Hungover in forensic medicine. Would. Not. Recommend.
It’s 2011, I’m halfway through a mixed-bag law degree and about to get the finest lesson in creativity I’ve ever had, or will ever have.
The lecturer is a world-renowned pathologist.
He’s charismatic, with the air of a man primed to rip open his shirt revealing a giant red ‘P’ as he bolts from the room, should his emergency beeper go off. Which it often did.
Every great story needs a great teller, and he was fantastic - peppering gruesome science with equally gruesome anecdotes, and the occasional palette cleanser.
Like this one:
There was a patient who suffered a series of strokes which lay waste to her optical lobe and should have left her totally blind.
But they didn’t. Well, not completely.
She’d report seeing occasional glints of colour. Raindrops running down a windowpane, yet nothing beyond the glass. Only the steam from a fresh cup of coffee. The sway of her daughter’s ponytail – but not the cheeky, gap-toothed little grin.
Her medical team dismissed these as apparitions. Hallucinations.
There was simply no way she could see anything. But the patient was convinced she was experiencing vision, so she consulted and consulted until she found a doctor who’d listen. A doctor who believed her. Someone who’d encountered this before.
Dr Gordon Dutton recalled a 1917 paper that examined a similar motion-based vision mystery in brain-injured World War 1 soldiers.
By 2018 a name was put to it - the ‘Riddoch Phenomenon’ - after the paper’s author and essentially means people who should not be able to see, due to occipital lobe damage, can see to a degree, when there is movement. But at the time it wasn’t known that in rare cases, so long as the midi-temporal lobe is still intact, the brain can adapt.
It can develop ‘back roads’ around the visual system ‘superhighway’ to return some vision, especially motion, to other parts of the brain.
All Riddoch and Dutton knew was that they believed their patients when they said they could see snippets of movement. This led Dutton to recommend a treatment breath-taking in its simplicity—so elegant I still think about it daily, more than a decade later.
A regimen that, when in use, helped his blind patient rediscover the simple pleasure of reading a book.
He ‘prescribed’ her a rocking chair.
Fast forward 11 years and I’ve just been asked to review some ‘creative’.
The ‘creative’ in question is a stock image with a caveat ridden, A/B pockmarked line plonked on top of it.
A wee bit riled, the image of that patient rocking and reading away swirled back into focus, because true creativity is solving a problem in hitherto unconsidered ways.
The rocking chair came from thinking outside of established medicine to return certain joys to a life.
Applied to advertising, it’s the old Carl Ally mantra – “Impart useful consumer information in an executionally brilliant way”.
What we have here is calling something ‘the creative’ that just isn’t.
It’s a visual. An asset. ‘The work’ maybe.
But nominative determinism (the hypothesis that people tend to gravitate towards areas of work that fit their names) doesn’t apply to creativity.
This may sound like semantics, but it’s important.
Creative is a standard. It’s the pursuit of lateral thinking. Rory Sutherland’s ‘Ideas that don’t make sense’. Dave Trott’s ‘1+1=3’.
It’s discipline, not a deliverable.
If you misuse the word or misapply it, you devalue it. You lower the bar. And why would we do that with what we supposedly sell?
We’re all guilty.
Paul Burke’s excellent piece about the dilution of a copywriter’s role touches on a wider industry problem, namely the word ‘creative’ being deployed to describe job titles, meetings and output that just ain’t so.
Sometimes it’s even used to excuse toxic temperaments.
Now, this isn’t a piece about the power of a good story – though it could be.
Nor is it a call to occasionally trust audiences to use their own mental back channels and fill in the gaps themselves. Though it probably should be.
It isn’t even a cease and desist on stock-heavy work - though that would be nice.
It’s just a plea to keep the word ‘creative’ pure.
Keep it for best. Something to aim for.
And if we miss, for whatever reason, don’t say we got there anyway.
For Collective’s part, we regularly invest in behavioural science coaching and are leading the Unreal Engine charge, blending the so-called convenience of stock into designing bespoke, flexible and spellbinding environments from scratch, trying to develop the conditions to be inherently creative in everything we do, every day.
But we could be more careful with the word too.
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