Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Killing creativity

Published in Jul-Aug 2012
Both marketing and creativity are a process of trial, error and experimentation.
Illustration by Creative Unit.
Illustration by Creative Unit.

Whenever I hear my wife trying to help my son do his homework, I realise why we are killing creativity.

“No, don’t colour the apple blue, it has to be red.”

There you have it. In an effort to conform to the norm, we condition our children to think in a limited way. For example, if a child decides to paint an apple in the colours of a rainbow, the usual response from the teacher and then the parents is that it is wrong: an apple has to be red. Yet, if Steve Jobs makes his apple multicoloured, it becomes an iconic symbol, a hallmark of creativity. The teacher tells the class the world is round, 99% of the students accept it while one or two kids question why, and they are the ones branded as mischief makers or poor students.

We fail to realise that children (fortunately) do not accept things as easily as we do.

Children see things differently and with more imagination. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, in his classic book The Little Prince, describes how as a child he was inspired by a painting of a boa constrictor swallowing an elephant. He decided to make his own drawing (Drawing Number One) which depicted a snake with an elephant in its stomach. He showed it to the grown-ups who told him it looked like a hat. Disappointed he made another drawing. This time he showed the inside of the snake with the elephant there. Their response this time? “…was to advise me to lay aside my drawings of boa constrictors, whether from the inside or the outside and devote myself instead to geography, history, arithmetic and grammar.”


Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, in his classic book The Little Prince, describes how as a child he was inspired by a painting of a boa constrictor swallowing an elephant. He decided to make his own drawing (Drawing Number One) which depicted a snake with an elephant in its stomach. He showed it to the grown-ups who told him it looked like a hat.


This caused de Saint-Exupéry to give up a career as a painter and become an aviator instead. Yet, throughout his life he would search for a grown-up who could recognise his drawing for what it was.

“Whenever I met one of them who seemed to me at all clear-sighted, I tried the experiment of showing him my Drawing Number One, which I have always kept. I would try to find out, so, if this was a person of true understanding. But, whoever it was, he, or she, would always say, ‘that is a hat’. Then I would never talk to that person about boa constrictors or primeval forests, or stars. I would bring myself down to his level. I would talk to him about bridge and golf and politics and neckties. And the grown-up would be greatly pleased to have met such a sensible man.”

How schools are killing creativity

I recently saw a TED talk given by Sir Ken Robinson (author and educationist) in which he describes how schools are killing creativity. He argued that creativity in kids is something we need to nurture. In fact, he went so far as to say that creativity be given the same importance as literacy. One of his most compelling statements was that kids are not afraid to be wrong, and if a person is not prepared to be wrong, he/she will never create anything. He also spoke about how mistakes are stigmatised and how we shun anything less than perfect and teach kids to conform.

Educated out of creativity

Another telling remark of Sir Ken’s was that in the global education system, the subjects that have the most importance are not creative subjects but maths and English. Yet at the end of the day, in their professional lives, these kids whom he says have been educated out of creativity are asked to – wait for it – think out of the box.

Kids from Pakistan’s design schools are taught to give a free hand to their creativity (have a look at their theses), yet once in advertising their ideas are usually laughed off as impractical or unsuitable. Hypocrites that we are, we extol the virtues and talent of people such as Steve Jobs and others. For us the benchmark is intelligence, not in its true form, but restricted to academic attainment. Funny thing, though that most of the world’s truly creative minds are also school dropouts.

Why study?

Linked to the concept of creativity is the motivation to study. No, it isn’t to learn, it’s to get a good job. During my university days, after a particular 10-mark class test, a classmate was upset as she didn’t think she had done well. I asked her what would be the consequences of not getting good marks. Her reply was that if she did badly, it would affect her term marks, which in turn would affect her final marks and in turn her GPA. When I asked her what a bad GPA would lead to, she said, “I won’t be able to get a good job.” I was shocked at this chain of events and the thought process behind it. However, was she a victim or a perpetrator of a crime? I guess both, as she was at the same time a slave and supporter of the system.

Back to the industry

The anecdote regarding my classmate emphasises the fact that we teach people to be afraid to fail. Yet we expect them to give us creative and original solutions when everyone around us is conditioned to think in the same way and play it safe. If this mindset continues, I find it hard to see how we will ever get out of the rut the ad industry is in. Both marketing and creativity are a process of trial, error and experimentation. We need to take chances and gamble to make progress.

Tyrone Tellis has over six years media planning experience and is currently working in brand management. tyrone.tellis@gmail.com