Can Creativity Be Codified?

On the heels the annual migration of hyper-privileged advertising execs to Cannes, let’s consider the value of a firm’s “creativity” to their new business process.

Business development specialist, Blair Enns, asks, “Can Anyone Own the *More Creative* Market Position?”

While creative quality gets a firm on the consideration list, unlike more meaningful differentiators (deep expertise) its power diminishes as you get deeper into the buying cycle.

…If you are selling creative quality over deep expertise then unless you’ve codified the firm’s creativity the way McKinsey and other professional firms codify their problem solving and you can use that code to convince the client that there is a high likelihood of you nailing any engagement, he’s going to ask you to solve the problem as proof of your ability to do so.

And while it’s nice just to get invited to the dance, what gets you there isn’t what wins you the business.

I’m intrigued by this notion of “codifying the firm’s creativity.” Isn’t that what the best shops have managed to do? Through the force of their creativity, they’ve become juggernauts that everyone wants to work for, and with.

Enns mentions that creativity is fleeting, and that it can walk out the door at any moment. But the same can be said for the firm’s “deep expertise,” which is also dependent on talent.

It seems to me that the truly elite shops become much bigger than their founders, or even their latest Cannes winners. They become institutions where creative problem solving thrives.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.