Tuesday 21 May 2019

Why a creative became a planner (and then went back to creative)

To save us all from dying, King Sisyphus tricked and chained-up Hades, the god of the underworld. This enraged Ares the god of war, who’s job, sans killing, became somewhat redundant.

For his effrontery, Ares found and punished Sisyphus. Damning him to roll a boulder up a hill every day, only for it to roll down each night for him to start over, ad infinitum.

Whether for new business or new ideas, advertising creatives get stuck in this Sisyphean nightmare - pitching for the paper shredder. Toiling to conceive creative ideas that don't get sold in.

Einstein's platitudinous quote comes to mind: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results". Yet that's what we ask of creatives.

Dan Ariely quantified the effect in an experiment. In it he paid 2 groups to build Lego Bionicles. The pivotal difference between the groups was this: the first's was pulled apart later, while the second's was dismantled as they were built - in front of their eyes.

The result: The first group averaged 11 Bionicles; the second only 7. In other words, seeing the fruits of your labor amount to nothing - like the boulder rolling back down the hill - decreases motivation.

The same way the participants were demotivated by seeing their Lego destroyed, so are creatives when their work persistently finds a home in their bottom drawers rather than out in the wild.

Albert Camus, the french existentialist, says "the struggle itself towards the heights [of the mountain] is enough to fill a man's heart". While some version of this is what creatives tell themselves to carry-on, I don't buy it - not when it's proven that creativity's the cornerstone of effectiveness.

Look no further than Binet and Field's watershed work 'The Long and Short of It', which irrefutably concludes that big fame-making ideas - the ones clients are averse to - are the most effective.

Coming up with ideas is punishing enough on creatives for them to be repeatedly dismantled. Someone, who clients aren't skeptical of acting out of self-interest, has to protect the ideas. To champion creativity. To help avoid a Sisyphean tragedy.

And that's why I swapped Keynote for Powerpoint, and why I went back to study, and became a full time planner - not just a creative who thought they’re a strategist because they learned the word ‘differentiation’.

But it didn’t last. It was all input and no output. I missed creating things, so I went back to the creative department - better, smarter, stronger for the experience. Who says the Renaissance man is dead, eh?

Christopher Ott.