Where does creativity come from?
It often seems like it only comes from the minds of geniuses. Yet sometimes it feels like it comes from nowhere. How is this possible?
To answer this, it may be a good idea to turn our gaze away from the human race. Ever since we first started painting in caves, we have assumed ownership of the universal patent on creativity. However, by it’s very definition, creativity is not something to be owned. Wikipedia tells us that “Creativity is a phenomenon whereby something new and somehow valuable is formed.” So, if we take that thought at face value, creativity occurs every time, a new leaf grows on a branch in Spring. It happens every time it rains. It happens every time the moon comes up in the evening. It is a wholly organic phenomenon.
Obviously, this is not the kind of creativity that sells products, increases your likes on Facebook nor is it the kind that allows you to appear clever when a client hands you a new creative brief. This is because over time, our industry has convinced us that creativity is a commodity with a discernible Return on Investment.
Perhaps because it is a natural phenomenon, it intrinsically creates issues of value and ultimately ownership. At the time of writing, Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and Jimmy Page are being summoned to appear in court having been accused of copyright infringement. It has been suggested that they stole the opening chord progressions of their classic “Stairway to Heaven” from a lesser known band called Spirit. What makes the argument even more compelling is the fact that both bands toured together in the 60s before Led Zeppelin’s track was even written and that Led Zep have a track record of this kind of plagiaristic behaviour. Plant and Page, however, argue that these chord progressions have been used for thousands of years. Having listened to Sprit’s track “Taurus” for the first time this morning, I kind of get Spirit’s point. I also see Led Zeppelin’s point too. Creativity, as we have ascertained, is all around us. All the time.
Now, I’m not suggesting that creativity is a complicated system of complicit plagiarism. I prefer to take a view closer to the great and late Robin Williams’ character John Keating in Dead Poets Society:
“That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”
It is more plausible to me, that we are all part of a greater, interconnected miasma of thought. We are not as individual and unique as we believe ourselves to be. All this matters, because creativity in our industry is starting to catch up with nature. A case in point is the Google billboard at Old Street Roundabout. As I cycle past it on the way to and from work everyday, it tries to teach me a couple of (debatably) meaningful words in a language I don’t already know. It tells me how far away I am from decent coffee or drinking hole (never really that far) and tells me what meaningless shit people are Googling at that point in time. None of the above is truly useful or valuable but in combination it just may be. It breaks down to what we value at a point in time. Where we as an industry used to worship the craft of the one liner, we now worship the connectivity of the infinite. Indeed, there is even a person who claims to be the most connected person on the planet. Google him. He is truly frightening.
So where does this leave us? Does it matter where creativity comes from? Does it even matter how “good” it is? Well, I think short answer is yes and yes. Creativity has a purpose in society. Its purpose is to inspire us. To make us smile. Think. Feel. So, yes it does matter. Very much. And if we think about what John Keating was suggesting in Dead Poets Society, we are reminded that we have a responsibility. To our clients. To their customers. And ultimately to ourselves. For if we are all truly connected, every piece of content we make is part of a much bigger picture.