“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct.”
Years ago, I worked with a creative who management didn’t like. They always thought he was playing around rather than working. He had a couple of side hustles. He always played pranks. He was never in his office. And he always seemed to be doing just about anything besides the job he was briefed to do. The thing was he always cracked the brief and he never missed a deadline. He had this way of distracting himself. He would talk to other creatives constantly about the job but not take it very seriously. It was like watching somebody fuse obsessiveness with ambivalence. He was playing but was also incredibly aware of the playing at the same time.
I thought of him when I stumbled on this clip. It is 5 years old now but I think is very relevant in today’s environment. John Mayer (apologies if you don’t like his music) shows us how to get somewhere new. He doesn’t know what he is doing. He just trusts the process. He calls it stupid-brave. You see it in creative departments when enough people are laughing and all building on an idea. No ego and in the moment. It’s like you are watching yourself very closely and totally not giving a fuck at the same time. The process is how Mr Mayer fuses these two opposite positions together to create something that wasn’t in the world seconds ago. The question is what is that power worth? It wasn’t there and now it is. Transformation. Alchemy. This is the real value of creativity.
So, why does that matter? These days there is an obsession with input and output. The world wants certainty and efficiency. Of course, it’s way cheaper and has less risk. What is the task? What is the answer? We like to talk about the beginning and end. Start and finish. But, we don’t really talk about the middle. It is messy, unpredictable and hard to pin down. I guess the question is do we need it?
What would happen if we got rid of the middle? What would happen if we made creativity more tidy? What would happen if creatives stopped playing? I am sure the world would carry on but I will take a guess what might happen. Firstly, I think a lot of inputs and outputs will start to be very similar. Not straight away, but eventually. Things will start to look and sound the same. There will be no glitches or edges. There will be nothing that is too much, a little weird or something that doesn’t make sense but sort of does. We will have a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy. This blandness will create the problem of good enough.
This is where we look at creativity being correct and inoffensive rather than interesting and new.
By the way, this is not about technology or A.I. I think creatives will be just fine with all the new tools appearing almost daily. I think what is important though is creatives are allowed to play with these tools and keep things messy. Otherwise, you will start to swim in a sea of sameness. The problem of good enough. I am sure some of you have already seen a little of this happening on Midjourney where you start to see the same illustration style appear over and over. This is what consensus does. But you need playfulness, stupidity and obsessiveness to get somewhere new.
The truth is, playing around is a vital ingredient of creativity. In a sense, it almost is creativity. Without it you create a process that starts to always come to the same conclusion. Take it away and you lose the value and power of creativity. That is to create something out of nothing. And at it’s very best something completely original.
The problem is it is hard to value in terms of money.
But then again, some things are way more valuable than money.