Humans replacing themselves in the creative process isn’t new. Just ask James Patterson

July 4, 2023

Even if you’ve never picked up a book in your life, you’ve probably still heard of James Patterson. Widely regarded as the world’s best-selling author, his books have sold more than 425 million copies. Astonishing.

How can one man produce so many spellbinding stories? Simple. He doesn’t. It’s widely known that James Patterson doesn’t actually write his books. He’ll come up with the idea and the key points to the plot, then hand it over to another writer to agonise over the construction of the chapter’s final sentence cliffhanger.

A former advertising executive, Patterson knows a thing or two about building and selling brands. His personal brand, the name that sells the books, appears to be booming, with an estimated net-worth of more that $800 million dollars.

While fans still continue to buy his books, not everyone is impressed with his franchise-esque model of writing (which feels more akin to a fast food restaurant way of doing business).

The haters throwing shade are questioning his artistic integrity. A cookie cutter approach to storytelling that uses his name with established credibility to sell, sell, sell. If he isn’t creating the whole thing himself, is he truly an author and should his work be taken seriously?

This brings up a really interesting discussion about the creative process and how we value it. Do we place more emphasis on the creation of ideas or their curation? Who makes it versus what is made? It’s a topic that’s been widely discussed and debated by many, since the explosion of AI.

Creativity is a process, and there are many points along the journey. From collecting insights and inspiration, to ideating, testing, refining and making. Each of those phases has multiple steps within it. Many people make up the creative process and all have a unique role to play. Where some feature at the start - collecting ideas and shaping those first thoughts - others come into play later in the process - bringing ideas to life, shaping and curating them.

We see this in many artforms - from the scriptwriter who comes up with the movie plot, to the director who brings it all to life and and the editor who decides what scenes to keep and cut. The songwriter that imagines the lyrics, the keyboard player that creates the melody and the producer that mixes it all together.

So if the creator/curator multi-touchpoint creative journey is so common in all forms of art, why is everyone losing their minds that AI might play one of these parts?

The concept of humans replacing themselves within the creative process isn’t new. Look at James Patterson - he hasn’t written a book from start to finish in years. Similarly, artist, Jeff Koons, also considers himself an “ideas man”, coming up with the concepts for his art and enlisting a team of artisans to produce it.

Koons gets specialists - people who have skills he doesn’t - and works closely with them to bring his vision to life. It’s his idea, but he doesn’t make it. Is he still an artist? He’s a polarising figure in the artworld for his unconventional process - those that say he's not an artist are essentially saying the value of creativity lies in the making, not in the idea, or perhaps that you need to do both.

Imagine if only one person could collect insights, turn them into ideas and bring them to life in our world - the communications world. We'd be burnt out, but also, the end result wouldn’t be that great, unless we’d mastered being a specialist at the entire creative process.

Somehow, AI in the creative process seems frightening… because this intimidating technology isn’t well understood by many. Rather than viewing AI as another specialist in the creative process, we’ve had an emotional response - “AI will replace us”.

Let’s be clear. AI will never replace brilliant minds and bravery, but it can certainly enhance what we do. Whether we play a creating or curating role, humans and AI can work together to share the responsibility.

How can we ensure a future where creativity and AI work collaboratively? We need to cultivate a culture of technology that’s as valued as creativity. By finding space in our creative process for technology as essential to the outcome, we’ll find our sweet spot.

Patterson and Koons have coped a lot of criticism for not being authentic to their respective arts, but perhaps their unorthodox approach is a model for creativity that we could see more of in the future.

Words by Jade Glashoff.