Creativity Is Not A Manufacturing Process: Efficiency Makes A Lame Goal

A Reliable Source 

An article in the October 20th issue of Advertising Age highlights an eleven year old California-based “marketing operations management” company called Assetlink.  (to download a pdf, click here).  Assetlink promises to help clients track the productivity of their agencies, with specific metrics around staffing and ‘through put,’ all with an eye to maximizing efficiencies.  In one of the examples they cite, the information led to consolidation of work at a mainline agency–a fact that is decidedly countertrend in our increasingly specialized marketplace.  Now an optimist could take the half-full glass perspective that using Assetlink probably argues against a review, but the pessimist would recognize that’s only due to how operationalizing Assetlink into an agency demands serious labor and requires at least a year before producing regular results.

I don’t doubt the intelligence of the people behind ventures like Assetlink.  I don’t even question their intent: anyone close to the agency business knows “agency management” is nearly oxymoronic.  The more interesting question is “why is that?”

I would venture it’s because the job requires ‘managing creatives’ or at least ‘creativity.’  And while legions of flow-chart wielding, process fixated, left-brain eggheads peddle thousands of books, seminars and yes, on-line management tools all purporting to measure and ‘improve’ the flow of creativity, none of them are worth a tinker’s damn.  Sorry, but that’s the truth.  Look; Roger and his creative whack on the side of the head will definitely help non-creative people understand the process, but it won’t begin to get them even close to mastering it.  Creativity is something different, something decidedly non-linear.  And something practiced exceptionally well only by a select few.

Given my personal bias, I’m much more a believer in Tom Monahan and his theories on the role of the subconscious mind in finding creative solutions.  True creativity requires leaps of faith, even illogic, to create something thrilling and new amidst the prosaic.  We don’t always deliver it, but when we do, almost everyone senses it: a palpable energy, an undeniable introduction of freshness and inspiration.

For a truly insightful, painstakingly-researched and passionately-argued exploration on the topic of managing the creative mind, you won’t find a better primer than Gordon Torr’s Managing Creative People: Lessons in Leadership for the Ideas Economy.  Aside from the dullishly-direct title, every aspect of this book sings with intelligence and insight.  Gordon makes a telling comparison between the American mass manufacturing process mastered at the beginning of the last century and the almost unconscious application of that process into advertising agencies.  And it isn’t pretty.  As he puts it “You cannot manage the production of creative ideas the way you manage the production of tinned pineapples.”  Amen.

If you want to know how the creative mind really works, go buy this book.  And no, I don’t get a dime for shilling this, just personal satisfaction that great thinking will be rewarded.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79