I had a breakthrough earlier this year.
Don’t get too excited—it was over something relatively obvious in retrospect. Yet it’s been an identity-altering realization that has changed the way I look at my work and Zeus Jones.
I was listening to the book Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who is also the author of the book Flow. Right at the offset, Csikszentmihalyi lays out such a clean, clear definition of creativity that it immediately reframed the way I think about the word—and this is coming from someone whose literal job title is Creative.
You hear the word creativity and a million muddled things may come to mind: it’s become a catchall term for everything from screenwriting to finger painting. But Csiksgentmihalyi’s definition of creativity hacked away a thicket of long-standing internal confusion for me, and immediately felt relevant to our work here.
The gist of it:
Creativity isn’t about being good at art, writing, design, or storytelling. All of that is “skill.”
Creativity is about creating value.
To say it another way:
Creativity is not amazing design or a well-spun line—it’s about imagining a future you want to live in, and making it happen. In that way, creativity is not a departmental thing. It’s an all-agency, all-client thing.
Csikszentmihalyi’s actual definition of creativity focuses on “moving a domain forward”—in other words, changing or advancing our understanding of a concept. Take theoretical physics, for example. If you make a discovery in the domain of theoretical physics, you may very well advance our understanding of what it means to be alive. You’ve used your deep knowledge of a topic, or several topics, and made new connections that have led us to a new reality. In other words, you’ve made a discovery that’s added to the richness of the future. Congratulations, you may collect your Nobel Prize at the door.
But this concept applies to business as well—to the products and services we interact with every day. These are things that change the way people experience their lives, for better or worse. The best businesses add value to the world. They can literally improve the way we live. And all pioneering businesses require genuine creativity—it’s prerequisite for creating value. And that’s exactly what every discipline at Zeus Jones strives to offer—not just the Creatives.
Some other gems from Csikszentmihalyi:
Creativity is an exciting model for living and moving forward.
Creativity gives us a reason for being here—to make the world better.
Creativity is about imagining the future you want to live in.
Creativity is an outcome—it’s about adding to the richness of the future.
Yet, most in the agency and business world hear “Creative” and envision a reel of moving pictures or a hammered Don Draper sporting a look of eureka in his eyes.
Beautiful language and design, though incredibly important in communicating a business’s value, are something else. They’re the outputs of talent and skill, but they don’t always add value on their own. The hardest truth for many agency creatives is that writing and design are things that can be done well for a brand— even masterfully—without actually adding real value to the world or the brand. That’s always been our rub with traditional marketing and advertising: most of it just talks the talk, without actually taking any steps forward.
Considering Zeus Jones exists to help our clients unlock new kinds of value—everyone’s job here is to be creative. We’re single-mindedly focused on the ideal of evolving business: to make it more human, more useful, and more interesting. To advance expected and tired domains. To leapfrog the status quo and create the future that we want to live in.