Legendary advertising creative Helayne Spivak knows a thing or two about the tension between invention and creativity. The former chief creative officer of Y&R and JWT, Spivak also worked for fellow ad legend Hal Riney and now helps students reach their own creative heights in her position as director of the VCU Brandcenter.
All this explains why Spivak was chosen as a juror for this year’s Adweek Project Isaac Awards celebrating invention in media, advertising, marketing and technology. We recently sat down with Spivak to talk about the inventiveness she’s witnessed from her students as well as why Leonardo da Vinci would be her dream dinner guest.
Adweek: What’s the most inventive thing you’ve ever come up with or been involved in?
Helayne Spivak: Every day at VCU Brandcenter I see things from our students that, to use an expression from the 1960s, just blow one’s mind. One graduate is developing a device to help those with autism communicate with friends and family around them. Another just created a “ball” for kids that is actually a computer that helps children learn to program through playing games. Never has the phrase “If you can imagine it, you can do it” been more true than it is today.
AW: How do you distinguish between creativity and invention?
HS: Creative brainstorms can result in many different concepts and ideas that might never have existed in the universe before. However, until these ideas are put into action they remain just theories, creative though they may be. An invention is something that also never existed before, but as a product, a thing, it is immediately tangible. Creativity has lead to many an invention.
AW: If you could have dinner with any inventor, living or dead, who would it be, and why?
HS: Leonardo da Vinci. First, because I love Italian Food. Second, because with limited technology and only his amazing imagination and vision, he saw things that were hundreds of years before his time. Sketches for a parachute. The ball baring. A machine gun, that if it were able to have been built then, would have revolutionized warfare. And there are so many others. What a rich brain and what an amazing conversation that would be.