Damon Stapleton: Creativity. Intelligence is not enough.

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Damon Stapleton: Creativity. Intelligence is not enough.

A blog by Damon Stapleton, chief creative officer, The Monkeys New Zealand.


“Creativity is intelligence having fun.” – Albert Einstein

I will get back to this brilliant quote in a minute.

Jerry Seinfeld is standing on stage. Actually, he is leaning on the stool provided. The stage is small, smoky and I imagine dank. It’s one of the those rooms that you always find at the bottom of some dark stairs. Jerry is sweating. He has a piece of paper with some jokes on it. He has lost his train of thought. He is bombing badly and it is very painful to watch. While he is grasping and scrambling somebody in the late night audience heckles the great comic. They shout out, is this your first time?

You can see this moment for yourself in a documentary called ‘Comedian’. It is about what Jerry Seinfeld did after Seinfeld ended. The answer is he went back on the road and sucked for a while. In fact, it took 3 months to get enough new material. He understood that to do this he would have to go through a very painful public process. Because that is how you create something new. There is no shortcut. He understood that the stage was not the joke. His reputation was not the joke. His process was not the joke. The audience and the drinks were not the joke. The joke was the joke and he had to find it in a fumbling, naked way. He has to find the fun. Because that’s how it’s done.

I think our business could learn a lot from this example. Swop the word joke for creativity. We talk a lot about what creativity is. Let’s talk about what creativity is not. Many of these things surround creativity. Ideas might actually need these things. But to be clear they are not the joke. The joke is the joke. Creativity is not an iron clad formula. Unfortunately, it’s not predictable but on the upside this is also why it is valuable. Measurement is not creativity. It is not post rationalisation and explaining. It is always a leap and it is not lots and lots of meetings. If that were true, a lot more advertising would be great. But it’s not. We should probably talk about that. Maybe in the next blog.

Anyway, this in a round about way, brings me back to the quote. The first half uses the word intelligence. I would imagine very few people would argue that intelligence is required to find elegant solutions or answers. The second part uses a much shorter word that we don’t really talk about. Fun.

Now, fun might seem frivolous. Maybe a bit silly? But, without it you just have intelligence. And according to Einstein that is not enough to form creativity. Simply put, there is no leap. You do what has always been done. Here is a perfect example of why intelligence is not enough. Below is Sir Ken Robinson’s brilliant talk where he tells the story of a little girl in class who never paid attention until she got to art class. Please watch it.

What is fun? It is pure potential and belief. And a large lack of fear. This is how you get somewhere new. A 6 year old girl reminds us that to do something impossible like draw what God looks like you need more than intelligence. Intelligence is not enough. That is what the teacher has. You need innocence, belief and a few other things that make that secret sauce. Human, messy things. Seinfeld understands this completely. To create new work, he knows he has to believe in something that does not exist. Not what he already knows. He has to believe in his potential and talent and quite frankly hope for the best and go through a very painful couple of months. That’s just how creativity works. Creativity is a line not a dot. You have to follow that line and let it show you where to go. Not where you are, or where you have been. That creativity has very little value.

Our industry should always remember and protect the second part of Mr Einstein’s quote because the first part will never be enough.