The philosophy of creativity

A highlight of Cannes for me has been the wisdom of philosopher Alain de Botton, a man so clever his brain has eaten his hair.

Here, in a series of quotes, is some of the clever stuff he said today about creativity, media and advertising.

“The world’s most powerful multinational corporation is the Catholic church. It has made lots of money by selling a good that people need, like a sense of belonging and self esteem. Advertising rarely does that. Too often it caters to the bottom end of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Advertising needs to commoditise things that we need in life. You can make money from that, rather than focus on vain and menial desires like sex. ”

“Difficulty and suffering is normal. It’s an absolutely necessary part of creative life. If you don’t suffer in some way, you can’t be creative.”

“The problem with alcohol and religion – two of the great western narcotics – is that they remove suffering too early. Christianity tells us that failure is fine. But we should let suffering sit with us and infuse us with creative energy to do better things.”

“Get a human skull and put it on your desk. The thought of death is both a relaxant and a stimulant. It frees you up and brings you perspective. It makes us feel usefully small.”

“The great thing about animals is that they don’t care about status. They release a part of you that’s not concerned with the tiring business of tracking your achievements and success in life.”

“The sabbath is really a check on megalomania. Even advertising people need one day a week where they realise that we are not in charge of our own destiny.”

“There is no such thing as work-life balance. Everything worth fighting for is unbalancing and frightening. The key route to a creative life is to identify the ways of life that are not in tune with our deeper selves, so we can move on.”

“All of us wrestle with a fear of failure. What are we afraid of? Not so much material suffering. But humiliation. And there’s nothing that plays on that fear quite like the media.”

“Read any newspaper. Most stores are stories of failure. Losers. The ways these stories are told is terrifying. They keep us frightened and that hurts creativity.”

“The best ads are childishly simple.”

“Ad agencies should employ philosophers, to give them a sense of perspective on the world. Philosophers are good at getting down to the nitty gritty of ideas.”

“In the UK, The Sun newspaper supposedly reports the bad stuff. The Guardian reports the good stuff. The truth is that The Sun is just more interesting. The Guardian is lazy in how it tells stories.”

“Marketers need to learn to ignore idle chatter in social media and sometimes switch off the comment boxes. Two way dialogue is not always better.”

“Even if you have 50 or 50,000 vocal enemies in social media, don’t forget that you probably have a million people who are quietly appreciating what you’re saying.”

“Good art – and good advertising – is about the distillation of ideas that would take years to  explore in books and philosophy.”

“All of us need a story within us about how we fail and how it’s noble. We need a narrative about how we are people who have lost, but are not losers. No creativity can occur without the accommodation of failure. If you are not prepared to fail, you cannot succeed creatively.”

Robin Hicks


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