Redefining Creativity

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A joint effort of Creativity and its sibling Advertising Age, Redefining Creativity is a special feature designed to stimulate discussion on ideas and innovation. This section, which appears in the pages and on the sites of both publications, also paves the way for a new Ad Age/Creativity event, The IDEA Conference, to be held November 2 in New York.

The feature and the event are designed to bring together the audiences of the two print and online communities in a wide-ranging new dialog about creativity; to provide inspiration, and to foster new ways of thinking about the business and about great ideas and making them real. In recognition of the fact that your job may not just entail doing better advertising, but making content and experiences of different kinds by different means, possibly with different partners, we've assembled some of the biggest thinkers from marketing and advertising as well as business and creative players from across the design, technology and entertainment landscapes.

In the following 16 interviews you'll hear from players ranging from media maven Laura Desmond and top marketers from companies like Toyota, GE and VW to tech innovators like Jeremy Allaire from Brightcove, the Barbarian Group's Benjamin Palmer and the mad but methodical genius behind toy phenomenon Kid Robot. We asked them about ideas. We asked them about how they think about innovation, how they instill it in their companies and embrace it in their lives.

Take a look at what our contributors are thinking and see how it might tilt your perspective. Jeremy Allaire | Ulrich Becker | Paul Budnitz | Beth Comstock
Laura Desmond | Jim Farley | Ze Frank | Jeff Goodby
Don Hall | Jeff Immelt | Russ Klein | Kerri Martin
Benjamin Palmer | Julie Roehm | Andrew Robertson | Josh Rubin

Jeremy Allaire
Jeremy Allaire
Jeremy Allaire
chairman and CEO Brightcove

I think of creativity for myself across two big dimensions. One is constant envisioning and idea generation which is typically triggered off of things I'm observing and seeing and it's about things that trigger really unique ideas, trying to capture them, synthesize them and share them. The second, which is really core to my success as well, is creativity in response to challenge. So much of effectively leading, building or growing something is being highly, highly creative in your adaptations to tough circumstances or unique problems. This is not just about technology or business innovation, it's about everything from human relationships to, you name it, across the board, every dimension of a business. Those are the two big centers of gravity for creativity for me.

Fortunately or unfortunately, because so much of my life and the output of the company is online, the triggers are usually online. To be honest, my wife complains that I take my work home with me, both literally through my wireless laptop but also sitting around the dinner table. There's a constant synthesis going on as I think about things – it's often triggered by a use case, seeing the way someone's approaching something and trying to connect the dots between that and something we are already doing or thinking about. I think because this is a technology-driven media business, I like to connect the dots all the way down to what we create. [Creativity] is about constant thinking and a lot is often triggered by seeing, hearing or reading about things other people are doing online.

Everything is always much more complex than you expect it to be. It's a very common thing that happens; someone has a great idea and you start to implement it and you start to vet it with the market or vet it with the people who would take advantage of it, whether that be consumers or advertisers or content programmers and then everything has got to be refined and the reality is always more complicated than the ideas. Part of successful execution is being able to morph your ideas into something that is effective. We're inventing ad formats for the future of television on the internet - it both takes us longer to get it on the market than we would expect and when we are on the market there's deeply imbedded behaviors among ad buyers, how people produce and program video and consumer behaviors – all of which change the reality of the product. The ideas always sound incredible and transformative but the translation into broad adoption takes longer than we expect.

Brightcove certainly is a constant, active bouncing of ideas off of each other. I have an executive team and key individuals throughout the company and we all operate on a peer-to-peer basis. The process is not routed through me; it's very much peer-to-peer and people are constantly coming up with great ideas and vetting them across these teams and the lion's share of managing creativity here is about empowering people to drive ideas and to be empowered to own these ideas. On the flip side, the role I have always played and certainly play here is to provide a guiding vision, to envision outcomes and to inspire against those outcomes and to envision tactics, a path to get there and that provides an umbrella of creativity or an umbrella of innovation, a roadmap, a blueprint, etc.. And there are other key partners in this company who play similar roles for different dimensions of what we are doing, so the head of marketing provides a real vision on how we are positioned and understood in the market and our head of technology provides the vision for what we are building.

Adapting to challenges is about how you deal with failure. It may be not anticipating something that happened in the market that turned out to be really important or missing an opportunity or turning the ship in one direction to focus on a certain type of customer or partner and having that turn out to be really difficult and having to change course. Creative response to failures like these is a huge part of success, clearly, and you have to be willing to embrace being very ruthlessly honest with yourself and your peers about those challenges -- both failure-driven and execution-related.

I tend to listen and understand and try to get a sense for the challenges and then I tend to do something decisive -- make a very clear, decisive decision. I like to push things through, I don't like to see stuff churning. If I see something churning, I try and parse it and figure it out as quickly as possible and make a decision. That always helps people move forward. When people don't know what to do or they feel conflicted or there's tension and things, I generally feel its best just to drive through it, make a decision and go. And then live with the consequences.

