A man and woman have sex, and we are brought into the world on a spark of electricity, slapped on the ass, and told that we are unique.

And we are. There is no other human being on the planet exactly like us. However, by virtue of being human, we’re not original. And we’re not creative.

We paint pictures with our fingers and mold coffee mugs out of clay in grade school, and then told how creative we are. We write essays in college that explore strange new concepts and are lauded for our creative thinking. We write ad campaigns that mobilize masses and we are celebrated for being genius creatives. But we’re not. We’re just people. The best that we can do as people is build on existing ideas. And that’s not really creative–that’s innovative.

Rather, true creativity is reserved for divine beings. “Let there be light,” and all that. Whether you buy into the idea of God or not, the concept of creativity is reserved for that type of being. Not man.

Einstein once said, the secret to creativity is hiding your sources. Einstein was no dummy.

Another guy who was no dummy was Plato. Smart Greek guy. Asked a lot of questions. Well, about 2,100 years ago, Plato wrote a book called “The Republic.” Many of the core concepts in “The Republic” have gone on to influence great civilizations across the globe. Even America. After all, this is a Republic. Anyway, in “The Republic,” Plato explores something called the Theory of Forms. Without trying to explain his theory in this post, let’s just say that the Theory of Forms is how we know, well, everything.

For example, when I say the word chair, an image of a chair pops into your head. But I guarantee you that the image in your head, is not the same image as the person sitting next to you. No, it is unique in all the world, your image of a chair. But–it is still a chair. It’s a chair because the universal form of a chair transcends space and time and connects to each of us. Everywhere. Which means that even if you built the coolest chair the world has ever seen–using a technique that no one had ever heard of before–it is still just a chair. It’s not an original idea, or Form. And since originality is the principal foundation of creativity, only a God is capable of creation.

And here’s the deal–it works this way for everything. Every idea. Every Form. Every universal concept. If what we mortals created were truly original, none of us would understand the creation because none of us would have a reference point. We’d all be left scratching our heads. That’s why we’re not so much creative, as we are innovative. We can apply creative techniques to solve problems. And we can be artistic in our endeavors. But essentially, we steal ideas and build upon them. And that’s ok–as long as we call it for what it is. Rather than give ourselves some delusional, divine rank. Which is just ridiculous.

A long time ago I broke into advertising as a copywriter. A “creative” they called me. My job was to come up with ideas that got people to think about things differently and then act favorably. And I was really good at it. But rather than try to “be creative” every time a “creative” brief came across my desk, I took comfort in knowing that nothing’s really creative. Proof of this was when I’d see my colleagues rush off to the awards annuals for inspiration on new projects. I’d never do that. I liked the challenge. Because I believed that with a little logical thinking, any creative challenge could be solved without following trends. It’s not brain surgery, after all. You just have to seek out the universal forms of things, and then get people to think about them in new ways. Besides, when I’d come up with solutions this way, I felt that they’d be as close to original as possible. And even that was too lofty.

Iconic Ad Man Leo Burnett said, “The secret of all effective advertising is not the creation of new and tricky words and pictures, but one of putting familiar words and pictures into new relationships.” Burnett clearly understood Plato’s Theory of Forms. The rest of us, not so much. We try to play God and laud each other for our accomplishments. But deep down, I believe that we all realize we’re not creative. That’s why we compensate for our shortcomings by giving ourselves titles, trophies, and tattoos.


Picasso said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” Picasso was no dummy either–and he’s the kind of guy that most of us would consider “high creative.” So the next time you see someone with their eyelids pierced or their tongue tattooed, and they say they’re in one of the ‘creative’ industries, just remember this–we’re all just stealing from one another. Don’t be a victim of your own ego.

It’s not an easy thing, accepting that we’re not the master of our universe. Most of us go through life in complete denial of this. Rather, we plot our lives down to the millisecond so that we have an illusion of complete control. Why? Because we want to be God. We want to be creative.

And yet, as close to being creative as we will ever get is when we help keep the species going by producing more human beings. Which means the closest I’ve ever come to being creative was having sex with my wife twice, resulting in the birth of two unique, but not original human beings we call daughters.

us 2012


Jim Mitchem

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Jim Mitchem

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