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The Trait That's Far More Important Than Creativity

CreativityNicolas ColeComment

What does the word "creative" mean anymore?

There are massive ad agencies that say, "We are leaders when it comes to creativity," meanwhile their entire business is founded around buying media.

There are startups who blast their manifestos: "We saw a problem, and we provided a creative solution." Meanwhile, they provide the same value as the next 150 startups in that space.

There are college grads with the word plastered all over their resumé: "creative designer, creative writer, creative marketer," meanwhile they are doing nothing on their own to push the limits and actually show how they are being "creative."

There is a whole lot of talking going on, and very little "digging in."

In reality, the word is dead. Companies all over the world now promise "creative environments," but when you walk inside they are filled with Excel-pounding employees in tidy little cubicles. I'm all for organization. I'm all for scaling. But let's be honest: There is nothing creative about that part of the business. 

And then there are the "creative shops" that promise to "push the edge" and "be different," but everything they create is just a different version of the same old thing.

Everyone is so focused on "being different" and "standing out" and "creating something new," and they end up missing the bigger picture.

What does it actually mean to create something new?

Was Uber "something new?" No. It's a more convenient taxi service.

Was the iPod "something new?" No. It's a CD player that holds a lot more CDs.

In the year 2005, was YouTube "something new?" No. It was you and all your friends in the basement watching a video, wherever and whenever you wanted.

If we look at any of the "big" ideas that have manifested over the past 10, 20, 100 years, it's not that they were "creative." It's not that the wheel didn't exist and then someone came around with ... a wheel. It's that those founders took two seemingly opposing ideas or even entire industries and combined them.

Athletic wear + fashion = Lululemon

Photography + social interaction = Instagram

Dating + app video games = Tinder

They are simple, obvious ideas--once they have been put together.

And once you break it down, the equation is pretty simple:

Industry Pain Point #1 + Industry Pain Point #2 = Intersection of Innovation

I love the Lululemon example, so let's go with that one. People that buy athletic wear want something that is affordable, comfortable, and high-quality. People that care about personal fashion want something that is high quality, alluring, and (usually) trendy. Chip Wilson, founder of Lululemon, saw a few rising trends: Yoga, health and wellness, and "comfort fashion." 

What did he do?

He found the intersection and created a new product.

Was he "creative" for doing so? I mean, I guess...

But I'd like to think he was more "innovative." He saw a few obvious pain points and created an obvious solution. He took things that already existed and combined them in a new way.

It's a waste of time trying to be "creative"--if your definition of the word has anything to do with the abused clichés: "Be different, stand out, put on a big show." Innovation, on the other hand, is the humble acceptance that nothing is original at this point. All we are doing is mashing the "idea clay" together in new ways. We are taking something obvious and mixing it with something else obvious to create ... something obvious! But it is only obvious after the fact. And that is when everyone yells, "You are so creative!"

So stop trying to be creative. The word is overrun and undervalued at this point.

Be innovative. Think simple. Think value--what value can you provide to your customers, and then how can you provide some more?

That is the action that actually moves the needle.