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The democratisation of creativity — is it a power we all possess?

Posted by Debby Penton on 30th June 2023

The curtain has just come down on this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. And amid all the usual glitz and glamour, one unavoidable topic of conversation took centre stage — artificial intelligence (AI) and its impact on the creative world.

While the mainstream media is full of fear and uncertainty about how it’s the end of the world as we know it, creative industries believe AI has the power to supercharge creativity and help grow markets. But only if we embrace it properly.

It’s a topic that is explored as part of Google’s recently published Creative Works Project, which looks at the future impact of transformational changes within the creative world.

It argues that everyone is a creator now and that creativity should be decentralised throughout an organisation to diverse and empowered teams from across the spectrum to co-create with influencers and customers.

It maintains that the key to reaching wide audiences is to combine our ability to connect through human emotion with new AI tools. And it is only by fusing the two that we can rapidly create insight-driven, personalised content that reaches and engages mass audiences like never before.

We need to embrace creativity in all its forms

But while this all sounds great in theory, there are a couple of challenges facing agencies and organisations.

Last week, I wrote about the impact of a tough economy on the ability of marketing departments to have the time — and resource — to create compelling content and explore the use of new creative AI tools.

The snag is, from my recent conversations with comms leaders in tech agencies, the role of AI and creativity is simply not on the radar. Yes, creativity is a “nice to have” but it can be a headache to sell back to the organisation. That’s especially true when it’s a battle to get the basics done in terms of working long hours across time zones just to serve the wider business.

What’s more, we have some innate obstacles to overcome. In particular, there is still the centuries-old belief that creativity is a “divine gift of the chosen few”.

And yet, over the last 70 years, psychologists have done much to try and dispel this myth. For anyone who believes that creativity is something that other people do, it’s worth examining the science behind where creativity comes from.

Pinpointing the traits that contribute to a creative personality

When asked who are the most creative people in history, we might think of Picasso, Da Vinci, or Shakespeare. But their genius wasn’t bestowed upon them from a higher power.

Researchers have diligently catalogued their output and found that the works of creative individuals are the product of a large set of well-developed skills — and a lifetime of building a rich body of domain-relevant knowledge.

Going further, many scientists have attempted to isolate the exact personality traits or circumstances that make someone a creative genius.

Thousands of studies have been conducted and the clearest profile of a creative personality is “independent, non-conformist, unconventional even bohemian, and they are likely to have wide interests, greater openness to new experiences, a more conspicuous behavioural and cognitive flexibility, and more risk-taking boldness.” [1]

In terms of how we have ideas — well, that’s a different question altogether.

Post-WWII psychologists believed that “leaps in insight” came from a position of “impasse of thinking” — a state that forces people to reconstruct their view of a problem to reach the solution. We tend to know that as a ‘light-bulb moment’.

Fast forward to today and contemporary cognitive science brings us closer to explaining the mental processes that lead to creativity. They argue that there are no special forces at play. Instead, creative thinking relies on an ordinary cognitive process, which often involves being inspired by other ideas along the way.

Creativity is for the many, not the few

So while we’re unlikely to be able to replicate the many influences that help make a creative genius — perhaps to become the next Einstein — the scientific evidence shows that it does seem probable that everyday creativity is within everyone’s reach.

If that’s true — if creativity lies untapped in us all — then it begs the question: “How can brands and agencies create a culture that builds creative confidence, nurtures talent and encourages creative thinking and behaviour to flourish?”.

Again, this has been an area of much study over recent decades and, unfortunately, there is no quick answer.

Every organisation is unique and the ability to replicate one successful creative culture for another is impossible.

There are many books that promise the answer, and most centre around the principles of the ‘Creative Climate’ — a term coined by Swedish researcher Göran Ekvall in 1996[2]. He was an early believer that an organisation’s culture manifests itself in the creative output of its employees.

The importance of developing a creative culture in the workplace

Ekvall listed 10 factors  to collectively describe this creative climate including elements such as the dynamism of an organisation, freedom to express yourself, and attitudes towards risk. It’s a strategy we champion at Wildfire as part of our  approach to B2B tech comms — where no-rules creativity meets data-driven insights.

And while it’s an approach that works for us, it may not work for everyone. How you create that culture will be unique to you.

Regardless of your view, one thing is true: creativity is no longer optional. We all have to do it. It’s not simply a ‘nice to have’. Creativity is essential for survival, both in terms of organisational success and personal fulfilment — and for communications teams that want to find a way to grab the attention of content-saturated audiences.

The good news is that most organisations are full of employees with years of experience who are experts in their field. It’s up to us as leaders to develop their creative skills and confidence so we can unlock the creative potential that resides within all of us.


[1] Simonton, D. K. (2000). Creativity: Cognitive, personal, developmental, and social aspects. American Psychologist, 55(1), 151–158.

[2] Ekvall, G. (1996). Organizational climate for creativity and innovation. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 5(1), 105–123.

Debby Penton

Motivated, competitive and highly experienced, Debby drives excellence across the agency and leads by example, going the extra mile to create stand-out campaigns and a dynamic agency culture. As CEO, Debby champions a new breed of PR that meets the evolving communication needs of today’s tech companies.