The best TED talks on: Creativity

Ideas worth spreading for creative-minded marketers

October 2, 2015

Where does it come from? And why does it so often threaten to disappear? How can it be captured, directed, managed and nurtured? Do we mythologise it too much – or value it too little? Creativity is one of the most important qualities in marketing, advertising and technology – but it’s also one of the most difficult to pin down. Perhaps that’s why it’s such a rich source of fantastic TED talks.

I’m a huge fan of TED – and I can happily spend time absorbing different speakers’ take on almost any theme. But creativity is a subject that I keep coming back to. It’s not just crucial to what I do for a living – it also tends to produce some of the most moving, inspiring and downright entertaining of TED sessions.

Here’s my personal playlist of the best TED talks on creativity, original thinking and the tricky task of building and maintaining a genuinely creative environment:

Finding the creative potential in everyone

Sir Ken Robinson’s session asking if schools kill creativity is one of the most popular of all TED talks. Why? Because although the title makes it sound like an address to a teaching conference, its scope and impact are much, much bigger. By inviting you to think about how and why you’ve been trained out of thinking creatively, Robinson invites you to embrace the creative potential within yourself. And he’s downright inspirational when it comes to the importance of creativity in negotiating the upcoming challenges for humanity. It helps that he’s a brilliant and hilarious speaker into the bargain: the perfect talk to get you fired up about what creativity really is – and why it matters.

Redefining creatives and creativity

Why do so many people hold back from fulfilling their creative potential? In many ways, it’s because living a creative life can feel intimidating, anxiety-inducing and filled with unique and powerful pressures. But as Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert explains in this heartfelt talk, it doesn’t have to be that way. Her session on Your Elusive Creative Genius will start you thinking differently about where great ideas really come from – and it’s a must for anyone struggling with writer’s block.

Integrating data and creativity

It’s one of the thorniest subjects in marketing at the moment: how can you root creativity in data without killing it in the process? This hidden gem of a TED session reveals one Japanese toy designer’s secret trick for generating creative ideas, which he developed after feeling himself drowning in market insight. At six minutes long, it’s the shortest talk on my list – and well worth finding time for.

Creativity and play

The best way to generate great creative ideas is to generate lots of creative ideas. That’s one of the key messages in Tim Brown’s session on Creativity and Play, which explores how structured playing environments in the workplace can help to give birth to richer creative output. Taken from the same Serious Play conference is Stuart Brown’s talk on the unique creative potential of entering a state of play. This talk and Brown’s book on Play have become hugely influential amongst creatives – and featured in a post on our blog earlier this summer.

Managing for creativity

As Tim Brown stresses in his play-themed session, creative play isn’t the same as anarchy. It’s rules and structure that enable it to free minds and unleash creative potential. That’s a theme that Linda Hill explores in detail in last year’s talk on Managing for Collective Creativity, complete with lessons from Pixar and Google. It’s a bit more serious-minded than some of the others on my list – but no less valuable for that.

Creative connections

Several TED speakers have set out to answer the question: Where do great ideas come from? Most have argued that they come through connections. Kirby Ferguson analyses the early songs of Bob Dylan to demonstrate how great creative ideas build on the work of others. Matt Ridley uses human evolution to demonstrate how our most impressive innovations can never be the work of one person, and Steven Johnson reveals how the sociable environment of the coffee shop transformed human thinking.

The purpose of creativity in marketing

I’m rounding out my playlist with two very different takes on what the purpose of creativity in marketing should be. Seth Godin’s barnstorming (and highly entertaining) talk on how great ideas spread comes from the early days of the internet – but it’s no less relevant today. His view is that “very good” is no longer enough – and creating the genuinely remarkable is the only way to succeed. Rory Sutherland puts forward a different purpose for marketing – to give people new ways of attaching value to life. Both talks are genuinely inspiring, in very different ways.