NEWS: Take care not to confuse talent with creativity

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.’

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

presentation.



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

talent.



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



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