It’s one of those eternal conundrums like ‘where’s Lord Lucan?’ and ‘why do men have nipples?’ But for the designer, getting to grips with the question ‘what is creativity?’, and more importantly, ‘where can I get some quickly?’, is the difference between bounding on to the stage in the warm glow of awards-night applause, or slinking off into the cold night.
The most eminent philosophers, mathematicians, artists, thespians and men/ women of letters have all had a stab at defining creativity over the centuries, so far be it for me to attempt to trump them. But having broken bread (or at least touched garment’s hem) with many of the country’s loftiest design types, I’ve had a chance to observe their ways. This has allowed me to suggest how they manage to reach into the deepest recesses of their souls and pull out a rare dollop of creativity like a magician retrieving a startled rabbit from a hat.
And I’ve dubbed this priceless-yet-slippery process the ‘Law of the Three Cs’ (trademark pending).
The first ‘C’ is curiosity. Hungry, enquiring minds soak up facts, films and folklore, art, architecture and archaeology, trends, travel and trivia, along with anything else of interest, like starving stevedores presented with a generous portion of cod and chips. The food analogy is apt. Because this is nourishment for the brain – the basic raw material that is stored and digested somewhere in the creative subconscious to emerge when its presence is required. In a more formal context, this would be called research, but generally it’s more freeform, nipping here and there and everywhere to unearth the nuggets of inspiration which will be transformed into ideas further down the line.
It’s said that John Hegarty, the revered advertising guru, would never allow his precious creative teams to work late. His rationale was simple – that they needed to experience as much as possible outside the work bubble to keep their ideas fresh and exciting. Sitting at a desk until the early hours staring at a blank sheet of paper is not the way to find stimulation of any description. Hegarty recognised that if you don’t put anything in, nothing worthwhile is likely to come out.
Food for thought comes in many different guises. Often the exercise of mental collecting is mirrored by physical collecting – you’ll notice how many creative people hoard ephemera, books, magazines and music. These are often simple prompts, potential markers on the murky and beautifully unexpected road to creativity.
Next comes the science part, the ‘C’ that is chemistry. This is the process whereby randomly collected themes and cultural reference points collide. Inside the host brain, they mix and mingle, bump and grind, meld and marry. Then the extraordinary happens. They mutate into something different. A germ of creativity that couldn’t have been produced anywhere else, the sum of its time, influences, mood and personality. We all have this latent creativity bubbling inside us, but some are better than others at knowing how to tempt it from its shell.
And the final ‘C’ is confidence. To be totally unafraid of failure, to stand by your idea no matter how daft it may seem to anyone else. By its nature, truly original creativity is confrontational – it challenges the status quo, undermines what’s gone before, asks uncomfortable questions.