Creativity: New Ideas Not Required

I don’t want to get all philosophical on you. But sometimes I enjoy stretching my brain in this way. In this TEDx video, so-called “Account Planning Guru” Paul Feldwick explains the need to re-define “creativity” away from terms like originality and innovation. To me, that’s like saying we need to avoid using words like rhythm and melody when defining the word “music”.

Here’s a quote from Paul Feldwick in the video above:

We need to redefine creativity. We need to move it away from these narrow ideas that have somehow hijacked it, about it having to do with originality or to do with innovation or some abstract ideas. We need to relocate it in the world of aethetics, relocate it in the world of tangible objects.

Of course there is more to creativity than innovation and originality. And there’s more to creativity than aethetics. In a similar way, “rhythm” and “melody” doesn’t exhaust the definition of “music”. Like originality, innovation, aesthetics, language, context, presence, medium etc. are to creativity as melody is to music, but melody is neither essential nor the sole element required to create something that we could identify as ‘music’.

Feldwick also points to Elvis as an example that lacks originality, but I hasten to add that this doesn’t mean Elvis wasn’t creative. His presence, costume, and interpretation of the blues genre can all be considered articles in his body of creativity.

Incorporating Feldwick’s thoughts and the other incomplete definitions of creativity, I’ve had a go at one of my own.

Creativity is artistry. It’s achieved by forming a unique combination of elements drawn from the concepts of time, space, experience and interpretation.

That is, Time (e.g. sequence, duration) and Space (e.g. environment, constraints, size, medium) combined with effects on the receiver—intended or not—like Experience (e.g. knowledge, mood) and Interpretation (e.g. bias, imagination). It doesn’t matter if the idea isn’t new, as long as there has been a change affected to one of the many elements above. The key, I think, to creativity is in how we change that specific combination of elements. Anyone can ‘create’ a new combination.  But the mastery in creativity is in knowing which elements to change.

Ed Cotton interprets Feldwick’s thoughts on poor definitions of “creativity” in the Advertising industry as fueling the [futile] push for originality. The cynic in me says there’s no risk of the Advertising industry getting bogged-down in the quest for originality. But that’s exactly what makes it the poster child for creativity. There are no new ideas. Just new combinations of ideas, context and aethetic; and the best of them are still fathered by that still rather abstract concept called “creativity”.

  • Anonymous

    Essentially the argument in “RIP: A remix manifesto”, right?

  • Jefske

    faris from talent imitates, genius steals essentially preaches this idea.
    advertising has always been about repackaging as far as history could recall
    there is a really good video on the idea of creativity on TED by Elizabeth Gilbert: A new way to think about creativity

  • Andy

    Thanks Jefske. I’ll head over to TED and check out what Elizabeth Gilbert has to say.

  • Andy

    I haven’t seen the film. But I just went and watched the trailer here: Really want to see the full thing. Maybe I’ll download it…haha.

    Essentially I suppose I’m making the same argument here. But I didn’t really give any thought to piracy when writing this post. I think you can achieve piracy and creativity simultaneously. And depending on the mix, it could be (morally) right or wrong.

  • Mike Chang

    Great post, made me seriously re-think that word and realise how malleable it is. Maybe it’s because of the term ‘creative thinking’, but I’ve always associated the word ‘creativity’ with the *ability* to create, by solving problems in new ways and the actual creating process being a by-product. The word never sat well with me, especially in the ad industry, where creativity didn’t always seem to correlate with ‘creatives’. People in whatever field – business or engineering or science or design or art, based on their accumulated knowledge and experience, whether it involves aesthetics or not, create things into this world and exercise varying levels of mastery. Still pondering…

  • Andy

    Good point Mike. It’s easy to get caught focusing on personal experience when trying to explain these broad concepts—which we use on a daily basis without even thinking—in tangible terms. I think the definition I posted above holds up though.

  • Anonymous

    The movie isn’t really about piracy but about copyright. Anyway, download it here and type in $0 if you like:

    I’d recommend throwing him a couple bucks.

  • Andy

    Thanks Tristan. Downloaded it this morning.