Ten years ago I had more of a tendency -- I still have this tendency -- to envision things and then have an expectation of those being able to be manifest more quickly or more easily than was possible. The matching of creativity to the real world and what it really takes to get those ideas into the market or manifest, there's a huge delta there. When that's the case, when you can't manage expectations properly then you have a sit where when myself or the people who work for me feel like they are failing or feel like they are disappointing and that ends up being a weakness. Being able to understand the complexity of creative execution and being realistic about it is very important.

Ulrich Becker
Ulrich Becker
Ulrich Becker
head of brand communication

Here is my thought; it isn't rocket science, but really it also shouldn't be:

The world doesn't have many Einsteins. Matter of fact, only very, very few know how to cook without boiling water. Still, you can see companies becoming successful through creativity that no one expected. Could be luck, but I think it isn't that difficult to instill: you need to know who you are and where you want to go and then create the forum and atmosphere for talented people to live up to their potential, because then big ideas are created that are brave and somewhat risky, that will surprise consumers and create success (also financial). That doesn't require Einstein. It requires teamwork and an inspiring environment to excel. It worked well for Adidas in the last couple of years and it will work for the Reebok brand as well. Wait and see. Life isn't that complicated after all, we just tend to make it that way.

Paul Budnitz
Paul Budnitz
Paul Budnitz
founder and president

Many of my business-oriented friends say to me, "I could never, ever do what you do," and I hear the exact same thing from the artists I know.

The creative process is about invoking a certain kind of energy, an openness and a fearlessness in relation to whatever it is that needs doing at the time. The distinction between one kind of creativity, for example, designing a vinyl toy line, which I do all day long, and figuring out clever ways to market that toy line, which I also do, is pretty seamless for me. It's even the same when I'm programming computers. I realize that most people have tendencies one way or the other, but what is absolutely clear to me is that it is the story that we carry around inside us that says "I can't do that" or "I'm not good enough" that is really the fundamental barrier to creativity.

We make up a little story when we're growing up about who we are, and we tend to stick to that story in adulthood. Most people's lives are governed by fear. Fear of looking bad, of showing what is beneath our mask, or just of doing something that is opposition to the narrative that they have made up about their lives.

Being a creative person is a being a person that makes sacrifices. Pretty early on I unconsciously decided to sacrifice looking good, and as I got older I consciously gave up the story I had about myself. That was difficult. There was a lot of hand-wringing when I had to make decisions that I didn't know if I was qualified to make. I programmed the computers that run my company, I co-design and art direct a lot of our toy and clothing line, and I run my business. I raised the money and I manage my staff.

My basic position is to do what's needed when it's needed, and to do that immaculately. I'm interested in just about everything, so I'm lucky because it's all fun for me.

I find inspiration in fashion magazines, people I see on the street, old cartoon shows, comic books, The Economist, computer programmers I know, Starbucks (what a well run company!), boxing classes, museums, from store displays, bus advertisements, Warhol, too little sleep, my staff, my interns, Louis Vuitton, Tokyo, Fleetwood Mac, Neil Stephenson, Paul Pope, etc. etc. etc.

Kidrobot is really all about its creative process. I mean Process. Nobody makes creative decisions alone at my company -- we always make sure there are three or four people in on every decision, or if we have an idea session. The key is to keep the environment clean if you're brainstorming. Criticism just kills the energy. Then, when we've got all of the ideas out and we're exhausted, it's time to kick and scream and argue. Not before.

All day someone comes up to me and asks, "Do you like this design?" And I say, "Yes, but ask Chad, because Chad will know if that's in good taste, and then ask Nichole, because Nichole will know if it'll sell." So a big part of my job is knowing who to ask what. That's just an energetic thing.

I often use interns or visiting artists to make an aesthetic decision, because I sense they're just the right kind of person to answer a certain question. Sometimes the bookkeeper at Kidrobot helps design a toy, or someone in the wholesale staff comes up with the most brilliant clothing concept. That just happens.

My job is to make good art, and sell it, and somehow keep the business running, and there's no space for who did what. There's no space for ownership or ego in the mix.

When hiring for Kidrobot I look for generally brilliant people, people who aren't afraid to have an opinion, that have good taste, and I really care less about direct experience. People who see creativity as a form of possession or ownership don't last more than a few weeks at my company. Smart people with common sense can learn to do about anything.

There is an intangible quality, called "common sense," however, that you can't learn and can't be taught.

Beth Comstock
Beth Comstock
Beth Comstock
president - digital media and market development

I think creativity has to be an essential part of every day or else how can you do your job? Whether you're problem-solving or trying to come up with a new idea from scratch, creativity is essential to what you're doing. I can't imagine a day without creativity.

