Cerebrating creativity: it’s a state of mind

No, it’s not a typo

Creativity. Our cut through and our currency. David Harris former CCO of Gyro discusses why it's more important than ever to fuel our creativity appetites and expand our perspectives.

Cerebrating creativity: it’s a state of mind

No, it’s not a typo. It’s time to cerebrate creativity.

There are many of us out there who have spent our careers celebrating and championing creativity in our agencies and the industry and got the job titles to prove it. But, it’s time we started to really unpack the real value of creative thinking as opposed to everything else that sits within the definition of ‘creativity’.

There is a fundamental and increasing need for our industry to better cerebrate creativity – and by that, I mean we should start taking the time to think deeply, cerebrally in fact, about creativity and start exploring its business value, its human value and recognise its importance more seriously and broadly in society.

To do this we must analyse it, invest in it, and work on boosting our creative knowledge banks. We must expand our horizons and build new neural pathways. We need to percolate, cogitate, ruminate and debate creative thinking, to help ourselves and each other see the bigger picture. And yes, of course, having re-established the value of this big-leap creative thinking we need to then apply this to our work, to our clients’ business and bottom lines.

This is of course the key point of Dave Trott’s book ONE+ONE=THREE in which he says "The more varied the input, the more unexpected the combinations, the more creative the ideas’. And in which he also cites Steve Jobs, another leader who brilliantly understood the commercial value of creativity who said ‘the broader our understanding of human experience, the more dots we have to connect, the more creative our ideas will be."

But why now for the clarion call for cerebration, you ask?

The latest figures from the DCMS show the UK's creative industries delivered a record contribution to the economy in 2017 of £101.5bn and that the film, TV, music and advertising industries grew at nearly twice the rate of the wider UK economy.

So, I guess we’re doing OK. But it’s all too easy to get complacent and then focus our attention away from creativity and on the many other challenges the industry is facing. The perennial issues of Brexit, market budget tightening, in-housing, and consultancies eating our lunch, for example. And the many tech advances that are fast encroaching on our creative working lives.

Barely a day goes by that we don't hear another headline that the robots are coming for our jobs... "Robot automation will take 800 million jobs by 2030” courtesy of the Guardian is one such example. But as IPA President Sarah Golding has so passionately championed with her ‘Magic and the Machines’ agenda, it is clear that while the machines can automate the more process-driven, mundane, efficiency-based tasks, what they (currently) lack is imagination, empathy, and emotional intelligence i.e. all of the elements that fuel creativity.

We must define and enrich our own human creativity and develop a deeper understanding of exactly what it is - to augment the machines, and in doing so save ourselves from being replaced by them.

Something else that challenges us as an industry, that we also need to debate and get to grips with, is the role of social media. More specifically the echo chambers they can perpetuate. It’s wonderful that it can open our eyes to what is going on in the world, but it can also create an incestuous (and sometimes vicious) closed bubble of followers whose views rarely deviate or disrupt our own. This narrowness becomes a bigger problem when the darker tech platform-enabling techniques of serving microtargeted ads based on an algorithm of our beliefs, preferences and history lead to us each being served different, dark and unregulated political ads online that have the power to destabilise our democracy.

It’s an example of the many bubbles that we are now living in. If we continue to look inward and be served self-affirming messages, how will we ever break out of our shrinking worlds? How will we ever experience new and disruptive ideas? How will we ever build on this thinking? How will we collectively get the chance to develop our creativity?

We’re already an industry of increasingly closed bubbles. There’s our own adland bubble, and then the London bubble on top. Significantly, we have the male/pale/stale bubble. We’re living in bubbles which essentially cause us to think alike, to hire alike, to talk to ourselves, to fail to represent the audiences we are trying to reach, to utterly overlook the fact that diversity of people leads to diversity of thought. In short, we’re hell-bent on creating bubbles that stop us thinking broadly and openly, bubbles that are getting in the way of furthering our creativity.

So, what are we going to do about it?

Well, for a start we’re not just going to do sit back passively and whine and complain. Creativity is all about having the balls to do something and not be afraid of failure. What we need to do is to start thinking more deeply and more seriously about the value of creativity and do it openly, outside the industry bubble then take these learnings and apply them to something tangible and universally accessible for our industry.

And it is this insight that has driven the relaunch of the once-renowned IPA 44 Club, for which I have been part of the steering committee.

When I came across the 44 Club early in my career, it was targeted at people just like me: young, curious and ambitious. It offered a series of events which discussed the most talked about and award-winning advertising. There weren’t many forums back then where you could get a window onto all the things that were happening in the industry. Those evenings were inspirational, brilliant fun and a great way to meet like-minded people. We’d spill out into the pub and carry on talking passionately about what we’d learned. We’d go for a cheap pizza and listen and learn, laugh and argue. We’d come away refuelled and buzzing with new ideas.

Of course, today we have many windows into everything that’s going on in the industry both here and all over the world, which we can access instantly. So, the question was asked, is a forum like the 44 Club still relevant, and is there really a role for it anymore?

In short, yes, and more than ever. But to carve out a niche, to make it relevant, mind-expanding and useful to our industry we must get outside our comfort zone, outside our usual spheres of interest and outside of our bubbles. Think bigger. Think wider.

Contrary to what some people think, the ‘44’ relates to the address of the IPA. It doesn’t denote an age limit, or an exclusive number of members. Being over or under 44 makes no difference whatsoever to the ability to think creatively, or to learn.

The new IPA 44 Club will welcome anyone and everyone with a curious mind. Young and old. Those at the start, or at the end of their careers. Even people outside adland. Creativity doesn’t discriminate and nor will we. It’s our most powerful unifying force and the industry’s life blood.

That’s why we’ve already lined up some big-name speakers who will make us think; who will challenge us; and who we hope will spark memorable discussions and inspire us to think in new and exciting ways.

We kick off in April with Baroness Susan Greenfield, the author of many books on neuroscience, the recipient of 32 honorary degrees, and a host of national honours including a CBE and The British Inspiration Award for Science and Technology. She’ll be dissecting how we think about creativity, asking:

  • Is our creativity genetically determined?
  • What happens to the brain during the creative process?
  • How can we maximise the opportunities for creativity?
  • How can we develop a sense of creativity?

That’s just for starters. Caryn Franklin MBE, a commentator on fashion, image and identity politics for nearly 35 years, is hot on her heels in May, to take us further out of our introspection.

I’m really excited by the plans we have for the new IPA 44 Club and hope you will be too.

Creativity isn’t a ‘nice to have’, the ‘icing on the cake’, the unmeasurable, unfathomable line item on the CFOs spreadsheet. It’s our future. In an age of increasing uncertainty around technology, automation, and Brexit, we increasingly know that creativity is both our cut-through and our currency. Now, more than ever, is the time for us to define its value, invest in it, champion it and ‘cerebrate’ it together.

David Harris is the former CCO of Gyro, a member of the IPA CPD Council and IPA 44 Club steering group

Last updated 21 January 2022