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Creativity, Innovation & Why Uncle Milty Would Have Been a Better Ad Guy Than Einstein

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 24/02/2016 Advertising Week

By Michael Nicholas, Entrepreneur in Residence, Assembly
Defining "innovation" and how it impacts and informs the "creative" process can be tricky in an industry where someone can look you in the eye, seriously, and say: "The Creatives are creatively creating the Creative for the client." And it is a true statement. Try having a conversation around your agency's keg or ping pong table about the word "creativity" by itself, let alone in conjunction with another word (in this case, innovation).  It can be challenging because agency people can become entrenched in these concepts to the point where Xanax is required.
Some creative people say creativity is absolutely about being original ("Creativity means not copying," - Chef Jacques Maximin). While others insist it's about a unique alchemy of related worlds ("The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources."  - Albert Einstein). Even still, some of the most creative people I know insist it's about a total disregard for constraints ("Everything you can imagine is real." - Pablo Picasso).
In my experience, all of these positions are right (and some are right twice on Tuesdays), but I think the last group is on to something. You know the last group. You can see them miles away in the agency - they tend to look the most disappointed day-to-day with agency reality but are always delivering the most break-through work. Hey, it's tough fighting against accepted limits all day.
This might sound counter-intuitive or even make some people upset, but the vast majority of "Creative" coming out of agencies is built on constraints. It's not anyone's fault.  The billboard is only this large, the TV commercial is only this long, YouTube only looks this way and Facebook doesn't work on paper, etc., etc., etc.
"Innovation" impacts and informs the creative process as the ability to overcome those constraints. Moving beyond a "creative execution" to larger ideas that transcend the media's constraints. And much like art, we know it when we see it.
Sometimes innovative creativity is super simple and sometimes it's a large welcomed change, but interestingly, the power of the creative innovation is separate from the technology required to unleash it. Translated this means the irony of innovation and creativity is that most things that seem simple to audiences are many times the most technically complex to accomplish. Ninety nine percent of the time the consumer has no idea, they just love it.
So to answer the question, Innovation informs and impacts the creative process as a force to truly unleash it.
I realize this is a minority view at best and a cop out at worst. But as I was jotting this down it reminded me of an interaction with a large global client I witnessed a couple of years ago. It's true, I promise.

Large Global Client: We need to nail this. We are going to ask all of our agencies for their best ideas...

Agency Person: Client X, you know you are never going to get the best ideas... right?

Large Global Client: What?!

Agency Person: You don't. You never do. Not from any of your agencies...

Large Global Client: What?!

Agency Person: Client X, let me tell you how this works. We all sit around a huge table in the creative department to go through ideas. We present thumbnails, spitball concepts, propose awesomeness...and then we hit one. We all jump up and say that's it! Unreal! We start talking about going to Cannes next year and how great this is going to be. This goes on for about five minutes until some lower level person asks "How are we going to do that?" And that's it. No one says a word. We shift seamlessly to another idea before that one even hits the ground. You never see the best ideas from the agency - they're all still on the floor of the shop because we don't know how to make them.

Large Global Client: Wha.. What?!

Agency Person: Yep.

Large Global Client: ....

True story (and no one got fired). And why I think Picasso is smarter than Einstein.
Creativity is overcoming constraints and innovation is your ability to overcome those constraints.
"If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door." - my Uncle Milty

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