Time was, a creative person’s job was far more prescriptive than it is today. If the media plan called for three TV spots, four radio spots and three print ads, then, gosh darn it, that’s what the creative department created. In this way, the creative’s job was to “fill in the gaps” of the media plan with hopefully genius creative.

Given the fixed and limited nature of these media outcomes, creative “expertise” itself was able to sub-divide into real, potent specialties. There was the senior team who was great at TV. The other team who was great at print. And the junior writer who could crank out fantastic radio scripts all day long. In fact, the growth of a creative person was dependent on getting experience across these fixed buckets of media, working his or her way up to the big TV opportunity.

Sounds quaint now, doesn’t it? Because, as you know, the fixed, predictable nature of the media choices became completely unhinged and unpredictable with the advent of digital. While, on the one hand, this fracturing of media was the single most liberating thing to ever happen to marketing, on the other it changed forever the way creative people would approach solving a marketing problem. No longer would a “specialist” approach work (unless you want to hire 500+ specialists). No longer could creative people start their assignments comfortably knowing in advance the medium they would be working within. No longer could the crack production teams start lining up the resources in advance of even having a creative concept.

This decomposition and subsequent blending of media channels is significant to creativity for two reasons: one, it changes the role of the creative person in solving marketing problems; two, it changes how we evaluate the talent of a creative person in the first place.

Creative people are now taking on a more “MacGuyver-like” quality than ever before. It’s not only about the clever headlines or witty scripts anymore. It’s now about the creative person’s ability to “concept” the best way to engage with the consumer. The solution to which is often the genius of the whole idea. Look at Arnold’s Carnival Aquarium, Droga5’s Activision Proxymines, or Goodby’s brilliant Bus Stop Derby for Yahoo!. With these examples, the creativity is in what the idea does, not just what it says. And coming up with that kind of idea takes a different kind of mind.

The most valuable creative people of the future are not those who can only write or art direct great TV or digital ads or even viral videos. The valuable creatives will be the ones who can do that when it’s needed, but can also move upstream to solve marketing problems through sheer inventive muscle. At least, those are the “upstream creative thinkers” I’m looking for at Ideasicle.

Grab a paddle.