Jason Wincuinas
Jan 14, 2014

Don't mistake technology for creativity: Sir John Hegarty

Campaign Asia-Pacific speaks with the BBH founding partner about his new book, the nature of creativity and why digital media formats are like electric guitars.

Don't mistake technology for creativity: Sir John Hegarty

As business models flounder and industries around the globe grapple with digital upheaval, Sir John Hegarty reminds us that when it comes to creativity, it’s important to distinguish between tools and ideas. Never lose sight of which one should be in control.

Campaign Asia-Pacific had a chance to speak with the founding partner of Bartle Bogle Hegarty on the debut of his latest book, Hegarty on Creativity: There Are No Rules.

“You have to take a step back," he said. “There’s a belief that the world has changed because we’ve invented digital. But TV was the same way.”

Speaking with Campaign, Hegarty also used the example of the electric guitar. That technological innovation is a vital part of rock'n’roll, but that’s not all there is to it. What matters is how people used the instrument. It’s what they created that changed the sound of popular music, more than just the guitar itself. Marketing then, with all the new digital and data technologies available, is just in the early stages of a new rock'n’roll era.

"Revere anyone or any one thing at your own risk. Doing so will over-influence your work and impede your creativity. It will lead to imitation, not creation."

From Hegarty on Creativity: There Are No Rules by John Hegarty, published by Thames & Hudson

Hegarty uses other examples in his book. Gutenberg, he writes, might have developed the printing press but neglected to found a publishing industry. And the Lumière Brothers gave us the motion-picture camera. But it took others playing around with the technology to come up with a movie industry.

“It was creative people…who realized the potential of these new technologies and dreamed up the groundbreaking, imaginative ways to harness them.”

Mobile, social and digital mediums are just another iteration of the same thing, in Hegarty’s view. Creative ideas have simply gained more ways to disseminate around the globe.

“Social media helps a powerful idea become even more powerful," he said. "People talking in bars and shops, that was the old social media.” Now people interact with each other on all kinds of devices, worldwide on a non-stop clock at the speed of blinking fibre optics. “But you still need that powerful idea first,” Hegarty emphasized.

And that is the core concept behind his new book. Don’t worry about how you communicate creativity. Storytelling itself is far more important than the technology used to deliver it. “When a new piece of technology comes along, there is a creative deficit that comes with it,” he said. People have to adjust to using it, and the current obsession with new tools as well as the constant stream of digital innovations, only proves that we are still in that stage between when something like a printing press emerges and a new publishing industry materialises.

“Digital hasn’t revolutionized; it has liberated,” Hegarty said. Access to all the new ways to express an idea has unleashed great creative potential. “It allows us to have a conversation with our audience. And that is what’s liberating.”

To take better advantage of all the new opportunities, Hegarty advocates getting back to some of the basics. Offering not rules but just simple guidelines, his book is a sincere look at creativity and some of the best ways to let it run its course, as well as some pitfalls that inadvertently squelch it. The writing style is conversational and well suited to a subject that is easy to recognize but difficult to capture.

Perhaps Hegarty's best bit of advice came when Campaign asked what target audience he had in mind while writing the book. He answered with quick enthusiasm: “Me!”

He then expanded, “If you want to connect to the real world, write for yourself.” If you do that, you’re likely to find an eager audience because what you create will be true.

“But if your ideas don’t resonate with the general public, then go and get a different job.”


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