Is creativity a good business strategy? | M&M Global

Is creativity a good business strategy?

If Blockbuster or Kodak – the poster brands for death by digital disruption – had answered “yes” to this question, then they might still be in business today, writes Craig Catley, director of StrategyBlocks.

Craig Catley 2

Instead, their decision to stick doggedly to their knitting, and do what they’d always done, rather than imagine where their brand could go, was ultimately the death of them.

Competitors and new entrants like Netflix, by contrast, had the creative vision to plan for – and dominate – a new world order. With digital continuing to disrupt so many markets on a global scale, this lack of an ability to innovate is bound to be the future death of other brands as well.

That’s why creativity is more important than ever in business. Luckily, companies are increasingly recognising the value of creativity, with 82% believing it is strongly connected to business results, according to a study by Adobe and Forrester Consulting. The same study found that companies that proactively cultivate a working environment conducive to creative thinking outperform their rivals in revenue growth, market share, and competitive leadership.

It’s no surprise, then, those management consultancies are moving into the creative business space, adding creative agencies to their portfolios. For instance, with Accenture’s high profile purchase of creative agency Karmarama in November, the firm pledged to create a “new industry powerhouse.”

Vital for survival

Why the clamour by consultants to get creative? Because we are living in the knowledge era and, as the management consultancies know, the only way businesses today can sustain competitive advantage is to generate, embrace and execute new ideas. They know that whether you’re a tech start-up or a huge multinational, this new world order means that creativity is vital to survival.

The ‘fittest’ will be those that couple creativity with a creatively-empowered workforce and good data. Those that successfully bring these three cornerstones together will thrive in the face of relentless volatility, change and unpredictability, and use creativity to fuel and successfully execute their business strategies.

“The most important first step for a manager who wants creativity to flourish in his or her team is to create the right conditions”

Nevertheless, some shy away from cultivating creative cultures. Admittedly, building a culture that embraces and encourages creativity is not always an easy feat. However, it goes deeper than that. There still exists common misperceptions around creativity, such as the idea that only some of us can be creative because it’s an innate skill that can’t be taught. Or the assumption that creativity is the result of a chance moment of inspiration, and so can’t be managed.

The good news for businesses today is that both of these dictums are rubbish. Creative fitness can be trained and built up, just as physical fitness can. Similarly, creativity can be actively encouraged, so breakthroughs happen more frequently; it is not squashed by structure, it is focused on it. The most important first step for a manager who wants creativity to flourish in his or her team is to create the right conditions, much like a gardener would treat his soil. This requires nurturing the workforce so they grow more creatively confident.

Clear objectives

One of the most powerful, but rare, things a good creative leader can do to encourage this unfolding is to give a team time and space, alongside a clear brief, objectives, insight and boundaries.

This is incredibly difficult to do, given the time-pressured, deadline-driven, modern business environment we all operate in. However, pressure and rush are the thieves of creativity: the tools of the creative trade – from experimentation and exploration to imagination and challenging assumptions – are much better acquired and developed with a healthy dose of time and space.

If a manager does pluck up the courage to allow these seeming ‘luxuries’, a team is much more likely to bear fruit in terms of generating, sharing and contributing to innovative ideas. The challenge is then to ensure that good ideas are captured, rather than fall into the many corporate cracks and that they are acted upon. After all, creative thinking is only valuable, and worth this precious time and space, if it is implemented. Ideas are just ideas unless they are put into action, at which point they become the strategy.

“Winning brands will be those that embrace a genuinely creative, collaborative culture, where innovation fertilises strategy”

That’s where light-touch tools which make the creative process transparent but don’t stifle it, come into their own. With StrategyBlocks, for example, every employee has a full organisational view on a global scale of a brand’s strategic plan. They can see for themselves how creative ideas are fuelling strategy.

This is not only motivating and empowering for employees, but also means they can start spotting and sharing connections between ideas. They can build on others’ ideas with their own unique, specialist contributions based on personal passions as well as professional knowledge. In doing so, these contributors simultaneously build their creative confidence and spread a contagious culture of innovation across the entire organisation. The recognition that a transparent creative process affords is often motivation enough to spur team members on to keep contributing too.

We’ve long been talking about creativity being able to come from anywhere in an organisation, from the post room to the boardroom, but few companies are truly living this insight. Tomorrow’s winning brands will be those that embrace a genuinely creative, collaborative culture, where innovation fertilises strategy.

The losers will end up in the cemetery of brands that forgot the innovation that led to their success, to be buried alongside the Blockbusters and Kodaks of yesteryear.

Craig Catley

Director, StrategyBlocks

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