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April 15, 2014
Your Technology Won't Save You

You’re going to have to get creative to be better at what you do.

I remember getting my first Mont Blanc “writing instrument” (that’s what they call it) as a graduation gift.

As I held it in my hand, my father said to me, “A fancy pen (I wasn’t going to correct my dad) won’t make you a better writer. It’s only as good as the mind that creates the words. ”

I heard my father’s words but didn’t give it much thought. It would be many years later that I “got” what he meant.

Some time later, I was working at a shop, using the latest and greatest computers with the latest version of the hottest software. My art director and I were the senior team in charge of a huge project when the power went out. The office descended into chaos as folks scrambled to the areas lit by natural light.

Our group settled into a large conference room with a bank of windows. Realizing that the presentation deadline was quickly approaching, someone asked, “What are we going to do?”  

Panic began to spread.

My art director smiled, got up and walked back into the darkness of the inner office. A few minutes later he returned with a stack of drawing and writing pads, pencils and marker sets. Dumping them all on the table, he said, “we create.”

I grabbed a pad and a couple of pencils. My art director grabbed a drawing pad and a set of markers, and we settled into a corner to begin to working. Most of our team either sat or stood in shock, not moving.

“How are we supposed to work like this? You expect us to create a presentation with paper and markers?” one of the art directors asked, not even trying to hide his disbelief and contempt.

My art director stopped smiling and said, “It was never the tools that made us creative, it is our creativity that makes the tools work so well. I expect you to be as creative with paper and markers as you are with a computer and all the other technology. We are after all, creative.”

Everyone got to work.

My father’s words came slamming back to me: “A fancy pen won’t make you a better writer. It’s only as good as the mind that forms the words.”

We worked like that for almost 6 hours until the power came on. In the following days, we built the presentation off the ideas generated from that session. The presentation was one of the best we ever put together. The client bought the ideas with very little push back.

A funny thing happened after that, we started seeing more creatives with pencils, markers and pads. Instead of computer-generated layouts, we started getting hand drawn comps. We also started seeing teams really working together, sitting together and bouncing all aspects of the work off of one another. There was a lot more laughter but there were also a lot more raised voices. Our section of the office was alive with activity. And the work was good, very good.

Technology will not save you.

Heck, it will barely make you better.

A weak creative with the latest, greatest computer and software is simply a weak creative despite the tools he/she has at hand. Don’t fool yourself. The work will not become smarter simply because of technology you use to create it. The only things that can transform weak ideas into deep and meaningful concepts are better ideas. The work is only as strong as the idea behind it, and these ideas come from deep inside of you, not the technology you are using.

Your creativity does not live in your technology – it lives in you.

Your level of creativity is an internal thing, and like any other skill it must be practiced and honed – you have to push to be a better creative. Even without his utility belt, Batman is still Batman. The same should be true for creatives. Without our technology, we’re still creative. Your creative prowess lies in you, not the technology you possess.

This is not an anti-technology rant! This is a pro-creative rant!

I love technology!

It can be a great help to those of us in the creative field. I believe we should learn and understand as much as we can about technology, and how to leverage it to produce the best work possible. It is a joy to watch a good creative with a strong idea and the best tools create something amazing.

My issue is that you can ask some creatives anything about the latest software or technology, and they can rattle of huge volumes of information. And there is nothing wrong with that. But ask them about their craft, and they stumble to explain elements of designs or theories on writing.

We should be as passionate about how to be more creative as we appear to be about technology. We should be pushing to get more from our creativity but instead many of us take for granted that our current level of creativity is enough.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  

Our creativity and imagination are the engines that drive us to create something new or different with the same technology that everyone else is using. To get the most from technology requires putting the most into it, daring to push the limits and do something that no one else has thought of - it takes creativity.

We exist in a marvelous time, where devices, software programs, technologies and social media allow us to easily create amazing work that we could only dream of doing years ago. But like any fine instrument, no matter how well it is built or works, it is only as good as the person wielding it.

Trust your creativity. It is the true source of your power. Wield it wisely.


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Derek Walker is the janitor, secretary and mailroom person for his tiny agency, brown and browner advertising, out of the big city of Columbia, S.C. He is on Twitter as @dereklwalker
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