Now's the Perfect Time to Consider the Essence of Creativity

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Four a.m. Wide awake. Nauseous. Anxious. Everyone asleep. Two Eggos in the toaster. Waiting."

"A conscious (or unconscious) connection to the essential nature of the process of existence."

"The wheels on your suitcase."

"It is nothing to me."

Ad Age's younger sibling Creativity recently asked some creative types to answer the question "What is creativity?" (Above, definitions from four profoundly creative people: respectively, directors Noam Murro and Mark Romanek, adman Trevor Beattie, and, you might be surprised to learn, Dan Wieden.*)

Why bother with this question? It is, after all, sort of one of those imponderables, like: Yeah, but is it art? Why are you here? And, given the size difference, why aren't bugs more afraid of people? It was an exercise intended to gather insight into the nature of creativity, conducted in part to celebrate Creativity's 20th anniversary and in part to sniff around the notion of creativity at a time when everyone is touting its powers to deliver an industry from ruin.

That creativity in varying forms is being embraced on such a level is heartening. Most of the "creative" people I know think that the technologically empowered consumer is the most exciting thing to happen to this business in years-finally forcing business to recognize that the content it produces must be compelling enough to be actively sought out.

As one fairly creative guy, Jeff Goodby, told Creativity recently: "This business, which for the most part has always tolerated creativity as a kind of goateed necessary evil, is now about to turn the joystick over to the creative force, big-time. It has no choice."

So hooray for creativity. But let's remember that the same technologies that have set the stage for this creative renaissance can also arm the measurement, testing and "but-where's-the-ad?" hawks. Marketers can now target with more precision, measure more immediately and accurately, and spur transactions more directly.

All of which is great, and will make great ideas more powerful in ways we are only beginning to imagine. The danger is in the illusion that it's all about the pipeline, the technique, the technology-that it's all science. Real creativity (and innovation), whatever department it comes from, is sometimes weird, often unexpected.

In the end, you need your audience to incorporate what you're saying and doing into their lives, gladly, and mix it in with what they are saying and doing, and that requires, well, art. Ultimately, to paraphrase Bob Dylan, you're going to have to move somebody. Which is why, as Goodby notes, this new creative party is not open to all. "If you've made your living on frequency instead of quality, this won't involve you. If you think `entertainment' is an indulgent luxury in advertising, they won't let you in either."

So while you're looking at the 20th anniversary issue of Creativity, which includes the greatest ideas from the past 20 years, think about how many of them came about through hard science and testing and how many hit like a dropped baby and made everyone as uncomfortable. And while you're embracing the next measurement frontier, spend some time thinking about creativity vis a vis the wheels and your suitcase, the essential nature of existence ... and nothing.

*Wieden continues: "Literally. Creativity is that space of mind that has emptied itself of preconceptions. Kinda like that moment when your personal movie stops and you have yet to move. ... And then something is given you. From where, God knows. So you follow it as best you can. And a new movie begins."

Teressa Iezzi is the editor of Creativity and
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