AI’s Role in Creativity and Efficiency

In The Devil Wears Prada, Miranda Priestly has two assistants, Andy and Emily. When you think about the underpinnings of the film, what’s clear is that Miranda is able to operate Runway magazine at a fast and efficient pace largely because of the consistent help of her two assistants–she doesn’t need to break for small tasks and can operate her day like a well-tuned machine.

Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Miranda is entertaining to watch, and everyone who’s seen the movie will forever look differently at cerulean blue. Yet looking past the nuances of her character, what we’re observing is a highly creative person at work. Every day Miranda operates in what’s called a flow state–that famous frame of mind where a creative person does their greatest work. It typically happens moments after “nothing was right” and then suddenly the solution is right there, coming at us quickly. “Inspiration exists,” Picasso famously said, “but it has to find you working.”

When you’re doing a creative task and the flow state arrives, it needs to be immediately fed with information and inputs. We need to support it with things such as a reference point, or a definition of something, or an image, meme or video. So we go to Google as we work… and it’s here where we find countless things that break us from our flow state.

A Google search brings up multiple sites. Each one takes sifting through. We receive pop-ups wanting to collect our emails or get our feedback. We are shown a list of videos of things we love. We see a picture of a celebrity who takes our mind somewhere else entirely. When all we wanted was some quick input to continue our flow state, the web—which is built to be highly engaging—is our number one distractor.

This is the benefit of AI tools such as ChatGPT. Like Andy and Emily, it is YOUR assistant, doing whatever task you need, right then, without any pushback. With no images or links to distract you, it’s just information that answers your questions. And today we don’t have to run a global magazine or oversee a movie studio to have an always-available assistant. We all have one, that’s free (for now), who doesn’t want anything other than to help you.

Steve Jobs called the computer “a bicycle for the mind.” Note the use of a bicycle instead of a car or airplane. A bicycle lets you go faster than the human body ever could on its own, but unlike a car, it’s still human-powered–a combination of our human feelings with rapid technical processing.

Across Drake Cooper, employee-owner teams in strategy, media, UX & Technology, MarTech, creative and more are beginning to use AI tools to further their ideas. What we’re finding as ChatGPT, DALL-E 2 and others have quickly and massively become available is that there are two ways AI is proving helpful to bolster creative thinking and output:

1. AI Assists in Developing the Intriguing Creative Thought You Have. 

AI is not good at being creative. It says so itself:

In order for AI to give you what you want it needs good questions. After all, AIs are best at choosing answers, but people are best at choosing questions. For example, Polly-O is a 124-year-old American cheese brand. If you were working on developing creative ideas for Polly-O, you could ask ChatGPT, “What do birds and cheese have in common?”. (Go ahead– parts of the answer are interesting.) 

But it depends on the question. Something without any creative angle, such as asking AI to provide a “dad with a child,” looks like this:

Not great. Not even good. 

But if we bring our own idea to the search, such as “photorealistic painting of a dad with his child in silhouette watching the sunset on the beach,” this comes up:


Better. And it arrived in moments. 

In that example, if we’re working in a flow state developing content around parents, it’s easy to see how AI can help the creator get somewhere quicker, and maybe better.

Creative Review recently wrote that “for users who are creatively minded, but not creatively handed, AI can feel liberating and exciting.” Some users of AI may feel this. But regardless of how creatively minded or handed someone is, AI can help make original things in an expedient way.

2. AI Takes the Grunt Work So You Can Do Better Things

Cecelia Girr is Director of Cultural Strategy at TBWA’s cultural intelligence unit, Backslash. Regarding AI, she calls the opportunity it presents as “creative convenience”:

“In a world where AI can churn out the more tedious elements of creative work at record speeds, it of course means that AI is going to take on a great deal of the not-so-inspiring grunt work.”

Grunt work is a drain on the creative process and on creative people. Beyond this, it can be a poor value to agencies and clients as time spent doing grunt work is rarely worth the value of someone’s true expertise.

Grunt work goes beyond creative industries and applies nearly everywhere. Consider real estate, where a growing number of today’s listings are AI-written. Agents can supply a few keywords and a property write-up is done in seconds. With editing at the end from a professional agent, the listing is done in minutes; without AI, it could have taken an hour.

As one real estate agent told the media in January: “It saved me so much time. It’s not perfect but it was a great starting point. My background (prior to real estate) is in technology and writing something eloquent takes time. This made it so much easier.”

The real challenge is recognizing when you (or your team) are engaging in grunt work and then changing your hard-wired workstyle to use AI for help.

Recognizing “grunt work” is harder than it seems. Many people have difficulty asking for help because “it’s just easier to do it myself.” Sometimes this is true. But those who can break this default setting and turn to AI for their grunt work will discover more time to advance larger ideas and bigger things.

You know you are doing “grunt work” when work is repetitive, when your mind wanders to think of other things while you’re doing it, or when you’re bored.

Also, grunt work is typically something you know a ton about, which is key when assigning something to AI. ChatGPT, for example, has been shown to spit back incorrect or incomplete information, which you can catch only when you know the subject matter you’re getting AI to help with.

A final note on grunt work: We must remember that whatever AI tool you’re using is collecting the information you’re feeding into it. Be careful with confidential stuff. No one knows yet what it all means, or where it all goes, so choose wisely.

This Is Only the Beginning

Thinking about the philosophy and potentials of AI is too vast to do at this early stage. So if indeed “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” let’s follow Laozi’s advice and begin simply with identifying these two great ways to start using AI today: developing an intriguing creative thought and passing off grunt work.

Beyond these, AI will be the subject of great study and innovation. In advertising we are expecting it to have ramifications on consumer web search, change media activity, help with brand safety, and more. We know there are challenges with copyright infringement, ensuring that creators are compensated for their original work, and that sometimes AI-written facts can be wrong.

AI isn’t ideal for all jobs and use-cases. Many things need to be worked out. But it’s here, and as with any new technology, successful teams will look for how to embrace it instead of fighting it.

If we start our use of AI as seeing it as a good assistant that’s available to help us hone our human-most creative ideas in dynamic and efficient ways, we can then embrace it as a positive addition to our work today, and be more limber to work with it in new ways as the future unfolds.

Authors and Content:

– John Drake, Co-President, Chief Strategy Officer

– Elisia Schrauth, Sr. MarTech Manager

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Drake Cooper
Drake Cooper
April 3, 20233 min read