Leaving creativity to the creatives is a bad way to do business

When you're not part of the exclusive creative club, getting your ideas heard can be challenging. Former agency suit Sarah Bailey states her case for why creativity shouldn't end in the creative department.

I didn’t grow up in a creative household. My dad is an old school engineer and my mum is a nurse. Needless to say, everyone in my family was slightly confused when I decided to embark on a career in advertising.

No one we knew had ever worked in this field before, and this was a long time before Gruen and Mad Men. The confusion was two-fold: firstly, what would I actually be doing all day and secondly, why was I going into a creative field when I wasn’t creative?

Adland? Huh?

Now, admittedly I still can’t shed much light in regard to the first question, but once it became clear that my role in the advertising world was to manage client relationships, budgets and timelines, everyone relaxed. It was actually a business role. Not so creative after all. Phew.

Oddly, once I was in Adland it became even clearer that there was a creative divide: those that were legitimately creative, helpfully called ‘creatives’, and those that should keep their ideas to themselves for the safety of everyone around them.

And even though the company I worked for constantly spruiked their founder’s mantra, that ‘creativity is the most powerful force in business’, the origins of the creative gold dust generally seemed to matter as much as the ideas we were trying to sell.

Over the years I witnessed good ideas rejected because they were conceived by ‘non-creative people’, and heaven forbid we would want them feeling any kind of creative validation.

Cannes: the creative motherland

To be clear, I’m not challenging the notion that some people are more gifted than others when it comes to churning out ideas on demand, or that there are people that can develop a vision and articulate it well.

I’m aware there are souls walking amongst us that can take a simple notion and give it incredible, insightful, global meaning that compels even the most avid doubters to purchase a product against their will.

And, operationally I appreciate that it’s important to task certain employees with creative output and measure them accordingly.

However, I definitely struggle with the black and white philosophy that people fall into one of two categories: creative or not. I don’t think it’s doing anyone any favours culturally, nor do I think it’s leading to positive business outcomes.

Some of the most creative people I know work in science, HR and small business. Some of them are stay at home parents. Some of them are lawyers. Some of them even work in finance. A good idea is still a good idea and when you look around at the new wave of successful start-ups, it seems that these ideas really can come from everywhere.

Finance… creative?

DDB’s founder Bill Bernbach was 100% on the money: creativity is the most powerful force in business. Hell, I think it’s the most powerful force on the planet. How else are we going to work out where to live when it becomes clear that climate change really is a thing?

Bernbach’s quote has typically been relegated to communications when really, creativity should be integral to the broader company culture, be woven into all KPIs, be allowed to take different forms, and break free from marketing to swirl around every department. We need to think creatively about how to promote and manage a flexible workforce, mental health and operations.

We need to approach every challenge creatively, in the business world and beyond, and to do this we need less people being told that they aren’t creative. Surely a more creative workforce can only be a good thing.

Luckily, I don’t think the official ‘creative people’ need to feel insecure about letting more people into the tent. Yes, they will need to bite their tongues a lot. And of course, as with everything that goes mainstream there is a risk of creative commoditisation and a reduction in its perceived value, but I guess as an industry we’ll just need to become more creative in the way we charge for our thinking.

Plus, more creativity should mean that stakeholders are less conservative and are more willing to buy into creative ideas which is a good thing.

Perhaps there is an important role for the original creatives to play here, in leading the way and to inspire. To promote creativity as a fundamental value. To take the diverse ideas that come from everywhere, and help to wrangle them into shape and nurture them to market.

We all know the only constant is continual change, and seeing as creativity is really problem solving, I have no doubt those that are truly creative will figure it out.

Sarah Bailey is a business director and partner at “creative projects” production company Mr Smith. She previously worked in account management at Ogilvy Australia and as managing partner at DDB Melbourne.


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