Creativity is Useless*

*Except when it’s not. When everyone knows their role and has the depth of experience to be damn good at it, your soup is going to taste a lot better.

Creativity is Useless*

When my sister and I were little, we invented a game called Watermelon Soup.

We’d steal leftover watermelon rinds after dinner, dump them into a paint bucket and dance around it like a bubbling cauldron, gleefully tossing in grass, water, dirt and bric-a-brac from our Brooklyn backyard.

After this display of unbridled creativity came the ultimate test of bravery: Who would taste the soup?

While this is a cherished memory, it’s also a metaphor for one way organizations approach the creative process. Except instead of meeting in the backyard, we throw people together almost as haphazardly in a conference room (or, worse, on a conference call) and wait for magic to happen. Unfortunately, more often this process renders creativity useless. We end up creating something that no one will actually want to consume. It has some interesting ingredients but lacks coherence or thoughtfulness.

Compare this to a meal I recently enjoyed at Gramercy Tavern in New York. Chef Michael Anthony sent out a puréed melon soup dotted with sunflower seeds and extra virgin olive oil. It was complex but restrained. Surprising but completely satisfying. The subtle genius of true creative talent. Each ingredient was selected intentionally and worked together to create a delightful and unique medley. Taste the soup indeed. I asked for seconds.

Haute cuisine kitchens demonstrate a more effective organization of creative talent every day. Behind the chef is a crew of highly trained and dedicated cooks who demonstrate unparalleled commitment to quality and consistency in their particular function. Fish roast, meat roast, sous chef, the pass. They even have a bread roast station, forchrissakes, where one can become an expert on making toast. Everyone is allowed to develop expertise and focus on their piece of the process. The magic happens when they come together to create something that is interesting, complex and utterly satisfying.

The point is, when everyone knows their role and has the depth of experience to be damn good at it, your soup is going to taste a lot better. In marketing, the ingredients needed to create a memorable experience that people will crave may include: a clear creative brief, a deep understanding of what motivates people to action, executional excellence, and – perhaps most importantly – the ability to bring it all together in novel and effective ways.

Melle Hock is a strategic planner at Edelman New York.

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