T his idea looks boring.” A leader I was working with reviewed the plan and admonished the team. “This doesn’t represent our best thinking.”
At one level, it was a fair enough evaluation. We had no videos, live interviews or other creative elements planned. I didn’t reply, because while I agreed, with two days remaining we didn’t have enough time to solve the dilemma.
Later, we discussed the situation privately. He felt the need to add something creative. I advised we skip it, because I’d been around this block and I knew what was about to happen. The leader nodded in agreement, but that weekend I got a call. It seems he had been chewing on something creative to add. He had found a video on the Internet and wanted to use it. We cued it up the next morning, but after the first gathering we pulled it. Sure enough, his last minute add-on wasn’t working.
If you’re a creative, maybe you recognize this scene. Much of our creative energy is an impact-free last minute scramble.
If we try to add something creative on to the end of our planning cycle, it’s almost always going to be a disaster.
The problem isn’t creativity; it’s our use of it, and our understanding of the role of imagination in the life of a message.
Most of us craft a message the way they were taught:
- Analyze the text
- Develop principles and propositions
- Illustrate the principles*
- Apply it to life
The final message is an introduction, a few points with images, and an action step. In this rubric, creativity is the asterisk, an attempt to spruce up the illustration part a bit. But the basic structure of the message, a list of propositions, remains the same.
Most of us treat creativity as an additive, like extra cheese sprinkled on an entree. It’s tasty but not necessary for the dish and probably bad for us anyway. Not so coincidentally, our creativity often stinks and most of the time, it fails.
The sign that I couldn’t read, or a light that I couldn’t see,
some things you have to believe, but others are puzzles, puzzling me.
If you want creativity that works, get past the asterisk approach. The purpose of creativity isn’t illustration, as humor, interlude, or a setup to “the real point.”
Creativity is the point. It embodies a concept, brings new and deeper meaning to an idea, and fosters the eureka moment. It gives an idea life.