Creativity, rhetoric, and unintended consequences



My last post discussed the need for leaders to think about their communications from the perspective on impact on others rather than from the point of view of their own intentions. I would argue that those with an abundance of creativity also have a responsibility to think through impact in addition to intent.

Back to the Ladders ad that got me all wrapped around this existential axle. The Ladders powers that be wrote my friend that they didn’t intend to offend people with the ads. Their intention was to “creatively portray the confidence – or “attractiveness” – we want our job seekers to experience after working with us”. Men with shirts unbuttoned sprawling on conference room tables and women falling over each other on sofas does not convey confidence and attractiveness in the context of job seeking to me.  It’s just… ewwwww. And to Kelly Dingee’s point, I have to seriously question the judgment of anyone who signs up with the Ladders because they were influenced by those ads the way the creators intended.  An unintended consequence of creative abundance run amok? Most likely.

Believe me, I love creative ideas, inventions, advertisements, etc. But like leaders, I think creative people have to think their ideas all the way through to both intended and unintended impacts.  Creativity is not an excuse to kick good judgment and empathy to the curb.

There’s a pretty big epistemological issue with the idea that anyone can think through the intended and unintended impacts of her work. Truly creative activities, it seems to me, must always push out beyond the bounds of “judgment” precisely because they are novel in their approach, because the audience’s reaction is not guaranteed. This is the very reason we have so many sequels based on original hits: the originals were a creative gamble that paid off; the sequels merely seek to cash in on a rhetorical approach that worked with a large segment of society.

Long story short, all creative acts are a gamble that must, by definition, eschew judgment, and whose success is based upon how many people understand the intent of the creator—and like it—which will be largely determined by their tastes.


The full article by Suzanne Rumsey, along with my complete comment, is available here.


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