Creativity: What separates the brilliant and the mediocre

Creativity: What separates the brilliant and the mediocre


The moment an Olympic swimmer hits the water is the moment they start to slow down. The only time they actually increase their speed is that initial lunge from the blocks. Everything that follows is at the mercy of resistance, drag and linear velocity. What separates the champion from the footnote is the rate at which they decelerate.

The best in the world simply decelerate slower than anyone else.

So it is with creativity. Anyone and everyone is capable of an initial burst of energy. It’s in there somewhere, in all of us. It’s, without a doubt, the very essence of childhood. But if one thing defines the divide between the brilliant and the mediocre, it’s how soon they swoon for their first ideas, how quickly they exhaust their desire to create more. The finest creatives I know are less likely to have the least number of ideas.


Passion trumps talent


If I could, I’d surf all day every day for the rest of my life. Not that everyone has to be a surfer (God forbid) or that every surfer is creative (not a chance) but everyone should have something that drives them, that gets them out of bed, that gets the heart beating and the blood circulating. This is what I look for. Things below the surface that make a person tick.

Look for it in the eyes. The way they light up when telling a story or recalling an anecdote. The way the hands become co-conspirators. Every gesture’s a tell. And the more telling that tell is, the more potential is revealed.

It’s really quite simple. The more interesting the person, the more interesting the work. Not that there aren’t exceptions. There are. But their numbers are low. They tend to prove the rule rather than refute it.

An abundance of energy will never overcome an absence of talent. But all things being equal, the ability to be curious, aware, playful, inventive, humble, clever and above all, passionate: these are the ingredients of incessantly creative minds.


Keith versus Mick


It’s more fun to be a pirate than the navy. Always has been. The sheer joy of mischievousness. The lure (if not lore) of the anarchist. The desire to go against the grain.

Question: How many art directors does it take to screw in a light bulb? A: Does it have to be a light bulb?

Learning to connect the dots out of sequence is the key to uncovering new and uncharted territory. But don’t mistake anarchy for indiscipline. It takes years and years of practice to discover that playing your favourite Telecaster with five strings instead of six will give you a wicked, inimitable style.

Perhaps the greatest tool that’s required is an excessively inquiring mind. The kind that doesn’t just seek out answers, but questions the questions being asked in the first place. It’s the thrill of overturning conventional wisdom.


John Merrifield is chief creative officer at Google. He is one of the speakers participating in Creative Fuel in Sydney on Thursday August 6 as part of the Association for Data-driven Marketing and Advertising’s Global Forum.



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