable and useful ideas is hard work. Disciplines learnt when young or early in one's career can be very helpful in developing the stamina and attention to detail necessary for powerful execution. For Grayson that came from assembling detailed model aircraft kits when a youth.

Be vulnerable and know yourself

Learn your temperament and 'own and use' those aspects of yourself that you might consider negative, for instance a sense of anger, encourages Grayson. Trying to cling to certainties will trip anyone up looking for breakthroughs so do not be rigid in outlook but be receptive to 'happy accidents', he adds.

Of course, anyone's rules are made to be broken - these are just Grayson's principles - but they all contain a grain of insight. When combined with the insights of Head of Design Patrick Collister, it becomes evident that a culture of creativity can be nourished that can walk hand-in-hand with commercial projects.

He says that there are techniques to help people have ideas and see new connections. "That's what an idea is - a new connection that did not exist before." He cites Nest as "a pretty bloody big idea".

Collister believes that the whole creative process in advertising is driven by conflict. Creative people are competitive by nature and there is no more competitive environment than full-blooded business, "which is a battle to the death".

He also says there is a healthy tension between the briefing teams who deal in abstracts, and creative teams that need concrete facts to get to work. Asking for "fun" in an ad is not going to cut it as one person's idea of fun differs greatly from another's.

Head of Marketing, Nishma Robb, agrees: "Creativity is the lifeblood of innovation — and technology can be the great enabler. Harnessing the power of both means we can make great strides forward in coming up with ideas that can benefit communities and build businesses."

Innovation and creativity in marketing communications are highly prized but the value of inspiration from elsewhere and subverting the familiar should not be discounted.

Parodies of traditional ads, for example, particularly played out in the more experimental YouTube arena, often captivate consumers. Equally, Grayson's plea to 'Play Seriously' speaks to the trend for iteration, testing and continuous improvement. Digital is a rarefied atmosphere where failing fast and fixing quickly are both economically viable and desirable.

The idea that people should be 'allowed to fail' still holds true and leads to the big jumps in innovation.

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