The seven rules of creativity

This is an edited version of the Sydney AWARD School graduation address given by chairman Craig Davis last night.

Creativity is not an option. It’s not a luxury, a bonus, a nice to have.

Creativity is not a dalliance, an indulgence, it’s not effete, auto-erotic or a distraction.

Creativity is the main event.  

Craig Davis Neil Johnston AWARD

Craig Davis (left) and AWARD School Sydney's top student Neil Johnston

The most influential of man’s abilities is the capacity to create. God-given gift, or evolutionary miracle, it doesn’t much matter. We all have the potential to change things for the better. That’s what creativity does – it takes us forward.

Our hairier forebears created fire on demand, language, the wheel, moveable type, the steam engine, photography, telephony, penicillin, the computer chip, karaoke, network theory, triple-choc-chip ice-cream, and they’ve redefined possibilities for us all.

Creativity is the force that turns problems into opportunities and opportunities into progress.

So why does that matter to young, hungry and ambitious creative people right now?

Because creativity now sits at the grown ups table.

Back in 1998 I went to NY to look for a job. One night I was having dinner next to a table of three businessmen, the kind that Tom Wolfe would call Masters of the Universe.

They were talking about what their kids were going to do at college.

One guy had a son doing economics. Bravo.

Another had a daughter off to do medicine.

The third guy was squirming in his seat. He had trouble admitting that his son, for reasons he could not grasp, was going to study design.

The others laughed and scoffed and pooh-poohed the whole idea. “What good is that going to be?”

But here’s the thing. They were sitting in the fine dining restaurant of The Paramount Hotel – the whole establishment a monument to the design skills of Philippe Starck.

Every room in the hotel, every stick of furniture, every light fitting, the carpets, the basins, the curtains and cushions, everything on the table, down to the cutlery and napkin holders was a product of Starck’s creative vision.

The irony was lost on them.

Thank God the world has changed.

Creativity is no longer laughable in the elite restaurants and boardrooms of the world.

IBM recently completed the largest ever one-on-one research study involving CEOs and public sector leaders ever undertaken. 1500 people, 33 countries.

The key finding was that when asked what they felt was the most important leadership characteristic for success in the next 5 years 60% of them answered, “creativity”.

The challenges around business are more profound and more sophisticated than they’ve ever been.

Creativity is now desirable and lusted after.

The question is, can we deliver?

It’s a challenge for us all and it’s the particular challenge facing the fresh faces in this room. What a wonderful time for you all to get involved.

Congratulations to all of you for surviving the last few months and for being here as graduates tonight.

So here are seven tips that you might find useful.

  1. Believe in yourself. Have faith in your talent – confidence is crucial.
  2. Stay true to your values – they will become more important
  3. Curiosity is the raw stuff of creativity. Eat up as much raw material as you can.
  4. Don’t try to be a genius, try to have one. You’re an antenna. Be open and available to ideas.
  5. Know that your best is always yet to come.
  6. Always work with the best people you can find.
  7. Be a generous person, hungry, competitive, restless, passionate, but most importantly, generous (collaboration).

I believe in these things and I believe they will serve you well as you create progress in the world.

You have an opportunity to create and contribute like no previous graduates. And you have more tools and technologies at your disposal than ever before.

  • Craig Davis is the chairman of AWARD and chief creative officer of Publicis Mojo.


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