Creativity is in crisis, but what can you do about it?

One of the most inspiring topics from the SXSW talks in Austin this year, which stood out on a personal level, was on the potential of creativity to transform brands and businesses, delivered by Brent Anderson. As Chief Creative Officer of TBWA\Media Arts Lab, Apple’s dedicated creative agency, Anderson stands in a good position to have a clear point of view on what stimulates or deadens creativity.

Apr 6, 2022

By Neil Davidson

Creativity is in decline all around us

Measures such as The Torrance Test have shown that creativity scores have been in decline since the 1990s, and a lack of creativity can be seen in our mass culture. The most successful films have been sequels or remakes, chord structures in music have become homogenized, and arts funding is constantly under threat. From an industry point of view, those of you who have read ‘Lemon’ from the IPA will be aware of the detailed analysis of the decline of creativity and the argument that this has been triggered by a move towards rationality.

Creativity really matters to businesses

As well as being personally fulfilling, creativity is a driving force that moves the world forward and can also drive growth for businesses. Brent Anderson’s argument was that the most creative companies, including Apple, enjoy greater market share and competitive leadership. However, few businesses are truly fostering creativity in their culture, environment and ways of working – and this doesn’t mean pool tables or occasional brainstorms.

Creativity in crisis SXSW HeyHuman

Five creative potential killers

From a creative’s perspective, Brent Anderson outlined five key things killing creative potential.

  1. The illusion of inspiration– creativity isn’t about waiting to be inspired, it’s about working it through. Truly creative people go back and back again to a challenge and just show up. It isn’t about lying back in your chaise lounge waiting for your illusive muse to turn up, even if that does sound appealing!
  2. Consensus– we often make things that we know ourselves and others like, but relying on this and data doesn’t always take us in the right direction creatively compared to gut instinct. Consensus may mean you are just repeating old ideas but there’s always a need to explore, challenge and provoke.
  3. Fear– there is no shortage of ideas, but they are often killed by a dominant culture of fear, as well as an individual fear of taking risks. It’s an old cliché but sometimes following through something that gives you the fear is the right thing to do.
  4. Complexity– we are trying to connect with cognitive misers who have little time and little attention, just the same as we are. Keep it as simple and single-minded as possible, be constantly reducing. (The work of Dieter Rams is inspirational in this context.)
  5. Avoid laziness of rigour– being thorough in the things that might not seem to matter does matter as it affects the idea itself and the levels of your personal creativity. Be rigorous in everything you do creatively and challenge yourself to push beyond what has been done in the past.

What really is creativity and how do you cultivate it?

These were all good points made by Brent Anderson, backed up by strong work. However, I left the session thinking that the audience also needed to understand the dynamics of creativity better and what it really meant beyond the individual and beyond advertising.

This was strong personal inspiration but there are still too many loose definitions of what creativity is and why it matters, beyond ads. Neuroscience and academic research have powerful insights into this that help define organisational creativity and outline strategies to cultivate creativity and drive growth, but that’s one for another time!