Some Ideas are just Shit

Short addendum to yesterday’s post. I mentioned that it’s easy to dismiss ideas as shit out of hand – that’s true and we should take care before we do so. However, whilst we’re worshiping at the altar of ‘idea’, we should also remember that not all ideas are created equal – some ideas genuinely are shit. When people are under intense pressure to come up with one, they’re sometimes too busy singing hallelujah when one comes along that they forget to think about whether it’s actually any good or not. It does everyone involved a disservice if someone doesn’t call that turd a turd. In our business, that really should happen a long time before an ad lands in my inbox to go into everyone’s favourite pre-test. Quite often, it doesn’t – and if it is shit, I won’t be too shy to tell you.

Creativity Complex

Randy Glasbergen

I love creativity (I even ‘liked’ Antony Gormley on facebook the other day, I also went to Goldsmiths – if that’s not proof enough…) and I have a lot of sympathy with the view that those who possess it and the ideas they produce are both undervalued and treated with insufficient sensitivity. Indeed, working for an industry (not less a company) who have often been the guys dolling out the insensitivity, I’m acutely aware of this issue. But I do get increasingly irritated by the discourse around ‘ideas’ and the sense that to provide any critique of them is sacrilegious. When creatives say ‘you’re not creative, you just don’t understand ideas’ to defend against any criticism, it’s just like when parents tell you your opinions on education or child protection are invalid because ‘you won’t understand until you have kids’.

The ‘Creativity Complex’ is a strange mix of superiority delusions and aching self-doubt/pity at those delusions not being confirmed by others. The pathology is clear in a couple of blog posts (or at least the comments that accompany them) that I have read recently.

The first was this post from Stan Lee (@branddna). The post itself is perfectly agreeable and elicits exactly the kind of sympathy I talk about in my opening paragraph – people don’t understand how daunting ideas are, particularly coming up with them under professional pressures (I’ll return to this later). But the comment from Kate Lightfoot, to which I responded, displays the classic first symptom of the Creativity Complex – superiority delusion.

Creativity under pressure is extremely difficult and it requires a specific set of skills, skills which many of us, myself included, aren’t lucky enough to possess. But, on the other hand the ‘Suit’ (itself a semi-pejorative term, even if used with affection for the most part) at whom the comment scoffs also has a difficult job which requires a different, though equally valuable, set of skills. Though they are fairly roundly dismissed:

It’s so easy to comment on, critique, edit and change what’s already been done.

I agree it’s easy to just dismiss something as shit – but to provide a useful, incisive and considered critique that sharpens an idea and makes it more effective is not easy, it’s actually very difficult (which is why a lot of us trying to do so make such a hash of it!). It’s also not easy to regularly engage in difficult client meetings, negotiations on rates (which pay the Creative’s salaries as well by the way) and so on – and I’d imagine a lot of Creatives would ‘turn white at the prospect’ of trying to do that.

The problem here is a ‘your job’s easier than mine’ attitude persists in both directions and has to be dispelled. I don’t see how you can, on the one hand, be bemoaning the lack of respect given to the very complex and important process of idea generation whilst simultaneously dismissing the equally complex and important process of feedback and client management as easy.

The second symptom of the Complex is displayed by this post from the Ad Contrarian. Which as far as I can tell is just a rambling whinge about how Creatives are misunderstood and undervalued which again, implicitly undervalues the contributions that everyone else in the process makes (from the comments, it appears this particular symptom of the condition is extremely prevalent). Take this bit for example which complains that creatives

are pressured by their leaders to do “great” work. But when they do, they usually get reprimanded for not being “on strategy.”

Given that a Planner and Client, most likely aided by a number of researchers of various ilk (though most likely qualies if we’re honest), have probably (/hopefully) spent a huge amount of time, intellect and financial resource ably crafting that strategy around a motivating insight you should most definitely be reprimanded for missing it. And I’ve got news for you (well, it’s not really news, I’m probably the 3,256th person at least to tell you) – if it’s not on strategy, it isn’t great work. It might be a great idea, but it’s not a great ad. But of course, none of that matters, because we’ve confused you and hurt your feelings.

I think I understand the problem (though of course I have no ‘kids’ of my own, so maybe I don’t). The fact is, my job is just as hard as yours, but there is far less of myself in it. Creative expression is personal expression – a creative is leaving a lot more of themself on the table for review when one of their ideas is being evaluated than I am when I present some research findings. Personal expression also requires freedom and the confines of ‘Professional Creativity’ necessarily limit that with their deadlines and strategies. So as I said at the outset, I have a lot of sympathy for Stan’s plea for greater care and thought when dealing with ideas – but Creatives also need to realise that dismissing the value others add and ‘poor-me’ hand-wringing really doesn’t do them any favours in this regard.

Creatives should be more valued by the Account, Planning and research guys – but the reverse of that is also almost universally true.

If you know anyone displaying the symptoms of a Creativity Complex, please refer them to Dr. Research Geek immediately.