Snapshot : There’s an annoying tendency to stereotype creativity in business. It’s either the ‘doing’ of creative by arty types or the focus on the generation of wild and wacky ideas. But creativity in business is so much more than that. How can businesses tap into a much wider range of ideas and styles which can be both evolutionary AND revolutionary?
We’ve previously shared why we believe anyone who feels the need to call themselves a ‘strategist’ is to be approached with extreme caution. We believe strategy is something everyone can and should do, and the ability to bring different points of view together, can only make your strategy stronger.
When someone grabs the title of strategist, they are saying it’s up to them and for no-one else. And we’ve recently come to the opinion that the same logic applies to the words creativity and creative. Because, we believe creativity in business is for everyone.
The problem with stereotyping “creatives”
What picture pops in to your head when you think of someone ‘creative’? If you work in marketing or advertising, you probably have pictures of slightly scruffy advertising creative teams. The men all seem to have too much hair, particularly facial hair and / or lots of tattoos. And the women, well, pretty much the same, except for the facial hair. Usually. And their hair is usually died multiple colours.
And the way these teams work, is usually very different from the way teams in most businesses operate. Even when creative teams and marketing teams who on paper have the most ‘creativity’ in their role meet, it can often end up being a car crash meeting.
Now let’s be clear up front. We have no issue with these creative professionals . They’re some of the most fun people you can work with, and they need to earn a living too. For the ones who’ve studied the topic of creativity and who bring this skill and expertise to specific jobs like writing, graphic design and video-making, all well and good.
But those are all the “doing” parts of creativity. And it’s this grabbing of the word ‘creativity’ by creative teams that rubs us up the wrong way. Because, for us, creativity goes very far beyond just “doing” things. And this is where we start to run into the issue of creativity being seen as a job that you hand over to a professional to do. Whereas in reality, everyone and anyone in your business can be and should be creative.
Creativity in business is not art
For us, yes, those outputs from people who can “do” creative are an important part of the business mix. Whether it’s advertising, video content, copywriting or photography, the quality of the outcome goes up when you either upskill yourself or get someone with experience to do it. You wouldn’t expect a brand manager to produce a TV ad on their iphone for example, and while they might end up writing some copy for the website, it’d be pretty rare that they’d actually be given any training on how best to do this.
We’ve seen many businesses, and particularly marketing teams where new brand managers are schooled to leave ‘creativity’ to the agency. Where the training is about the serious business of managing projects and the profitability of the brand, not coming up with ideas on how to make the brand actually work better for it’s consumers. And this is where creativity in business goes all wrong.
And, here’s the thing.
These creative ‘do-ers’ don’t have a monopoly on the creative thinking that should be the driver of your creative doing.
Because creativity in business is also about thinking. And that’s something everyone can do. And not just can do, should do. Because the ability to think creatively to opportunities and problems is a major driver of whether your business will grow or not.
Creative evolution or revolution?
One of our favourite theoretical models that plays in this space is the Kirton-Adaptive-Innovation model.
We’ve been lucky enough to work with a few businesses who use this model. The thing we really like about it is that it states right up front, EVERYONE is creative. But everyone can be creative in different ways.
We love this.
We love this, because it right away knocks out that mistaken belief that ‘creativity’ is only for the hairied tattooed agency mob. It talks about creativity when it comes to problem solving being a spectrum.
At one end of the spectrum you have people who are good at adaptive problem solving. They are good at taking existing ideas and making them better. Let’s call this the Volkswagen approach to creative thinking. These types of creatives tend to create ideas that are evolutionary.
And then you have people who are good at innovative problem solving. These are people who naturally come up with new and different ideas. They are most likely to come up with breakthrough ideas. Let’s call this the Apple approach to creative thinking. These types of people tend to create ideas that are revolutionary.
(Incidentally, you can read more about how they identify which problem solving style you are, and how they different styles interact with each other though the official KAI centre site.
Which one is better? Answer : Neither
The important point for your business or any business, is that both methods of problem solving are good. In fact, not just good, necessary. Necessary to come up with a range of different ideas to grow your business.
The ideas of the Apple-style revolutionary approach tend to make a lot more noise and grab people’s attention. Of course, they do, people get excited by new and breakthrough thinking. But here’s the thing with breakthrough ideas. People only remember the ones that work. And to get to the ones that work, you have to go through many, many breakthrough ideas that don’t work and cost businesses a shitload of wasted money.
Who still has an Apple Newton for example? What about Google Glass? The challenge with real breakthrough innovation is that you need some failures in order to generate the big successes. To generate your iPhone or search algorithm.
And here’s the thing with the more evolutionary approach.
It might be boring, but it’s much safer and more predictable.
it incrementally builds on existing good ideas and makes them slightly better each time. And that’s not a bad thing. Boring for some, maybe. But very profitable and generates future cash flow that helps you fund those more breakthrough projects.
The Volkswagen Golf might be a bit boring and not actually look that different to how it started. But with seven or eight versions, each tnew version having thousands of incremental and evolutionary improvements, it’s still one of the world’s best-selling and most successful cars with over 35 million sold since 1974.
That’s a lot of “boring” profit (!).
Balance your adaptive and innovative thinking
So, what that actually means for your business is you should try to find the right mix of different creative thinkers to solve your problem. You need to take a portfolio approach to your creative thinking and put different styles of thinkers together.
Who are the great adaptive thinkers in your business that can look at an existing problem and tweak it with an existing answer to make it better? And who are the breakthrough thinkers who can generate lots of potential game-changing ideas? Because you need to bring both types together to generate a steady future growth form
The key lesson to learn is make creative in your business for everyone. Not just the hairy tattooed mob.