Defining Creativity?

So, let’s go back to the beginning. What do we mean by creativity? Certainly we are not restricting a definition to the work done by ‘creatives’ in an agency. Indeed, as Al Cox, Head of Strategy at Collective says, “for us, [creativity] is the ability to conceptualise and the output could be anything; a design, a technology or a conversation”.


History and Complexity
But creativity is complicated. The Ancient Greeks believed that creativity came from a guardian spirit; an inner daemon or something similar, and Aristotle speaks of the attributed social value being of madness or ‘frenzied inspiration’. An early Western perspective was built on the voluntary Christian belief that creativity was an attribute possessed by a divine entity in whose image we had been created – but that nothing new could be made from ‘nothing’, we could only ‘mimic the ideal’ (I think it was Plato who originally said that actually). Enlightenment philosophers came to recognise that the divine attributes of artists [creators] should be attributed to the self not some divine origin. Positivist thinkers introduced measurement of creativity and since Guilford’s call for more creativity research in the 1950s, a field of research with significant girth has been generated around the subject. Creativity has been considered from a social-psychological perspective, historically, cognitively, in an organisational context and from a systems perspective, amongst many others.

It is generally agreed though, and to define what I shall talk about here, that Creativity is the combination of convergent and divergent thinking to produce a creative product of originality and value relative to context. This definition makes a lot of sense, not only in its consideration of confluence and multiple inputs (indicative of a ‘process’ rather than a single event), but also in its acknowledgement of context dependency. For example, an original idea can only be original in situ – the blank canvas does not exist. Particularly in an organisational context, creativity is bound but not only commercially; also by the individual and his environment, history, genre, rhythm, style, path dependency, budget, and whether you only have 5 minutes to do something before you have to meet your colleagues for a pint. Thus we see a creative system in which creative products are produced, contingent on individual motivation and context.

Process in Digital Agencies
So; to the creative process. Processes within and throughout agencies are often visualized as means-ends chains, invariably with more means than ends, and it is within the complexities of these ‘means’ that the creative process flows from new business generation to creative briefs, to managing expectations, designing, building, reviewing and delivering the creative product. This requires the various plugging in and out of different agency resources, in the form of time, money and individuals – and of course, there are invariably multiple projects, each with different requirements, going on simultaneously. These multiple projects contain processes (whether considered as means-ends chains, or something more complex) extending vertically and horizontally into networks of agencies, clients, and individuals.