Creativity is a process of critical thinking and problem solving

Creativity’s power in marketing and branding has been proven and documented over and over again for almost a century. When times are good, we’re more likely to take creativity for granted but now that we are in the midst of a global pandemic, we need to be more resourceful, writes BRETT MORRIS.

I’ve written many articles on creativity over the years. That’s probably because I’ve dedicated half my life to championing the cause of creativity as one of the most powerful tools any business has at its disposal. I’ve also been lucky enough to experience the power of creativity first-hand, working with brands and businesses that believe in the exponential advantage it offers.

Though I am more than happy to spend a good portion of my time and energy continually championing this cause, it has always amazed me that there is a need to do so. Creativity’s power in marketing and branding has been proven and documented over and over again for near almost a century.

We continually hold up examples in boardroom discussions (now video calls) of iconic companies or brands that have benefitted from the power of creativity. They say, “We need to approach this like Apple would” or “This needs a real Nike attitude”. And yet when it comes to implementing the theory, it’s much more difficult in practice.

That’s probably a good segue to talk about why there is such a spotlight on creativity in the current context. When times are good, we’re more likely to take creativity for granted but now that we are in the midst of a global pandemic, we need to be more resourceful.

We are faced with more challenges on a daily basis, there are more problems to solve and businesses are more cash-strapped, which means we are inclined to make more effort. That’s because it takes effort to push boundaries, to have a point of view or to be evocative. So given the choice, if we are not forced to make the effort, most people will choose not to.

Being creative takes a lot of hard work 

This is not an indictment in any way, it’s just human nature and what people don’t realise, is that being creative takes a lot of hard work. This is not the view that most people have of creativity, they tend to think it’s something that ‘comes naturally’ but that is not the case at all. It is really nothing more than a disciplined process of critical thinking and methodical problem solving. And that’s probably why there has been an increased interest in creativity more recently.

The lockdown has obviously had a devastating impact on the economy and on people’s lives in ways we could never have imagined and that should not be minimised in any way whatsoever. But it has also made us all a lot more conscious of the things we normally take for granted.

I’ve spoken with many leaders who have remarked on how much more empathetic this crisis has made them. How they’ve been more purposeful in their communication and in their actions because they know how much more it counts. Many have also commented on how they hope that these behaviours continue beyond the pandemic as they make us better people. And the same can be said of creativity.

I hope that, as many businesses turn to creativity because they need to do more with less or do things in ways they’ve not done before, they don’t take its power for granted in the future.

I think it’s worth re-emphasising the point that creativity is not just about producing a ‘creative product’. Creativity adds value in whatever spheres it’s applied. To repeat: creativity is a process of critical thinking and problem solving and many of the most creative people I know are not actually in ‘creative fields’. I’ve reflected many times over the past months on how many businesses went to remote or distributed working on such notice in a short space of time.

A world beyond COVID-19

I have to confess that if you had asked me in January how long it would take to move our entire organisation to remote working, I probably would have given a typical corporate answer. Something like, “By the end of the year” for no good reason other than we place arbitrary emphasis on the end of the year as an inflection point. We would have had to run trials, report back, and deal with the inevitable delays as well as our day jobs getting in the way. And ultimately, we would have been lucky to be have made a decision by the end of the year.

And yet in the context of the current crisis, we were able to do this in two or three weeks. That comes down to the fact that we had some very creative people, applying their critical thinking and solving problems in a time frame that we would never have thought possible.

There’s no doubt that we’re going to be feeling the impact of this for a long time to come. And nobody could ever have imagined how COVID-19 would impact us in the way that it did. But what we most certainly can imagine is a world beyond COVID-19. We can imagine that we will get through this challenge and overcome it together. And we can imagine that it will actually make us more empathetic, more connected and more creative than ever before.

BIO: Brett Morris is Group CEO of Nahana Communications. After eight years in the ad business, he was first appointed Executive Creative Director of FCB Johannesburg. Under his leadership the agency won more awards than ever before in its 90-year history. He has been recognised numerous times at major award shows including Cannes, One Show, D&AD and Clios. In 2014 Morris was appointed Group Chief Executive and has since been voted by his peers as most admired agency leader in Johannesburg for five years in a row and three times across South Africa.

‘The lotus thrives in muddy and unpleasant conditions, we are being presented the opportunity to plant and grow lotuses.’

Creativity has taken centre stage even more now during this pandemic. COVID-19 has changed how we view the world and how it works and, change always fuels creativity. We have all had to re-imagine life, apply creative thinking and imagine new possibilities on how to execute creative solutions for our clients and the public under such dire circumstances.

True creativity has been awakened in creatives. The equation we’ve adopted is Isolation = (Imagination + Creativity-Noise). It has been a time for everyone to rethink, reflect, dig deep and that has allowed great content creation and a plethora of ideas. We’ve had to think up new ideas of engaging the consumer, keeping abreast of the shifts happening around us and create opportunities for our brands to stay relevant.

Done correctly, this time could be the preparation we all need so that we’re fully loaded for the new wave and possibly a new type of consumer. We will have to create new narratives for new realities. There is a stillness that is fertile ground for new strategies and creativity.

Co-creation that is made up of authentic brand/consumer collaboration is the future and storytelling still reigns supreme, even though it may look a bit different. We are more connected than ever even though we are apart and this is a huge opportunity for innovation – how to be apart but together.

That shrinks the world even more and at an even faster rate than what our reality offered us just a few short weeks ago.

One day this era will be part of history. The lotus thrives in muddy and unpleasant conditions, we are being presented the opportunity to plant and grow lotuses. ~ Zama Nkosi-Mabuye and Cuma Pantshwa, founders of Ashante Blush.

‘The best things that have come from this pandemic have all been driven by creativity.’

For me, I think it’s about doing what we can to uplift and inspire others around us. There’s so much negativity out there. The scale of this epidemic is unlike anything we’ve experienced in our lifetime, and people are suddenly faced with the realisation that we all lead a very fragile existence. We’re only human, so let’s bring some of that humanity into everything we do. The brands and agencies that do that will be the ones we’ll all want to partner with when we come out the other side.

There have been some amazing pieces produced locally and internationally. The Dove ‘Courage is Beautiful’ commercial by Ogilvy Canada was my favourite. Others that were notable included Nike ‘Play for the World’ and Facebook ‘Never Lost’. They all captured the right sentiment and spirit of hope. But that doesn’t mean every standout ad needs to have an epic feel to it. In fact, the one local commercial that helped us smile in this time was the Chicken Licken ‘Easy Bucks Meals’ commercial which they redid the voice-over to and released on Day 7 of lockdown. ‘Everybody’s talking about it, even during lockdown’ was the simple message. Pure genius.

Everything always impacts on advertising and creativity. That’s the nature of creativity. Adaptability isn’t scary for creatives because we hate monotony. You get the sense that most people concerned about how ‘everything has changed’ and how we will ‘adapt our thinking’ are not the ones who are used to staring at a blank piece of paper every morning.

Creativity will always shine through. But let’s not fall into the trap of thinking that data = creativity. You need data to have better insights to come up with creative solutions. But data in itself is not the answer. If that were the case every brand would be saying exactly the same thing in exactly the same place. The best things that have come from this pandemic have all been driven by creativity.

Humans are physical beings driven by emotion. That’s why we fear pandemics, even though the data tells us we can control it. Why we cry during movies, even though the data tells us it’s just a movie. That’s why even the Data Scientists read their kids bedtime stories – because we’re all human, not robots. ~ Brandon Govender is Executive Creative Director of FCB Durban.

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