Creativity as a skill: What does it mean?

Before I moved to London, I had no idea that creativity would be my USP. Not so much U, more SP. I’ve always known I was creative; I wouldn’t be in this industry if I wasn’t. And I’ve always known that I wanted to be working in advertising one day. But I come from a small market in the industry, South Africa. And small markets, just like small agencies, they prepare you for anything. They prepare you to become a generalist; because you’re sort of doing a little bit of a jack of all trades. So you end up learning a great deal about other disciplines that affect what you’re doing.  And in order to be a great strategist, you need to be a fairly good generalist. You need to know a little bit about everything that touches digital, so you can make informed decisions and recommendations.

Not everyone can be generalists, and not everyone should. We still need the specialists out there to take care of craft. Like me. I was added to the team to drive innovation. (that’s actually a line from my job spec.) One of the core skills needed for this job was “creativity.” So like, I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently. My core skill, by trade, by what I’ve studied at Ad school, is Copywriting. I can write. (I am supposed to be able to write really well). But jobs have evolved since then, and skills like creativity you don’t learn at Ad School, you learn how to hone your craft through real-world experience – which is a lot harder than the grilling presentations at Ad School. In fact, it is the hardest part. Because it’s not science, where the work that you produce is either right or wrong. In my instance, the work that I produce, content, is subjective. It’s based on whether other people like it or not. I create things every day without a formula, without knowing all the answers, without knowing whether it will be received well or not. I create things using only my imagination, one of my most powerful tools. AND IT IS EMOTIONALLY EXHAUSTING.

I can never walk into a boardroom with the utmost confidence that the crowd will love my ideas. Even though that’s exactly what they teach you at Ad School – walk in with confidence and even if your idea is shit, someone will buy your confidence. Of course, they don’t teach us to create shit ideas. That goes without saying. Being judged on performance of your imagination is the hardest job in the world. You need to be brilliant every single day. So what(?!) If you came up with something great today. People will forget about it tomorrow, when your colleague’s great idea makes the spotlight wall. It is expected of you to be highly imaginative all the time. You can’t have an off day. You will fall behind. And you can’t fall behind in this industry. Time in this industry works like dog years. It moves so fast.

And even if you do win the presentation. There’s still the real test that needs to happen; the public test when your work is published. Will people like it? I like to plan for this test anyway, so I’d create things that I think I would find interesting if I saw it online. Getting the people in the middle (your boss, your client, your client’s boss) to buy into your ideas is just part of the process. (My least favourite part).

Because what if they don’t like it, even though your instincts tell you that it will work really well online? All great creatives have great taste in what excellence looks like. But if you can’t back up why you think a piece of work is great, then you shouldn’t be recommending it in the first place. Because people won’t just take your word for it. Like I said, content is subjective. You have to make sure that everyone else sees it the way you see it – by showing them some sort of reasoning as to why you thought it was great. Almost like science, but not really. And that’s why we submit our work for awards. It’s the only way we can add merit to what we do. To earn the creative license (like you’ve earned your PhD) and the right to truly call ourselves creatives. (I hope this inspires you to put forward better ideas, and not to give up entirely. To creative excellence..)