It has various forms, take problem-solving: it's about always looking for different ways to solve a problem. It's sometimes taking time out to look from the outside in, then looking from the inside out. I think what creativity looks like most of the time is changing perspective.

Hopefully, [the business person and the creator] are not mutually exclusive, they are absolutely in tandem. I can't imagine separating the two. I can't imagine approaching an idea and saying, "Now's the time to be creative." Again, if you thrive on creativity and you are a good business executive, they have to go hand-in-hand because how else are you going to take your business in new, exciting areas without understanding creatively how to get there?

I have found the best source [of inspiration] is just to get different points of view. With any business decision, with any project, I have found the best work comes about by bringing together different people who come from different functions and who bring different experiences. That's how I try to spend my time – not always talking to the same people, rather, making sure that I'm constantly pushing myself to go out and meet new sources of inspiration. In fact, I always plan my schedule such that I spend one day doing internal meetings, the next doing external meetings; meeting with very different kinds of people, very different thinkers who bring together different perspectives. I'd like to think that even if it's never been very formal, I've always been inspired by my own little ad-hoc creativity board; people that I stay in touch with who inspire me with new ideas. One person in particular that I get a lot of insight from is somebody whose job is to analyze trends and look to the future. I also try to find specific people who have industry knowledge and then try to find people who are from very different fields and very different professions and say, "look, here's my challenge. Can you see any similarities? How do you look at it?" So that would be for me what works, making sure you are constantly pushing yourself to an external view, convening with people that you see of shred of something in, even if, on the surface, it looks like there's nothing in common with what they're doing and your problem.

[Being an inspiration] is the ability to bring together diverse points of view or facilitate a discussion where people feel like they actually got something out of it. The other thing is just pure energy. I think it takes a lot of energy and passion. When you are passionate about something, people really get excited. I've learned a very profound lesson; it's not about selling people your creative inspiration, it's about getting so passionate about an idea that you virtually give it away. People will start to make it their own idea, they will change it and they will morph it and they will share in your passion.

There was a long time when I thought creativity was all about being struck by lightning. Suddenly some magical inspiration appears and it is something you do in a very solitary fashion, you are the one who has to have the idea and you are waiting for some divine lightning strike to go: Aha! I have it! That couldn't be further from the truth. It's a very iterative process, it's about taking something that's very raw and unformed and it's a lot of hard work. You constantly have to turn that idea inside out and bring different perspectives to make it better and it really is, for me, that interweaving of different points of view and different people who can help make the idea better.

Laura Desmond
Laura Desmond
Laura Desmond

I thought about this a lot last night. There isn't a playbook about how to be creative. Nor is there a formula that can guarantee a creative outcome. But that's the beauty of the challenge (I once read that a challenge that guarantees success isn't really a challenge at all). I couldn't agree more. To me, the source of creativity comes from how one sees and understands something. This is what inspired me to begin a different kind of dialogue with my staff, in the hopes that it will in turn inspire them to look at something differently, just a little bit. New perspective often leads to brilliant, unexpected and creative solutions. I refer to this dialogue as Forty-Two Degrees. Below is an excerpt from this month's Forty-Two Degrees that will explain what it is.

"Sometimes, when I look at a situation or problem too long, I have to walk away and return to it with new perspective. And frequently when I do return to the situation, I attack it anew with a subtle gesture: I tilt it. Just slightly. Say ... 42 degrees. This fresh angle often sheds a whole new light, revealing an unexpected solution. Hence, Forty-Two Degrees.

"Every month (or more frequently if the mood strikes or I stumble on a story too good to keep secret), I'll share with you an experience or perspective inspired by someone who tilted their vantage point to see a problem from a different angle. Or perhaps it's a something that came of this simple gesture. Hopefully, borrowing a tagline from one of my favorite ad campaigns, this will inspire all of us to Think Differently.

"For the first issue, let's keep it light. Summer.

"Summer time is the best time to enjoy all the things we enjoyed as kids. Sun. Hot dogs. Baseball. World Records. This month, temperatures broke 70-year-old records. Kobayashi set a new world record eating more hot dogs than most adults consume in a year in less time than it takes to log onto my computer. And two big league teams, the Yankees and Red Sox, continue to stay on top of their game, keeping an eye fixed on the American League Championship, despite injuries which would cripple lesser teams. What makes these champions, well, champions? Perhaps the answer lies in the way they saw their situations and the solutions that came from their unique views.

"For the Yankees, it meant blending a team of high-priced free agents, headline-making trades and key home-grown players. For the Red Sox, it was about staying the course and banking on a team they retooled at the start of the season with younger talent. Whatever road each took, both teams did what needed to be done to win and protect their competitive edge.

"The lesson for me? Give myself permission to seek multiple solutions. Tilt 42
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