Beyond Logo Menu

The creative director is dead – long live creativity

Written by: The Guardian

Published on: February 9, 2015

Ideas control the world. They did for US president James A Garfield – who famously uttered those words – and they certainly do for any company with creativity at its heart. Agencies especially.

Ideas may be the centre of the agency’s world, but their traditional home, the creative department, should not be. The department is outdated, unable to accommodate the needs of the new creative class, nor meet the demands of an increasingly complex digital world.

According to the Nomura Research Institute, we now live in an age of creativity: a period characterised by constant innovation. It’s a hugely exciting time, but one that carries added pressure for agencies, who are challenged by the speed of technical innovation to generate effective new ideas again and again. This isn’t the age for which the creative department was built, nor is it one in which it can survive unchallenged.

To meet the needs of this new and complex climate, it’s essential that creative work moves away from the grip of a single team, isolated in its knowledge and potential to innovate.

Agencies often hang on to the idea that an individual is either creative or not. It’s a mindset that led to the segregation of “creative” teams from the rest of agency life. It’s an outdated concept, not just because it causes unnecessary division within teams; it also ignores the needs and experiences of the new creative class – a generation made up of multi-taskers motivated by collaboration, recognition, transparency and flexibility.

These individuals look for fulfilling experiences rather than strict career paths, but agencies founded on traditional, linear models can stifle their potential. This rigidity often causes disinterest and frustration, and can lead young talent to move to new challenges for fear of becoming pigeonholed.

Professional learning experience institution Hyper Island and similar companies have been central to the education of this new creative class. They have developed models of creativity that match its breadth of experience and hybrid knowledge.

Applied creativity is perhaps the most relevant for agencies. It’s an idea management process that allows team members to rapidly build on each other’s ideas, postpone critical judgment and build creative prototypes repeatedly and efficiently. It’s a streamlined process that incorporates differing perspectives and areas of expertise – precisely the needs of this new, multi-skilled generation.

Developing the methodology within an agency is not without its challenges, but it is essential to meeting the needs of both the age of creativity and the new creative class. Applied creativity requires discipline, training and preparation, as well as buy-in from staff used to letting others handle idea generation. Nevertheless, the impact on creative output is incredible.

Innovation is not easy. It is certainly not routine; it has unpredictable outcomes and can make a significant dent on short-term margins. The same is true for changing your agency. However, living with outdated ways of working can have the effect of discouraging new thinking, enabling incremental innovations but discouraging anything radical. Sometimes, it’s a major overhaul that’s needed.

Clients need more inspired work, more often. Of course, you could sit tight and see how far your traditional model carries you – or you could rebuild your culture and widen your creative department to include every one of your employees.

This article was first published on The Guardian.