‘You can’t join that creative meeting. You’re a suit,’ a designer once told an account manager at an advertising agency.
The designer referred to a code that’s dogged creative industries for decades; the so-called difference between ‘creatives’ and ‘suits’. What this code has long implied is that staff like designers, copywriters and illustrators are creative whereas account managers, project managers and other staff are not. Not only is the code incorrect (creativity isn’t something exclusive – not even to the creative industries) but also the notion that a ‘suit’ doesn’t (or couldn’t) contribute to a creative process is fundamentally flawed.
Creativity isn’t something that comes with a job title or a dress code. As creativity expert Keith R Sawyer said in a 2010 interview, being creative comes with hard work, dedication and intrinsic motivation. If you want to be creative he said, ‘you have to pay your dues, spend time mastering your domain and your discipline.’
The designer and account manager in the exchange above had been working in their respective domains for the same amount of time (creatively speaking they were on even ground). But even if someone more experienced had made the comment, it still would have been misguided. ‘Suits’ and ‘creatives’ work in different domains – but they don’t cancel each other’s creativity out.
Experts like Sawyer have studied the science of creative output. They’ve absolutely debunked myths around creativity being a gift, genetic, or specific to certain activities. They’ve shown that creativity comes from a conceptual openness, from thinking divergently, from problem finding and asking questions. Context also supports creativity, but as Sawyer writes in his book Explaining Creativity; The Science of Human Innovation, ‘It’s much more difficult for us to realise the supporting, enabling and enhancing role that contexts play in creativity because those functions don’t have a place in our creativity myth.’ That’s why the old labels define ‘creatives’ by their output and ‘suits’ by their clothing. These days we should know better.
Creative people are open and able to think beyond established structures. They like to hear alternative perspectives because they know that these can trigger new ideas. A ‘creative’ might not agree with a ‘suit’ but a disagreement can’t nullify ideas, if anything it sparks them.
Can a ‘suit’ and a ‘creative’ work together in a creative meeting? Absolutely. In fact that very teamwork is what grows and sustains us.
Experts like Sawyer have debunked myths about creativity. In what ways are these new understandings changing creative industries?
Do ‘suits’ and ‘creatives’ really operate differently in your workplace? List the ways they are both different and the same.