“That’s really creative—I like it!”
For an ad writer, getting that kind of reaction to a new spot or campaign idea brings joy-joy feelings.
But what makes someone creative? Is it innate or learned behavior?
What exactly is creativity?
I Googled it and this is what popped up:
- the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.
Original ideas? How original? If we start (as I do—) with the existence of God, who has always known everything about everything and who created all things including us, then really, He alone has truly “original” ideas. Human creativity is derivative. Whatever we may create follows from our having been created in His image.
So-called “artificial intelligence” (AI) is a construct of the human intelligence upon which it is built. The Metaverse is accessible only through a virtual reality headset, a product of human invention. And Marvel’s bizarre Multiverse owes its existence entirely to human imagination—uncoupled from logic, reason, and the restraining order of the physical laws of the universe.
The definition of creativity that informs my own work is this: the combining of existing ideas, resources, or materials in new or surprising ways. So, I believe creativity is aided by curiosity, attention to details, and willingness to try something new—or at least to repurpose something old.
Let me illustrate.
In 2003, I wrote and produced for Keeney Bros. Music Centers in Moscow, Idaho, this commercial, which generated so much buzz for the client that I decided for the first time in my career to enter the spot into a national competition. It ended up winning the 2004 Radio Mercury Award for best station-produced commercial. Joy-joy feelings through the roof!
The script and production details were mine, but the idea for it came from something I’d heard 13 years earlier, a commercial for LA Gear, entitled “Fantasies of a Single Girl.”
I don’t know what inspired the writers of the LA Gear spot back in 1991 but something did. And many years later their spot inspired me.
The late Robert B. Parker created the character of Jesse Stone in his novels and subsequent made-for-TV movies starring Tom Selleck in the title role. His creation worked so well that Parker later gave the world a female version of Jesse Stone, former Boston cop-turned-private detective, Sunny Randall. Jesse and Sunny have similar flaws: they’re both attractive and either divorced or separated, and float through a series of casual relationships for the sex; they both drink to excess; both see therapists, etc. They even appear occasionally in each other’s stories.
Parker’s signature writing style—short chapters, frequent scene changes, clipped dialogue, all easily transferrable to a screen play—is similar in both series. The only difference (so far) is that nine Jesse Stone movies were made but none of Sunny Randall—despite the fact that Parker wrote the original book at the request of actress Helen Hunt, who aspired to play the character.
I ran across another example of repurposing an older idea recently, following news of the death (7/11/22) of Monty Norman, best known for having composed the legendary James Bond theme. As I learned at MontyNorman.com, the Bond theme was derived from an earlier composition he’d written for a stage musical that never got off the ground, A House For Mr. Biswas. The song was called Bad Sign, Good Sign. Listen for a few seconds and you’ll recognize the signature.
Norman wrote, “With a heavy heart, I did what all composers do with their obsolete songs, I put all my melodies from Biswas, including Bad Sign, Good Sign, into my bottom drawer hoping one day to resurrect one or two of them in some other context.”
That context would appear years later when Norman was hired to write the music for Dr. No.
He split the notes, lost the sitar and singer, and reimagined the melody for an electric guitar, accompanied by strings and brass—giving birth to one of the world’s most iconic and enduring movie themes.
There was some dispute over how much of the successful theme was Monty Norman’s idea and how much was John Barry’s, who embellished it in creating the soundtracks for the Sean Connery Bond movies. According to the ABC News write-up:
Producers hired composer John Barry to rearrange the theme, and Barry was widely assumed to have written it — to Norman’s chagrin. Barry, who died in 2011, went on to compose scores for almost a dozen Bond films, including “Goldfinger” and “You Only Live Twice.”
Norman went to court to assert his authorship, suing the Sunday Times newspaper for libel over a 1997 article asserting the theme was composed by Barry. He won in 2001 and was awarded 30,000 pounds in damages.
There are zillions of books out there on the subject: Unlocking Creativity. Unleashing Your Creativity. Understanding Creativity. Et cetera. I’ve ready many books on advertising, copywriting, sales, and marketing, but don’t recall having read anything with Creativity in the title. But I’m convinced that practical creativity is within reach of anyone willing to take the time to observe, think about what he’s observing, and be a little curious as to why things work the way they do.
“I wonder…” is a great way to start.