Marketers Need To Better Understand Creativity

Dr. Bob DeutschJanuary 13, 20104 min

It can be said that creative advertising is like brain surgery. When advertising is artfully done it cures people of the status quo by activating neural circuitry.

To be creative artfully requires a dynamic mix of imagination and understanding of how the world might work. This is not a matter of being correct, but rather a matter of making the audience wonder, provoking a self-referring reverie that elicits an expanded idea of ones-self and how the world works. As a result, we see anew.
This, of course, flies in the face of traditional methods of measuring advertising effectiveness. It also runs counter to today’s corporate metric-mania and near incapacity to conceive bold strategies and innovations.

Insight is the coin of business success. While numbers can provide a means for measurement they cannot “embody,” or suggest, meaningful insights into the human experience. At worst, numbers provide an excuse to abdicate decision-making responsibility while placating executives desirous of propagating ‘business-as-usual.

What’s Needed For Creativity?

Creativity requires two things: focused subjectivity and doubt. One needs the ability to focus on something long enough to conjure possibilities not overtly manifest in the moment, along with an acknowledgement that not everything is known.

The unknown is fertile soil from which a world of wonders can be conjured. Here mere facts and data are circumvented in a non-linear, symbolic, not wholly rational way. The mind plays a cognitive trick on itself by creating metaphor. “I call what I don’t know by name something that I do know.”

This mental leap-frogging allows the creative impulse to extrapolate unknown scenarios. It moves from the past, which instigates an inkling that lays the basis for the beginning of a new narrative, to a springboard that weaves a web of new patterns and associations, to an insinuation of the future kicked up by metaphor.

This process produces, from the outside-objective point of view, what can be perceived as seemingly off-topic meanderings. But nothing could be farther from the truth.

An Open Playfulness Without NO

What is in operation is a kind of playfulness with ideas that is essential for creativity. This toying around contains a bunch of NOs – NO analyzing (yet), NO doubts.

NO pressure to conform. NO pretense. NO restrictions. NO judgment.

Those who are playfully creative possess a curiosity given backbone by their expectation that they will find what they seek even though they don’t know what exactly that is.

People from many walks of life actually live this way: writer, designer, scientist, parent, small business owner. All share a belief in a beautiful human quality – Directed Serendipity.

Just listen to them, “I have a plan which allows me to begin to move forward, and in doing so I learn about myself such that when other doors open I sometimes walk in. But you have to have a plan to switch from the plan.”

Another version, “You go down a path and things evolve. By adapting to randomness you shape, but do not control, your end point. You define your end point by your own reaction to it: Ah, ha! I like this. This is for me. This is me.”

Buffeted By A Directed Serendipity

People who allow themselves to be buffeted by directed serendipity live at the creative point of becoming -who they are and what they do are the same. They don’t know – and don’t need to know – the end. They are open to the process as process, and are gregarious with their fledgling notions. They share ideas before they are fully formed. They want camaraderie. They want feedback. They’re excited.

In a state of directed serendipity you first focus on problem structuring rather than problem solving, seeking to understand rather than to explain. You try to comprehend meaning from the inside out, in its unfolding. You are not approaching the world from an intellectual stance.

Einstein, in a 1945 speech at Princeton, gave elegant voice to this perspective: “Words or data, as they are logically written or spoken, do not seem to play any role in my primary mechanism of thought. The psychical entities that do seem to serve as elements of thought are certain signs and images. These elements themselves are visual and muscular in type, originating in the intuition of the body.” (emphasis added)

The creative communicator is an alchemist of thought, attending to the reasoning of emotion. That’s what they should get paid for. That’s what they need to have time to do. In their natural habitat, they are artful image-gatherers, whose only enemies are cynicism, number crunchers and arbitrary tinkering.

Corporate executives should embrace their creatives and let them attack the status quo. Then CEO, CMO and their courtiers can sit back and count the profits.

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Dr. Bob Deutsch



    January 14, 2010 at 10:31 am

    I love what you’ve said about “Creativity requires two things: focused subjectivity and doubt”. I find that many people try to box up creativity and don’t allow for the “mental leap-frogging” that is often required. They shut down the true creativity when they only want to “stay focused”.

  • Tim Fulford

    January 19, 2010 at 3:04 am

    ‘mental leaping frogging’ happens really easily if you use Mind Mapping as a brainstorming and creative development tool. I have taught many people to develop their creative skills through the use of Mind Mapping. What I find strange is that very few people that I have met in Marketing and Advertising use this technique. I don’t understand why when it works so well and fits neatly with other creative tools that we designer types use.

  • CH

    January 20, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    Great post, and love your statement “”Creativity requires two things: focused subjectivity and doubt”. I find in large corporations we are not creative enough – and always lean towards safe and dull, but most of all safe.

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