The Creative Gene

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The Creative Gene

ThinkWell Vol. 1

Ewen Cameron

Founder & CEO Berlin Cameron

Most of us would agree that the truly great creative people we have met or admired are a little different from the rest of us. Recent breakthroughs in neurological research have in fact started to identify exactly how they are different: It’s in the genes.

We all know about left/right brain separation, but research indicates that the most important identifying factor in great “creative genius” isn’t the dominance of one side over the other as is commonly proposed, but the bundle of fibers called the corpus callosum that joins and enables the two sides of the brain to communicate.

Highly creative people have been found to have a smaller corpus callosum, resulting in less communication between the two sides. Scientists believe that this generates more “divergent thinking,“ a very important element of creativity. The other scientific distinction found in the most creative people is that their brain are more highly networked, the result of which is a kind of neurological openness to diverse stimulation, and an ‘unfiltered’ experience of emotions. In simple terms their brains are inhibited.

What relevance does this have to marketers? I think we can draw two very powerful parallels from how a creative person works at this genetic level to the DNA of a great creative enterprise: divergent thinking and openness to outside stimulation and sources of inspiration.

To illustrate, I’d like to use two award-winning examples from WPP agencies in the last year. First, Ogilvy New York’s work for Philips, entitled “Breathless Choir.”1 Second, the work from Grey on multiple sclerosis awareness in Australia2. Both these campaigns succeeded because of the fundamentally divergent nature of the ideas. It is not exactly reasonable to propose that we draw attention to the painful experience of serious breathing diseases by having sufferers sing in a high-pressure venue like the Apollo Theater in Harlem. And it is equally divergent to imagine that we can draw attention to the crippling effect of MS by engineering it into a bicycle and then entering that bike in a race with an accomplished cyclist. Both ideas also demonstrate openness, because they engage in cultural interests that go beyond the narrow world of clinical healthcare and into mainstream culture, via singing and competitive performance in one case, and cycling and lifestyle in the other. This is exactly why these ideas broke through the clutter of clinical sameness, and why they have been so well recognized.

In conclusion, I would suggest that marketers seek to build the greatest partnership in our industry by embracing the creative gene and building it into the very foundation of everything we do to create the best, most effective work imaginable. In an industry where there is a great deal of “convergent thinking” around the right way to communicate about diseases and drugs, and where we tend to employ tried and trusted methods such as “doctors’ trust” or clinical proof, we should instead encourage divergent thought and disruptive ideas. And we should think about our work in terms beyond the specifics of treatment, looking at what it can mean in terms of the greater culture—yes, even popular culture. In this way, we will have the work our peers envy and the creative leaps forward that truly mark progress and success.