For years the conversation was predictably tedious:
Q. What do you do as a living?
A. I work in advertising
Q. Oh, so you’re a creative?
A. No, I am a planner
Q. Oh, what’s that?
A. I bring an understanding of the intersection of people, brands and communications into the development of effective advertising
Q. So you’re a researcher?
A. Well research is one of the foundations of planning, but it’s not what defines the discipline
Q. What do you mean?
Every time I found myself skewered by the (self-inflicted) implication that while I was in a creative industry, I wasn’t actually creative.
Happily, time spent working in an agency where things such as seeing the key thought in a planner’s brief become the endline for a global campaign, hearing an ECD ask that planners be more opinionated in internal creative reviews, or seeing the suggestion of an approach to art direction incorporated into a final creative recommendation, are pretty run of the mill, has helped me find a better answer.
For it has taught me that there is no department which has the monopoly – inalienable and incontestable – on creativity.
Now I have plenty of sympathy for those wishing to draw some protective line around the creative process. Heaven knows there is an oversupply of unhelpful advice. And not everybody has something to contribute to the creative process.
But to insist that creativity is the province of a privileged cabal – to fight for the erection and maintenance of silos, to treat creativity as if it were some kind of union job, to suggest by implication that entire disciplines are non-creative ones – is to fight against the multi-disciplinary nature of twenty-first century building.
But don’t listen to me.
Listen to Ed Catmull, cofounder of Pixar and president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios.
People tend to think of creativity as a mysterious solo act, and they typically reduce products to a single idea: This is a movie about toys, or dinosaurs, or love, they’ll say. However, in filmmaking and many other kinds of complex product development, creativity involves a large number of people from different disciplines working effectively together to solve a great many problems. The initial idea for the movie—what people in the movie business call “the high concept”—is merely one step in a long, arduous process that takes four to five years”
So according to the man who co-founded the creative enterprise that gave us Toy Story, creativity is not a solo act.
For those insisting that there are creatives and there is everybody else:
A movie contains literally tens of thousands of ideas. They’re in the form of every sentence; in the performance of each line; in the design of characters, sets, and backgrounds; in the locations of the camera; in the colors, the lighting, the pacing. The director and the other creative leaders of a production do not come up with all the ideas on their own; rather, every single member of the 200- to 250-person production group makes suggestions. Creativity must be present at every level of every artistic and technical part of the organization. The leaders sort through a mass of ideas to find the ones that fit into a coherent whole—that support the story—which is a very difficult task. It’s like an archaeological dig where you don’t know what you’re looking for or whether you will even find anything. The process is downright scary…”
So according to the man who co-founded the creative enterprise that gave us Monsters Inc, everyone must be creative.
For those who might be shitting the proverbial bed at this point, Catmull offers some reassuring words:
Creative power in a film has to reside with the film’s creative leadership. As obvious as this might seem, it’s not true of many companies in the movie industry and, I suspect, a lot of others. We believe the creative vision propelling each movie comes from one or two people and not from either corporate executives or a development department. Our philosophy is: You get great creative people, you bet big on them, you give them enormous leeway and support, and you provide them with an environment in which they can get honest feedback from everyone…”
So according to the man who co-founded the creative enterprise that gave us The Incredibles, the pursuit of creativity and the necessity of collaboration still demands someone with a vision.
And finally, for those who would have us believe that some disciplines are invested with some form of inherent, moral and professional superiority, Catmull has these words:
Getting people in different disciplines to treat one another as peers is just as important as getting people within disciplines to do so. But it’s much harder. Barriers include the natural class structures that arise in organizations: There always seems to be one function that considers itself and is perceived by others to be the one the organization values the most… In a creative business like ours, these barriers are impediments to producing great work, and therefore we must do everything we can to tear them down.”
So according to the man who co-founded the creative enterprise that gave us Wall-E, no discipline is superior.
Let me repeat. I have plenty of sympathy for wishing to draw some protective line around the creative process. There are enough people capable of fucking up the whole enterprise through their good intentions.
Nonetheless, creativity is the output of teams and specialists, not a department. And those teams serve the work, which serves the brand, business, and customer.
These days the conversation goes a little differently:
Q. What do you do as a living?
A. I work in advertising
Q. Are you a creative?
A. Yes, I am a planner.