Much can be learned, in sub-atomic physics at least, from the collisions of particles. At the beginning of this week, with the warm sunshine and breezy air of an early summer day, two notions collided, in my head at least. Everywhere is the talk of “pervasive creativity”—a panacea for our industry—and yet, in the Cannes proceedings rather incongruously grouped around the theme of “Creative Talent Day,” the phrase “the war for talent” was uttered again and again. Such an absurd contradiction; if creativity is to be pervasive, doesn’t a war, the competitive outcome of a belief in scarcity, hinder all progress?
It doesn’t. That’s the point. If we want pervasive creativity, then having a war is the last thing we need. Yet contradictions, especially violent ones, are helpful places to look for new insight. Like that which our friends the physicists discover through their study of accelerating particles, much insight can be discovered in this collision of metaphors.
Creativity is pervasive. That’s the good news. When we speak of creativity, we are not speaking about some natural event like an earthquake, a windstorm, or a tree falling. To create is a human action, and creativity distinguishes us as human agents. As self-reflective beings we make choices to create. In creating, we separate out order and meaning from chaos, and we choose what is good, beautiful, and beneficial. Above all, when we create, we express our shared human uniqueness and reflect our personal identity. We name our creation, as we have been named personally. Such is true branding—giving something an identity that calls its meaning into being.
Yet when we speak about creative talent, our individualistic culture leads us to speak of war, competition and scarcity.
We have the wrong metaphor. War is anti-personal, perhaps our least human act. Armed now with nameless drones in distant places, remote, anonymous, and faceless, modern war is perhaps the pinnacle of impersonal industrialization, the apex of our self-made dark creativity. Co-operative business flees when war begins, as the troubled Middle East is finding just now. And so “the war for talent” is perhaps the worst metaphor we might have chosen to foster the emancipation of pervasive creativity.
But this collision of ideologies is, like the reaction chambers of the particle accelerators, precisely the place where we will find the answers we seek. The agencies that will thrive will find that co-operation, not war is the way to unleash their abundant creative talent. They will choose to embrace and unleash abundance, not fight, like dogs, over a perceived scarcity of resources or talent. The scarcity of creativity today is due to an abundance of egotism and the shortage of personal collaboration.
When we run our agencies first and foremost as optimizing systems, designed to fight wars for talent, subject only to the laws of economic reason, we starve each creative genius of the nourishment that leads to a truly creative life. We need to design our agencies first as personal systems, not mechanized production factories. Perhaps our too-scarce talent is wisdom.
If “war for talent” is not the metaphor to guide our search for the too elusive beacon of pervasive creativity, what then? How shall we unlock the vast reserves of creative genius trapped in the sweatshops of our own making? A truly human and personal company possesses three characteristics:
It exists for a reason, a reason chosen, declared, believed and embraced as worthy by its people;
It expresses a collective and shared aspiration and is a truly human community;
It people—as leaders—live out their personal identity within a shared and higher purpose.
When we talk about our search for creative talent, perhaps we’d have more success if we looked with more human metaphors rather than technological ones. The latin root of our industry name—advertire, which means “to see next”—invites us to look beyond the reductionism of scarcity over which we must fight each other and instead, to embrace the ready abundance of creative talent. Most of us are already helping our clients to activate purpose brands. Perhaps if the shoemakers made some shoes for their own children, we might find ourselves amazed by the abundance of such pervasive creativity, already waiting, expectantly within our own walls.