Raphael's 'School of Athens,' courtesy of Vatican Museums

The guy on the left is Plato. He's pointing up in Rafael's masterpiece because 'up' represents Plato's Theory of Forms, or high concept ideas. I referenced Plato's Forms in last week's post and how when I think of a chair and you think of a chair, we don't think of the same chair but rather the same form/idea/concept of a chair. I'm going to use Plato again here because, well, he was pretty smart and wrote a lot of really great stuff. The Allegory of the Cave chief among them. In this tale, Plato proves that people are more influenced by perception rather than reality. And that the forced perception brought on by others proves that humans know only what other humans knew before them.

In Cave, Plato references three 'prisoners' shackled from birth and forced to stare at the side of a cave wall to see only the shadows of the world around them. To the prisoners, this perception is their reality. Additionally, every single thing these prisoners know is the result of what someone else knows. Of course, we're not prisoners in a cave (not literally anyway), but we are all influenced by others from the day we were born until the day we die. And I'm not just talking about having someone showing you how to throw a curve ball – I mean by using a pen. A keyboard. A screwdriver. Growing grapefruit. Making clothes. Building anything. Speaking any language. Cooking. Thinking any thought. Nothing – not a single thing in your life will ever be truly original. I used to joke that my daughters were the most original thing I've ever done in my life. And they are – but the DNA that makes them unique is based on generations of people in our family who are piles of ash now. It's kind of ironic, but the most original thing humans can do is produce more humans.

So if we're not 'creative' then what the hell are we? 

We're innovative.

Innovation: 1: the introduction of something new 2: a new idea, method or device. 

It's important to remember that new does not mean 'original.' New means different. Different as in building on an existing idea to make a new use for something. Kind of like putting Arm & Hammer Baking Soda in the fridge to soak up odor. If you're in advertising, you know this is part of what we do every day. By providing people with new ways to think about things, we establish connections that ride the coattails of familiar ideas (very familiar in the case of talking to specific target audiences). But is this called Creative? Not really – definitely not in the way that the word is ultimately defined. Do I expect everyone to start calling themselves Innovative Directors now? Hardly. We'll always say we're 'Creatives' - and that's cool. Just not accurate.

I'll close this ridiculous argument with the only surefire way I know for a human to be truly 'Creative.' Confiscate a newborn and lock it in a windowless room with no outside influence. After about 18 years, open the door to the room and ask them what they know. If they have somehow learned to speak (your language), and if they were able to sustain themselves during this time w/o food from you, then whatever ideas they'd have would be completely uninfluenced, original and creative. 

I know. It's a paradox. Just accept it – we're not nearly as 'Creative' as we think we are. 

To read Part 1, click here


Jim Mitchem

The Art of the Headline
Is that an iPhone in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?

Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.