Tuesday, June 6, 2023


H/T Dave Trott.

There are many people, I suspect, who regard the study of economics as a dull affair filled with advanced mathematics and complex rises, runs and graphs that are about as understandable as Cuneiform would be written in DaVinci's backward script.

For centuries, since the study of economics became a formal discipline, it's been called by many "the dismal science," I suppose for many of the same reasons Latin has been called a "dead language." When you write something off as dull or irrelevant, you've provided yourself with justification to ignore it.

I've found that most things in life are a bit fractal. They get more interesting and worthy of being explored the closer you get. A giant lake on a map, for instance, is just an irregular light-blue blob. Up close, there are forests, hidden coves, extinct settlements, mysteries and probably pirates and ghosts. It's up to you how much you want to see. Most things are.

This fractal-ness applies to advertising, btw. What do you see when you are working on a product? Something that looks like everyone else's? Or Aladdin's Cave, full of riches (and dangers) if you know how to enter it. The above "headline," for instance, was written by something soul-less. Either a silicon chip or a silicon human--either way, they've never loved a car or driving, or care to understand it.

But back to economics.

In his new book, "My Journeys in Economic Theory," 2006 Nobel Prize winner Edmund Phelps calls the economy "society's central project." And he says that participation in "rewarding work" brings the experience of dignity and the satisfactions that come from that participation.

Central to the dignity and satisfactions that come from participation in the economy is creativity. Not just do a better ad-creativity, but better ways of thinking, better ways of doing things, better ways of finding answers--even to questions no one is yet asking.

Phelps writes, "I felt ready to build a theory based on the desire of a great many people to use their creativity—their ingenuity and imagination." They want to be "engaged not simply in producing existing products and services," instead they want to be involved in "conceiving better ways to produce things and even new things to produce. Thus, massive numbers of people, most of them “ordinary people” (as I like to say) were generating what was in the aggregate an impressive flow of indigenous innovation within the nation’s economy—that is, innovation coming from inside the nation's businesses."

This all might be a little heady. I get that way sometimes, but what I've seen from modern America--and the modern Holding Company dominated ad industry, is the opposite of companies that encourage creativity and innovation. 

In fact, if anyone were watching, I think we'd start using the phrase "corporatism" to describe the modern economy and the modern ad industry. Corporatism asserts that corporations will "reach a peak of harmonious functioning when each of its divisions efficiently performs its designated function, as a body's organs individually contribute to its general health and functionality." In other words, stay in your lane, serve the corporation and subsume yourself for the good of the larger entity.

Or, put more directly and perhaps cruelly, Corporatism is a "Political / Economic system in which power is exercised through large organizations generally only to benefit their own socioeconomic agendas at the expense of the will of the people, and to the detriment of the common good."

For all we've been hearing about the death of creativity, either through Holding Company hegemony or the onslaught of "algorithmic creativity," for my dime, I'd think about this. 

I know I'll never work again for an agency or a holding company, but I think we need to think about the active discouragement of creativity that's found in the very infrastructure of our modern advertising state. I'm on the outside looking in now, but it seems like every factor within a modern agency exists to discourage creativity (which is random and unpredictable) and to encourage regularity, order and an austere time-sheeted toe-the-line-ism.

The questions should be how do we make business and agencies "creativephrenogenic." That is, how do we make agencies creative cauldrons, not merely productivity hot-houses.

Creativity matters because to be human is to be creative. The be human is to invent. To find your own way. To make your own recipe, your own music, your own fashion, your own jokes.  Creativity matters not because of awards annuals or fake ads, but because it is the adrenaline that counters the ossification of our souls.

My wife just read me something from this weekend's Wall Street Journal by Bruce Feiler, "Fifty million Americans quit a job in the last year, and another third of the workforce is renegotiating where, when and how they work. Three-quarters of Americans in a recent survey said that they plan to look for new work this year."

We have to fight for creativity. Against the last ding-dong of doom or the last tick-tock of timesheet.

Creativity is not only a business advantage. 

It is the sole human advantage.

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