Creativity by Marc Sands
Creativity is one of the most exciting yet intangible properties that we possess. Offering creative solutions to problems is a much sought after skill. Individuals and companies want creative people and will pay large sums of money for them to find creative solutions to their problems.
“Creative thinking is not a talent; it is a skill that can be learnt. It empowers people by adding strength to their natural abilities, which improves teamwork, productivity and, where appropriate, profits.” Edward de Bono. Yet the abilities that foster creativity are not limited to those with money. Money is no guarantee of creative thinking, although it can be very helpful in its application. For individuals and organisations with large sums of money to spend, creativity is often a commodity that can be purchased.
For those without the luxury of big budgets, the option of 'buying it in' is simply not available. This is no bad thing; far from it; in fact, quite the contrary may be true. Creativity is not related to money, and is not necessarily enhanced by it. It is related to ambition, a belief in what is possible, and the creation of an environment in which it is allowed to prosper. “The achievement of excellence can occur only if the organization promotes a culture of creative dissatisfaction.” Lawrence Miller It is hard to legislate for creativity. For the most part, it is fostered through a powerful combination of a clear understanding of the audience with a profound understanding of your product/service offer, coupled with a sprinkling of genius and new thinking.
Creativity is about precision. It is about marrying the ambitions of a product or service with those of an audience. Where in the textbook does it say that you need money to achieve this? Nowhere. Instead, you need insight, an encyclopaedic understanding of your audience, and a healthy slice of luck. The more you know about your product/service and your audience, the less luck you need. The final ingredient for creativity is the realisation that there will be people around you who may be better at it than you. Listen to them.
Creativity works best in organisations that are able to let their people work with it without excessive control. You can probably guarantee that people around you will have good or better ideas than you. Their insights will be different, and frequently better than yours. Once you accept this (and it is not always easy), you are more than half way there. Creativity thrives within a culture and atmosphere based on collaboration. Museums and galleries around the world share many common attributes, including small budgets. Many operate on a shoestring, and are rightly focused on their core purpose, not funding the marketing of the core purpose. For most, 'buying in creativity' is not an option. What museums may lack in budgets, they make up for in talent. They are full of highly articulate, creative, intelligent people, brimming with ideas. Unleashing that creativity and bringing it to life is the real challenge facing museums and galleries. However, compared to a generation ago, we are in a golden period, not only when it comes to having ideas, but also in their execution.
This is a time when the option of achieving and realising this 'creative engagement' has never been more possible. The internet has played a transformative role in the transition from the ‘might be able to do that’ culture to the 'when do you want it done by' and ' done better than the last time'. In the absence of funding, galleries and museums have long been innovative and resourceful when it comes to engaging with new audiences. Up to and including the present, they have made alliances with more traditional media outlets (newspapers/ TV) to ensure their messages reach their audiences. It is a simple relationship that fulfils the requirements of both parties.
The galleries want to reach audiences, while the media outlets want interesting content. Each party has what the other wants. In addition to this, the major galleries in the UK have successfully developed media partnerships with relevant newspapers and other media outlets, in which advertising and sponsorship is traded for privileged access/tickets for readers and first interviews for the partner media organisation. In the UK, the major galleries have developed strong relationships with the leading quality newspapers. The Guardian and Tate Modern began this in the lead up to the launch of the Tate Modern in 2000. The success of the partnership has been replicated on many occasions. This is an excellent example of creatively working within limited budgets. This form of partnership was once viewed as ground-breaking; it remains an important part of a gallery’s ability to reach an audience, but is now a widespread practice adopted by almost all galleries and all media.
The creation of alliances is not limited to working with traditional media. On February 1 2011, an innovative, creative new service was launched by Google in partnership with 17 galleries across 9 countries. The 'Google' Art Project is a unique collaboration with 17 galleries in 9 countries around the world that enables multiple audiences to discover and view more than a thousand artworks in extraordinary detail. As a result, anyone in the world will be able to learn about the history of, and artists responsible for a huge number of works with the click of a mouse. The project costs the galleries nothing, being funded entirely by Google. But it has brought their artworks to the possible attention of a global audience of millions. The galleries that participated in the first phase will reap the benefits of this collaboration with Google. The galleries that joined early are now positioning themselves at the forefront of creativity and innovation. This will engender new relationships that will continue to position the museums at the forefront of creativity and engagement. Creativity will only lead to more creativity. It becomes a wonderful virtual circle. Audiences will benefit from the project, and it will enhance the positive perception of the galleries. It is an extraordinary collaboration between a technology provider (Google) and a number of the world’s leading museums, although not all of them. The project has challenged the creativity of the museum world. If we had been one of those who rejected the offer from Google, I would be kicking myself now. The remaining museums will surely follow, as will the benefits. It is an excellent example of the possible creative frontiers opening up through the internet. The challenge is for galleries and museums to begin to embrace new opportunities, even if it is not immediately clear where the end game lies. Culturally, this is hard for many organisations. It is not easy, because in digital space, there is always an attendant loss of control.
Creativity increases in direct proportion to your ability to let go and release control. With that loss of control, there is always a risk. Managing that risk is a creative process in itself. Whilst projects such as the 'Google Art Project' do not appear every day, the internet is available 24 hours a day. Museums and galleries should be talking full advantage of it each and every day. It is surprising how slow many have been to adopt this medium. It costs almost nothing, and engages audiences in ways in which they want to be engaged. This has been brilliantly illustrated through the adoption of social media as a primary means of engaging with existing and future potential gallery audiences. Galleries and museums have been slow to adopt social media as a means of engaging their audiences. But they are now catching up, as they realise that their physical spaces are full of wonderful content that is ideal for engagement on line. The content available in museums and galleries - whilst not designed with the web in mind - is quite simply the perfect content to access via the internet. It is visual, often highly graphic, and intrinsically interesting. What is more, audiences are really hungry to know what is going on inside museums and galleries.
The Tate’s experience with social media and blogging only goes to prove this. The concept of social media is relatively new, yet it has taken the world by storm. Apparently, 1 in 14 people on the planet has a Facebook account, and Twitter will soon follow in terms of global popularity. Yet, ten years ago they barely existed. They now offer the means to create a dialogue with your potential audiences. What is more, they are free and highly effective. In short, the development of Facebook , Twitter and the other social media networks has opened the boundaries of museum and gallery creativity to anyone with a computer. What is surprising is how few are taking advantage of the opportunities available. At Tate Galleries in the UK, we have fully embraced the potential of Facebook and Twitter, and no doubt have made a few mistakes along the way. Currently, we have close to 500,000 people, and the number is growing daily. Galleries need to be careful that they DO NOT adopt this new means of audience engagement – the past is littered with great examples of those who failed to adopt early. “The horse is here today, but the automobile is only a novelty - a fad." President of Michigan Savings Bank advising against investing in the Ford Motor Company "Video won't be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night." Daryl F. Zanuck, 20th Century Fox, commenting on television in 1946 "What use could the company make of an electric toy?" Western Union, when it turned down rights to the telephone in 1878 The UK politician Tony Benn brilliantly described the process of creativity.
"It's the same each time with progress. First, they ignore you; then they say you're mad, then dangerous; then there's a pause, and then you can't find anyone who disagrees with you." Tony Benn, British politician, in the Observer.
Marc Sands Director of audiences and media for the Tate Galleries Former Guardian and Observer marketing director.
Marc Sand's article was first published in Lithuanian in the online book 'Dabarties ženklai' (Signs of the Presence) http://iq.lt/dabarties-zenklai. The online book can also be found at the Lithuanian internet portal www.iq.lt after skill.