What Does it Mean to Be “Creative?” – Creativity through Synthesis

People assume creatives are designers or copywriters. But, being able to write a catchy tagline or create a beautiful design doesn’t necessarily make you creative. Lots of agencies conduct media buys, crank out production work, or make videos for social media. Just because you have a creative department, doesn’t mean you’re being creative.

But what it really means to be creative is: to find non-obvious solutions to problems.

I’m not going to say “new” solutions to problems, because, in 2017, it’s nearly impossible to develop a “new” anything on your own. It really takes a village to be creative in a world where tech changes daily and expectations increase exponentially every 18 months. I focus on finding “non-obvious” solutions.

“The best way to innovate is to look at the best of that which came before and combine those elements into new solutions.” – Faris Yakob

For example, we were hired by an international fashion retailer to come up with a new app idea. It was a great project because we were given complete creative freedom. The only metric of success was for the concept to encourage repeat opens of the app. We looked at other fashion retailers (competitive and non), but more importantly, we looked outside of fashion retail: groceries, candle makers, gasoline, higher education, and other industries. We found some great ideas that weren’t obviously connected, and we found a way to create a “new” concept for an app from all these great existing ideas. It’s not theft, it’s synthesis.

Uber is another creative solution. It’s not “new” – it’s just a different take on taxis. But, it found a non-obvious (at the time) solution to the issues people had with transportation. Now, it seems so obvious, and everyone is trying to be the “Uber of something.” But, that doesn’t make it any less groundbreaking when it first hit the market. They were even able to scale it to include “Uber Eats” and other features that solved even more problems. It was a non-obvious solution to a mass problem.

Creativity Through Synthesis

Things don’t have to be “new” to be “creative,” and it’s okay to leverage existing ideas and solutions. Merging other solutions together into a non-obvious solution to a different problem is called Synthesis. Synthesis is a kind of collective genius – it’s discovering connections between different ideas. Everyone says that Uber is a creatively genius idea, but it’s simply an amalgamation between taxis, Google Maps, and a mobile app. The internet is simply the synthesis of computers and telephone networks (now it’s audio, video, gaming, social, and everything else in the world, too). Brian Eno (yes, that Brian Eno) calls these kinds of ideas “scenius.” Ideas that are innovative, but take a whole army of people to come to.

“Scenius stands for the intelligence and the intuition of a whole cultural scene. It is the communal form of the concept of the genius.” – Brian Eno

If you can think imaginatively about how to solve problems by connecting all of the creative solutions and scenius out there, you will innovate. It’s not stealing ideas, it’s building upon what others have already built to better society and solve more of the world’s problems together.

Don’t steal and don’t imitate, but apply, collaborate, think simply and clearly, synthesize, and emphasize value. Don’t worry so much about being creative because it’s likely that you’re not going to be able build something from nothing. Worry about innovating by finding non-obvious solutions to pain points through seemingly unconnected solutions.

If you can do that, you will be creative.

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