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Well, ain’t that a kick in the head.

Here we all are thinking that creativity is more important than ever before in all the history of humankind, let alone advertising. Richard Florida talks about The Rise of the Creative Class. You can’t go a single day without being told that innovation rules, that clients are starved for big ideas, willing to go to the ends of the earth to find them.

As creative people, this ought to make us feel really good.

After all, we’re living in the golden age of creativity where ideas are manna from heaven, where companies slobber over originality like crazed Saint Bernards, where schools desperately seek game-changing innovation and entire nations are staking their futures on the brilliant breakthrough, the crossroads thought that can feed the hungry, reverse global warming and turn economies around.

Well, not so fast. As it turns out, there’s a study out there and its conclusions are, to put it mildly, disturbing if not surprising. It's called “The Bias Against Creativity: Why People Desire But Reject Creative Ideas.” If you’d like to read it, download it at digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/articles/450.

Paradoxically, it says that people tend to reject creative ideas even though they say creativity is a big deal. It’s not overt. But it’s there. Why? Pretty much because creativity is inherently connected to uncertainty. And like the stock market, we tend not to do well when uncertainty moves in next door.

The problem for you and me is, we thrive on uncertainty. We’re nuts for it. Crazy drop dead in love with it. The road less traveled. Hell, the road never traveled. The undiscovered country as Ricardo Montalbán put it in Star Trek, The Wrath of Khan. I say problem because, well intentioned as they might be, most clients aren’t all that different from the people in the Bias Against Creativity study.

You know what that makes us? That’s right. Zombies. Nosferatu in black jeans and Chuck Taylors. Alien, Predator and the raptors from Jurassic Park all rolled into one. We’re damn scary creatures to most clients. Us and our big ideas. Our big, destabilizing, threatening, dripping-with-danger ideas.

Does that mean that unless we’ve got Nike or Apple or Guinness for a client, we’re doomed to a life of bashing our collective brains out in an impossible quest to make our work mean more than just another creative exercise? Not really. But it does mean that we’ve got to understand who we are and who clients are not, if we’re to have a snowball’s chance in hell of dealing with it, managing it and hopefully using it to our advantage.

A few quick observations:
We’re risk takers. We can afford to be. If a campaign flops, we move on to the next campaign. Clients abhor risk like Lady Gaga abhors a Lilly Pulitzer sundress. Evidence shows that in most cases, people will base their decisions on which choice is least likely to negatively impact them personally.

Translation: Never use “cutting” and “edge” in the same sentence.

We’re non-conformists. We don’t go with the flow. Most of the time, we don’t even know what the flow is. We don’t live in the mainstream. We don’t want anything to do with it. Not so clients. They wear ties. They avoid facial hair. They wear sensible shoes. They. Want. To. Fit. In.

Translation: Convince them that your work can rock their brand without rocking their boat.

We’re flexible. We can roll with the punches. We can make subtle adjustments. If there’s a bump in an idea, no problem. We just smooth out the bump. Polish it down. Clients see things differently. The slightest imperfection in an idea and they see not a bump but a mountain. Doesn’t matter how easy the fix is. Doesn’t matter that you can solve it with a few keystrokes, a subtle shift here or there, in their minds it’s baby-out-with-the-bathwater time.

Translation: Every idea has warts. Shine a bright light on them. Ferret them out. No matter how tiny they are. Pluck them out. Like they’re fleas. Like they’re lice on a ten-year-old. Pluck. Then pluck again. Warts freak out clients. And when clients freak out, turning that particular ship around can be like getting the moon to reverse its orbit. Don’t give them that chance. Get out the tweezers. Pluck.

Discouraging, I know. But it is what it is. Does it mean you can’t get great work to fly? Of course not. As the work that graces these pages in every issue can pretty convincingly attest, mountains can be moved and clients can be convinced to override their instincts. Get them to see you as something besides a zombie and you might have a shot at a Lion or a Pencil. Stay a zombie and I can pretty much guarantee you'll have no shot at all. ca

Ernie Schenck (ernieschenckcreative.prosite.com) is a freelance writer, a creative director and a regular contributor to CA’s Advertising column. An Emmy finalist, three-time Kelley nominee and a perennial award winner—the One Show, Clios, D&AD, Emmys and Cannes—Schenck worked on campaigns for some of the most prestigious brands in the world in his roles at Hill Holliday/Boston, Leonard Monahan Saabye and Pagano Schenck & Kay. He lives with his wife and daughter in Jamestown, Rhode Island.

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