Can you really teach creativity?


Last week I spent a fun but intense two days Up North working closely with a design studio who have their sights set on Big Things. I love consulting for agencies and whilst our focus is almost always on selling more creative work, that usually boils down to starting with the quality of the portfolio. When I tell people about what I do, some are bemused “But can you really teach creativity?” they ask? As if creativity is the gifted preserve of the few and far between.

Those of us that consider ourselves to be creative and that work hard to keep creativity within our daily lives know that you absolutely can teach creativity! Well, if not teach it, then we can certainly foster a culture of creative excellence, permission to take time over a project and put the emphasis firmly on fun!

Do we need to 'learn' creativity or do we simply need the permission to take it seriously, to see it as an integral part of our businesses?

It sounds counter intuitive, but many of us running businesses that aspire to be more creative just don't give ourselves the time, space or environments to be creative. Too many of us are so busy being busy that we overlook the value a strong creative process can add to our bottom line.

Put simply, if you produce great design work, you can charge more for it. That doesn't happen by accident; it's not something that only the chosen few can achieve but it does require an investment of time, clarity of vision and a commitment to see it through.

My own experience of journeying from local quick-print franchise to internationally acclaimed brand styling company was one that centred around developing a culture of creativity. It was a journey that took us from “how quickly can we turn this around” whilst looking enviously at the creative work of other agencies and thinking wistfully “our clients would never pay us to produce that” to "how much time do we need to do this properly?" and "how can we create something that's truly mind-blowing for this client?". As we developed a distinctive style and process we started to get noticed around the world and doing business became much easier.

I've written before about the importance of slowing down, valuing your thought process and doing less, but well. Developing a creative culture isn't easy but it starts with where you put your focus. It starts with you taking a choice to stop being 'busy' and a commitment to building your portfolio. If you want your clients to take you seriously as creatives you have to show them how creative you are. That won't happen in an hour or two, great design takes time to perfect. You need to switch your emphasis from speed to excellence. From quantity to quality.



Love this quote designed by the talented Marius Roosendaal via Andrew Harlow.

For many, the biggest enemy of creativity is fear. Fear of getting it wrong; fear of being mocked by your competitors; fear of being exposed as a fraud. By giving my clients a framework for quality and a process that helps them objectively work through a branding project I find that slowly but surely they develop an inner confidence that doesn't need external validation. That inner confidence is often the catalyst to creativity, the knowing that something will work is the key to pushing you forwards creatively and producing your best work, time after time.

Creativity isn't necessarily an elusive concept, but rather something that requires a robust process and a commitment to excellence. When we're blown away by the creativity of a designer's portfolio, what we are really seeing is hours and hours of focused, hard graft. Very few of us will magic up a concept in the shower and have a finished logo and comprehensive brand identity pulled together by lunchtime. It's really about working to a brief with a tried and tested process that you know, given time and effort will produce an excellent end result. It's about sweating the small things, noticing the detail and ensuring that every subtle nuance is just so. And that's something that's very teachable.

As a creative catalyst I may not 'teach' creativity as such but I do encourage people to think bigger, to see what's possible and to aspire to produce their very best work. I help them to create a culture of doing things well and invest time in creating a distinctive portfolio. It may not be easy work, but I love every minute of it.