You Keep Using That Word…

    May 10, 2006

I like words. I mean, I really like words. And yesterday, something happened that rarely occurs…the meaning of a word changed for me.

It wasn’t that I learned a new word, or that I learned an obscure definition that consisted of a word I already knew. Instead, a common word, a word that I’ve uttered and heard probably thousands of times, has been changed in meaning, likely forever.

That word is “creative.”

Now, as someone who has been on the sales and marketing side of the business for a long time, I used to map the word “creative” to something pretty close to the definition of the word. I used to map it to:

creative: characterized by originality and expressiveness; imaginative: creative writing.

Or perhaps this one:

creative: one who displays productive originality: the “creatives” in the advertising department.

The word used to mean something akin to the above definitions. It also had a number of other overtones: the “creatives” were the people in vintage, mismatched clothing who were “fun to be around” but…ultimately…well, they were the flighty, flaky folks. (You know, the ones who couldn’t hold a steady job.)

This changed yesterday at MeshForum.

Over the course of a conversation, I came to realize that there’s another, truer, sense of the word. One of the other participants stated that he had made a decision to “live a creative life.”

When I first heard that phrase, I naturally mapped the word “creative” to the definitions above. And, since it was uttered by an artist, everything seemed to fit. My worldview was secure in its assumptions.

And then the conversation progressed, and I realized that I had completely missed the point. The word “creative”…perhaps it’s better to explicitly enunciate it “create-ive”…was not meant to indicate “expressive” or “imaginative.” Instead, it was tied to the root meaning of the word create…to fabricate out of undifferentiated raw materials, to bring something new to the world and to bring to life and fruition and success novel, tangible things that have never been seen before.

This idea of “creation” is in stark contrast to the common business tactic of fixing problems. As was stated yesterday, “when you ‘fix’ a broken motorcycle, the best that you can hope for is to end up with a motorcycle that is as good as it was before it was broken.” When you are being create-ive, you bring to life something that is additive, something that propels you, and your company, and society forward.

So…were you create-ive today? Or did you just fix things?


Christopher Carfi, CEO and co-founder of Cerado, looks at sales, marketing, and the business experience from the customers point of view. He currently is focused on understanding how emerging social technologies such as blogs, wikis, and social networking are enabling the creation of new types of customer-driven communities. He is the author of the Social Customer Manifesto weblog, and has been occasionally told that he drives and snowboards just a little too quickly.