Damon Stapleton: Creativity. Things we shouldn’t lose.

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A blog by Damon Stapleton, chief creative officer, The Monkeys New Zealand.


“We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.” – George Bernard Shaw

Sorry it’s been a while. One thing I have learnt this year is that it is way harder and takes way longer to write a book than you think. But, we are almost done. My book based on ten years of Damonsbrain.com will come out later this year. Anyway, I digress.

While putting the book together I came across this brilliant clip from John Cleese on creativity. Please watch it. Specifically, he talks about what great creatives have that make them succeed. And the answer is not intelligence. It is being able to play.

It is actually vital to come up with new ideas. This might not sound revolutionary. But, in a world where increasingly, creativity is seen as an instant answer rather than a process it is worth thinking about. If you lose the time to play, is it even creativity or just a distant facsimile of it? It made me ask what other qualities or ingredients we should hold onto if we want creativity to have actual value as a game changer.

Damon Stapleton: Creativity. Things we shouldn’t lose.

This is a photograph I took over 25 years ago in a town called Durban in South Africa. It is of a man standing in a doorway of a barber shop having a smoke. It was a fleeting, unexpected moment and I shot about 4 frames but only one shot worked. For me, it represents the two other qualities besides play we should hold onto to create new paths and things. Firstly, direct experience of the world and what is in it. A story, a conversation in an Uber or a glimpse of something out of the corner of your eye gives you a unique perspective. As a creative this is priceless. Often, it is not just what you say but how you say it. The postcard is never the place. Being different can be half the battle. That starts with not being fed answers but going out there and finding them. Your first hand experience will always the best way to do something great because you are the only person in the world who has it.

Lastly, the ability to see what you are not looking for. Or, to put it another way being open to randomness. Going forward, we will be able to create work very, very quickly. We will also spend a lot of time finding exactly what we are looking for. And we will have hundreds of options and lists of what we are looking for. There will be an accuracy and efficiency that will be deeply seductive. What that means is a lot of work will start to look the same. It will be correct but will it be interesting? How will we find what we are not looking for?

Playing is often about putting dumb shit together without any fear of looking stupid. It is how you get somewhere new. And to be clear, creativity’s real value is getting you somewhere new. Being open to randomness and humour is how you get there.

Play, direct experience and being open to randomness are all vital ingredients of the creative process. And of course the problem with these qualities is they need time. Something the world does not have. However, if these qualities are seen as unimportant, creativity just becomes a word that gets used a lot but loses its meaning.

We need to remember that creativity will always be the glitch not the matrix. That is its job. It should be daring. It should be irreverent. It should hate the phrase, that’s how things are done. It shouldn’t fit in. It should laugh at the wrong things. And the right things. And everything else.

We need to remember that creativity is an answer but you get to that answer by not looking for it. You get there by playing.

We also need to remember that creativity is not about finding answers that already exist. It is about finding answers that you didn’t even know could exist.

Finding those answers always begins with replacing fear with fun.

And fun is really something we should never lose.