Do we revere creativity too much and talent too little? It is a question
I was recently asked by a terrifyingly bright student at a seminar.
(Nobody likes a smart-arse, the old adage claims, but I do). ‘Being
creative,’ the student said, ‘is easy-peasey. Any fool can have new
ideas. What is difficult is to have great ideas.’
‘Lots of pop groups,’ she added, ‘are amazingly creative. They write new
songs all the time. But they’ve no talent, so their songs are crap.’
Her words, to coin an ’orrible pun, struck a chord. Anybody who has
worked in an advertising agency for a few nanoseconds knows that
creatives constantly bubble with new ideas. Clients rarely believe this.
Clients suspect agencies are still struggling to scrabble together an
idea or two moments before the presentation begins. Rubbish.
Agencies usually have dozens of ideas up their sleeves, ready to be
whisked out like conjurors’ rabbits. Ideas flow from most advertising
folk as freely as promises from politicians at election time. But as the
student said, most of the ideas are crap. Really great ideas are hard to
come by - rare as sober creatives at an awards dinner. It is great ideas
agencies are sometimes still scrabbling for moments before the
The paramount quality creatives need is the ability to translate their
ideas into dazzling sales communications. I call that ability talent,
rather than creativity. What’s the difference? Well, think about
cooking. To cook a roast or a pie brilliantly you don’t need
originality, but you do need talent. If you’re not a talented cook,
you’ll ruin them. On the other hand, you do need to be creative to dream
up the fancy concoctions so beloved by Marco Pierre White and chums. But
again, if you haven’t the talent - the subtlety of palate - to make the
recipes work, you’ll ruin them.
It’s much the same in advertising. A truly talented wordsmith can
transmute a humble old idea into powerful, not to say poetic, language.
A talented designer or film director can transmute a humble pack shot
into a striking, eye-catching image. Like great cooks they can make the
ordinary extraordinary. It isn’t creativity but it demands fabulous
In advertising, we worship at the great shrine creativity’. Well, I’m
all for originality and newness, which is what creativity means, but
creativity without talent is clumsy, often embarrassing, whereas talent
can make even unoriginal ideas sparkle. After all, Othello has a pretty
corny plot and the countryside is hardly a mind-boggling creative idea
for a symphony. It was their talent, at least as much as their
creativity, which made Shakespeare and Beethoven geniuses.
‘It ain’t watcha do, it’s the way that you do it. And that’s what gets
results,’ goes an old song, which would not, I hope, earn the terrifying
student’s disdain. Watcha do matters, no question, but the way that you
do it often matters more. And that’s talent.
Winston Fletcher is chairman of Delaney Fletcher Bozell