5 Things Creativity is Not

by T Taylor

hands covered in paint

Want to be more creative in your advertising? This recent Fast Company cover caught my eye: “The 100 Most Creative People in Business.” The most compelling element is the reason individuals are recognized and the common attribute among them all.

#8 proclaims, “For saving lives by saving time,” and #33 is, “For channeling teenage wanderlust toward social good.” As an account manager at a local advertising agency, my favorite is #81—“For combining razor-sharp storytelling with product marketing.”

What is creativity? It’s a lot of things: originality, resourcefulness, vision, innovation. The definition may vary slightly from person to person, but the gist is the same.

There are several things creativity is not, however:

Creativity is not offensive.

Some claim that artists like Mapplethorpe and Miley Cyrus are creative while others think they’re tactless and crass. Creative people generally govern themselves and have a more mass appeal because of excellence rather than sheer shock and awe.

Creativity may be surprising, but usually in a good way. It makes people smile.

A marketing firm wants to move people to action by creating compelling headlines or allowing them to see things in a new way. Can being offensive gain attention? Sure. But you’re not interested in notoriety; you want to be worthwhile.

Creativity is not abrasive.

Some have suggested the loudest, most obnoxious voice is creative. Not true. Creativity garners respect. People want to listen, see and share a message because it is authentic. Creativity is more surgery than butchery. You’ve had friends mention TV commercials or show you videos because they are cool and infectious.

Creative voices are heard at the perfect time in the perfect context. Advertising agencies are in the business of being consistent, not combative.

Creativity is not complicated.

Making others feel inferior is not creative. Never has been, never will be. Intelligence doesn’t always equal creativity. Robert Frost is creative because of his enduring simplicity. Volkswagen commercials are straightforward and clever because they are uber-creative. The most creative taglines and slogans are always simple.

Marketing creativity is all about bright colors and direct messages. And it may be complicated behind the scenes, but stakeholders, strategy, web analytics and UX drive creative design.

All of those lead to conversion. CTR (click through rates) increase when complication decreases.

Creativity is not easy.

Some believe that creativity is a result of simply waiting long enough, while others know creativity requires sweating through failure. There are endless stories of advertising agencies working through dozens (hundreds, even!) of revisions on creative optics and graphics; prewriting, rewriting, editing, drafting, revising, proofreading and writing headlines and copy again and again; discussing the subtle, nuanced difference between “crisp” and “crunchy” and finally deciding that “flaky” is the perfect word.

Chance favors the prepared. Creativity is the result of hard work.


Creativity is not meaningless.

All 100 Creative People on the list are making the world better; they’re improving it. Some think that solid gold golf tees are creative, while others know that creativity is solving a concern or meeting an objective.

Creativity means something.

And the degree of creativity is often correlated positively with the amount of benefit provided.