David Kolbusz: 2017 must see a return to genuine creativity

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Don't be different for different's sake - let's go back to making truly great creative work that wins over consumers and sells products for brands.

Rather than taking a page to prognosticate the next 12 months in creativity, I’m going to spend a bit of time blathering on about why nothing will likely change and what we can do to correct that.

The whole point of this article is that it’s supposed to be about the future. And what’s going to happen in 2017. Or, at least, a best guess at what we might expect out of the year to come. Trends? Fads? Things we’re going to be talking about?

Jesus Christ. That’s part of the problem.

Here’s a prediction: as with every other year in recent memory, creative people will be focused on what’s next instead of making what’s in front of us great. And that’s why our industry continues to suffer.

What really matters

So rather than dicking around with games of prescience, I’ll write about what I hope for. What I would love to see come out of 2017 is a return to creativity. Genuine creativity.

At the moment, the industry is trying to reinvent itself to ensure continued relevance but, as a consequence, we have taken our eyes off what actually matters and what clients used to pay us for: wholly exceptional work that wins the hearts and minds of consumers and sells their product or service.

And guess what the result is? In a world in which creativity is becoming more prized, we’re becoming less creative.

Collectively, we’re so focused on diagnosing the "problem," and concerning ourselves with whichever shiny new media platform our clients are going to redirect budget to, that we have forgotten to make the work truly great. We’re so focused on how we can diversify our output and appear like a modern progressive creative company that we’ve lost sight of the actual creative.

And then we give ourselves a collective pat on the back over this innovative, pioneering model we’ve concocted. But, ultimately, if it’s not helping you get to better work, then who gives a fuck?

Now, of course, the future is an exciting place. Yes, it’s all changing at a clip and, yes, it’s incumbent on us to keep pace with what’s going on with Gen Z and the platforms people are engaging with. But here’s the thing: not a single soul will care how pioneering your work is if it’s average. Innovative work dates quickly and people will move on.

Do you know what doesn’t date? Brilliant creative work that surprises and delights. So why don’t we focus some of our attention back on making that. In whatever form a genuinely brilliant creative idea best manifests itself.

Stop cracking things

Don’t be the creative equivalent of the dickhead who writes "FIRST!" in the comments section. Make what you put out into the world on behalf of your client mean something. Stop worrying about cracking virtual reality. Or cracking Snapchat. If I hear another person tell me they want to crack mobile, I’ll crack the bridge of their nose with a mobile. Use these things as tools to tell your story—if the story benefits from their employment.

Unfortunately, the creative sector of our industry is turning into a clown show. Not the amusing clowns or the French ones who trade in beautiful physical realizations of the human form—I’m talking about the creepy clowns who kill children.

The creative sector has become a crazed schizophrenic, typified in the behavior of constantly trying to convince itself (and, by extension, clients) that it’s embracing revolutionary structural thinking by changing everyone’s job titles to digital, before changing them back again when others follow this trope.

Yeah, fine. Break the model, if this is what you think you are doing. Do something crazy and different. But, alternatively, you could show your inherent value as a creative organization by doing some great work.

You could let the strategists and account people do their jobs and focus on the trends and fads and "what’s nexts." Creative people should be left to think about the creative output, for which all the new media are tools in the kitbag and not the product itself.

Leave the business to the business people. Creative people should be present, not prescient. Read Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech and you get a sense of why the man is so great. His focus was always on making his work better, rather than grandstanding.

Different isn’t the same as unique

Don’t try to be different for different’s sake. Perhaps the difference you should focus on is the uniqueness of your creative output. The thing that stops you from being inseparable from every other person doing your job in a crowded field. Why would somebody want to come to you for yours?

Your work should be an aggregate of the creative ideas you bring to problem-solving and the art that inspires you. The more you see, the more it strengthens your barometer, inspires and fuels your own creativity. So strengthen your barometer—creative people used to consume a lot of shit but now their reference points are the shows everyone is binge-watching or the entertaining distractions that get passed around and "win the internet" on any given day.

Creativity begets creativity—so, if you fill your mind with the best the world has to offer, then perhaps it will inspire and manifest itself in some of the things that you yourself help to realise in 2017. When you think about it, that’s the only change we really need to see this year.

—David Kolbusz is the chief creative officer at Droga5 London.