Creativity: The Defeat of Habit by Originality

So now what?

AI is indeed the New Black, white and every color in the spectrum. Consultants everywhere are pitching clients on their suddenly newfound expertise in AI and how they can lead them into a brilliant, new, efficient future. It’s real, it’s awe-inspiring, it’s dizzying.

Is anyone else feeling nauseous on your daily scroll through LinkedIn, wading through the redundancy of your colleagues’ personal epiphanies as they speculate about the overnight integration of AI into every aspect of their work and life? And pridefully announcing the hire of their agency’s new “Director of AI?” I say BURP.

Because most of the people I know in the creative industry continue to grind away each day, pressured to land on that amazing, big idea to spearhead a campaign, connect with the audience, and drive revenue to the bottom line.

Need a thought-starter? Sure, send a few prompts to ChatGPT- 4 and get 9 on-brand designs with copy in a minute and a half. You’ll find many of them to be surprisingly and threateningly GEFRN (Good Enough For Right Now). Most would probably test well in a focus group. (Which hints at the problem.)

But if you’re getting paid to do great creative work, my advice is to stop reading about AI for a few days. Forget FOMO. And seriously, stop experimenting with it and get to work. Yes, it’s freakin’ mind blowing. But the people I believe in are trying to slow the AI train down, recognizing the nascent industry for what it is: a new playground in its infancy that could grow quickly into a monster in the wrong hands. The best is truly yet to come.

Images from Apple Computer's Think Different campaign
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For many reasons, I see AI as a wake-up call. This is a moment to take a deep breath and truly think about your professional calling, remember your motivation, and pay homage to Simon as you recall your “WHY?” As in, why you do what you do, beyond the paycheck.

I have several quotes written on scraps of paper and plastered on my office wall. I’ve brought them with me from office to office, from JWT to Razorfish to Microsoft to my own 206agency and now to our Oxygen Experience Studio. And yes, many of them are from the OGs, the ancient gladiators of Madison Avenue: David Ogilvy. Massimo Vignelli. Jerry Della Famina. Paula Scher. Lee Clow. Dan Wieden (who shames me most every day when I look up at, “If you can’t write something startling don’t write anything at all.”)

I guess I could call these folks my own personal Chat-BDGAWYD - BeDamnGoodAtWhatYouDo. They seldom let me down. And to date, I find none of them becoming irrelevant; rather, they remain inspiring and maybe more valid—more Humanly Intelligent—than ever before. Sort of my personal north star when I wonder wtf am I doing and if I am any good.

If I had to pick a favorite, it’s a quote from George Lois, the Greek Godfather of breaking through the clutter. He said, “Creativity can solve almost any problem. The creative act, the defeat of habit by originality, overcomes everything.” “…the defeat of habit by originality…”  Chew on that for a bit.

Massimo Vignelli's redesigned New York Subway Map from 1970

It’s easy to please most people with that which is familiar. And the instant approval can become habit-forming. But what if you decided that you’re not willing to settle for something less than “startling?” What if your gut leads you to venture down the less obvious path? And while on it, find the courage to forego the predictable and immediate kudos in favor of something that causes pause, a recognition of something deep in the soul, maybe even intense calm. Something so quietly simple, or so stunningly appealing, it demands an audience to embrace disruption as they desire more of what they’re feeling.

Defying conformity is what all the great ones preached. It’s how you influence culture and inspire people to think, and to feel. It’s on this journey where you find the faith to be you.

After all, isn’t that what it means to be human?

You might even end up with a quote on some admirer’s wall.

Tad Harmon is the Principal and Chief Creative Strategist for Oxygen, where he leads the Oxygen Experience Studio.