Debunking Creativity Myths

Creativity is becoming more and more of a valued asset in today’s business. While the need for creativity, is sometimes interchanged with innovation, the jury is out on exactly how creativity is cultivated and harnessed into a more manageable and predictable process.

Debunking Creativity Myths | The Creative Advertising Agency

Like any major societal and business meme – there are many myths about creativity also referred to as innovation. The following presents five typical myths about creativity:

Creativity can only come out of the creative departments

There is a Zimbabwean proverb that says, “If you can walk you can dance, if you can talk you can sing.” This holds true for creativity. All of us have an inherent ability to conceptualise. It is not just the perseverance of “creative people”. While bringing the conceptual to life in an advert or a song, does require some form of skill, however the thought process of thinking about things differently is in all of us.

Daniel Pink, in his book A Whole New Mind, states that the world is moving out of the knowledge age and into the conceptual age where economic resources will benefit artists, designers, strategists and less so engineers, actuarial scientists and accountants.  However another point he makes is that creative thought can also be applied to a variety of channels and not just creative channels.

Creativity can’t be a process

Most people think that creativity is a random act. They don’t see it as something you can distill into a process that ensures effective creative output. Of course it is possible to be creative in a random way however, the most creative organisations have structures in place that facilitate that creativity. Google, for instance, gives people free time to work on new projects and ideas that they are most interested in, in order to get the best work out.

Similarly this can be learned through a technique such as the ‘Six Thinking Hats’. This technique was developed by Edward de Bono and forces you to move outside your habitual thinking style aiding in a more rounded view of a situation. The hats, which translate into six different colours, are categories of thinking behavior and not of people themselves. This is a good starting point to help aid in channeling your creative idea.

The best creative comes with experience

Adam Morgan the author of Eating the Big Fish, surmises an astounding discovery, in that most industry quantum leaps have been made successful from individuals that have had very little experience within that particular industry. Examples can be seen in the likes of Richard Branson, who brought inflight entertainment onto his airplanes with Virgin Atlantic, Michael Dell who invented made-to-order computers and Steve Jobs, who helped develop Apple into the world of music, making iTunes the most widely used music platform in the world today. All of this creative genius came from people with no experience in that particular industry however they managed to successfully transforms it.

Adam Morgan calls this “Intelligent Naivety” – the ability to apply intelligence to relative inexperience.  This is a very powerful thought, it is also very empowering as we live in an age where archaic rules are proving to be less effective in this rapidly evolving world. Our ability to think creatively about challenges, sometimes perennial challenges, has become even more essential.

Einstein once said “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” This holds even more true today.

Drugs and alcohol help stimulate creativity

This is a popular one.

The idea that alcohol and drugs can stimulate artists, writers and musicians to create great works of art is a dangerous myth.  It may give one the illusion that there is creativity going on however, the reality is that it stifles it instead. Creativity is actually an intellectual process aimed at resolving problems – being intoxicated may help in free flowing an idea stream but it has not proven productive in resolving specific challenges.

In closing, what stimulates creative thinking is an environment conducive to idea generation, one where individuals feel free to share their ideas without fear. Creativity can be aided by structures and processes and it can even be aided by being naïve about the commonly held beliefs.

What’s most true however is that creative ideas are discovered and brought to life through varying means and is an essential skill for society today.

As Pink puts it, we are living in a conceptual age, those individuals, companies and societies most able to unlock creativity and conceptualise our future will win. Creativity is no longer the domain of tattooed, nose pierced, flamboyant weirdo’s – it’s a business and societal imperative and we all need to come to terms with that.


Author: Abey Mokgwatsane, Chief Executive Officer, Ogilvy & Mather South Africa
Date: December 13, 2012