What is Creativity and Why does it Matter?

What is Creativity and Why does it Matter?

28th April 2014

Tomorrow we will see the launch of a new e-book “What is creativity?” from Shelli Walsh. The e-book will be available for download here on State of Digital as well as on her own website. This article is an extract from that book. If you want to get access to the book, fill in the form below. It also means the start of Shelli Walsh as a blogger on State of Digital!


Why does creativity matter to digital marketing?

The marketing of websites has changed dramatically in the last few years. Whereas SEO used to be the province of the technical expert and relied upon coding skills, links and onsite optimisation to gain high rankings and exposure online, today website success requires a much broader approach of which I consider online or digital marketing.

To achieve exposure for a website and attain success (qualified by your KPI) your strategy has to encompass not only search (organic and paid) but social media, analytics, usability, coversion, content strategy, online PR and reputation management. The digital age of marketing has turned full circle and is now more aligned with classic marketing skills and the generation of creative ideas than purely code and links.

Historically technical SEO teams have controlled the marketing of websites and the new requirements of creative skills may at first be challenging for logically trained minds but it is essential they embrace the new approach. Creativity touches every part of our lives so by improving our thinking skills we can positively benefit many areas.

Consider ‘creativity’ in the everyday world:

Ferran Adrià’s cooking, Richard Branson’s publicity stunts, Chris Dyson’s unique bagless vacuum cleaners. Traffic flow systems, the internet, computers, light bulbs, even the sandwich (invented so the Earl of Sandwich could eat and play cards at the same time) – all came from creative inspiration.

Creativity is all around us in every aspect of our lives, from the clothes we wear in the morning to the appliances we make our breakfast with, from the car we drive to work to the building we work in. Even the most mundane objects such as a ballpoint biro (one of my favourite creative ideas), or a road sign are creative ideas.

Creativity and style are often mistaken

Most people mistakenly believe that creativity is restricted to the Arts such as painting a picture or performing a song. There is much confusion around the difference between style and creativity. Style is to ‘add gloss’: make things look good. Creativity is about concepts, ideas and innovation.

There are many people calling themselves creative who are actually mere stylists.” Edward de Bono

So what is creativity?

The OED definition for ‘creative’ states:

relating to or involving imagination or original ideas.

What others have said about creativity:

Creativity is the process of having original ideas that have value.” Sir Ken Robinson

Creativity is not a talent, it’s a way of operating.” John Cleese

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, the just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.Steve Jobs

Considered to be exclusive to artists and designers, creativity is in fact a skill we can all access. Everyone has the capacity to generate ideas. Admittedly, some people are more inclined towards creative thinking, just as some are able to figure large maths calculations in their head or swim like Michael Phelps. But anyone can increase his or her level of creativity.

GIGO – garbage in, garbage out.

If I could offer my advice that would be to read as widely as possible as I believe this feeds a creative mind more than any other activity. Just as athletes can only achieve their personal best if they eat a highly optimised diet, creatives need quality brain food and mental stimulation on a regular basis to operate at their creative best. You get out what you put in. 

Following extensive research for What is Creativity? I gained an understanding of what it means to be creative and how we can become more creative through improved thinking skills. I summarised my thoughts into nine chapters to define creativity:


Learning – learn how to think the right way. Understanding how to think will drastically improve your creativity.

“The creative person wants to be a know it all, He wants to know about all kinds of things. He never knows when these ideas might come together to form a new idea. It may happen six minutes later or in six years but the creative person has faith it will happen”

Carl Ally NYC advertiser


Curiosity – be insatiably curious and forever asking questions – creativity needs feeding

“Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people”

Leo Burnett


Mode – switching between closed and open mode is key to creative thinking. When we are stressed and under pressure we are closed when we are relaxed and playful we are open.

We need open and closed states to solve a problem: the open state allows us to develop creative ideas and then the closed state to plan and implement the idea. These are similarly aligned to vertical and lateral thinking processes.


Imitation – copying is how we learn; we need copying to build a foundation of knowledge and understanding.

“All ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources… It takes a thousand men to invent a steam engine, or a photograph, or a telephone… and the last man gets the credit and we forget the others”

Mark Twain


Connecting the dots – the ability to make connections and see relationships between seemingly random elements is the secret to creativity.

Collect and be exposed to a variety of reference materials and then look for the relationships between facts. Combine old elements to make new ideas.


No fear – it’s better to try and have an idea that is rejected than to not even try at all. By either disconnecting or embracing fear we have to use it rather than fight it to overcome the resistance.

“Failure is an essential component of innovation… I would be haunted by not trying at all. Better to try and fail – I could live with that.”

Jeff Bezos


Tenacity – The brain is a muscle and the more you practice thinking skills the more they improve, therefore, through repeated thinking skills, you can become more creative. If you are prepared to tolerate the discomfort and anxiety associated with problem solving you can reach your creativity.

“Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

Chuck Close


Discipline – Everything becomes easier with practise and repetition. Creativity can actually thrive in routine and discipline

“Sometimes you just get in there and force yourself to work and something good will come out of it”

Jack White


Letting go – The law of the universe abhors a vacuum so the more you release, the more the space will be replenished.


“if you hoard your ideas you will end up living off your reserves and eventually become stale. If you give away everything you have, you are left with nothing. This forces you to look, to be aware, to replenish. The more you give away the more comes back to you.”

Paul Arden



Please connect with me on the Creativity101 Facebook page  and share your thoughts on what creativity means to you…

This article is an extract from What is creativity? the ebook. In the book I also asked the question, What does creativity mean to you? to thought leaders in the industry: Rand Fishkin, Lee Odden, Paddy Moogan, Bas Van Den Beld, Chris Brogan, Neil Patel and Dave Trott have all contributed their insights and thoughts about creativity. The book is via the State of Digital site and the Creativity 101 [creativity101.com] site. You will also receive the Creativity101 newsletter, which teaches thinking skills, classic marketing tips and how to be more creative in your digital marketing. Get it below!


Written By
Shelli Walsh is a creative consultant for digital marketing under the brand name ShellShock. Shelli has 18 years professional creative, marketing and business experience and uses this expertise to help brands spread their message online through creative content strategies.
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