“Creativity” and “innovation” – 2 words on the cusp of becoming nothing more than clichéd buzz words in young, millennial centric businesses. When in fact, creativity is now widely considered to be a major personal skill. There seems to be much confusion when it comes to our understanding of creativity That’s because it allows for so much more than just ‘creating’ a stagnant piece of work. A creative mind set allows for flexible thinking, unconventional methods and unique solutions to problem solving. In today’s globalising world, these traits are not only appropriate, but necessary.
Creativity inherently leads to innovation. We are a generation, not interested or intrigued but obsessed with innovation. Especially in an increasingly congested and complex business world where everyone is trying to prove that it is them, and their business that is worthy of the customers attention. On the flip side, as we use our creativity to develop new business cultures and strategies we are also pushing back against outdated practices that have been ‘the norm’ for too long. The problem here is that if the culture does not allow creativity to blossom, how can draconian policies possibly be modernised?
It is business critical that the true value of creativity is appreciated. Workplaces that do not nurture a culture that breeds creativity have, in my humble opinion signed their own death warrant. Everyone wants to believe that their business is creative and innovative and when a business is young, a team is small and the workload is manageable, it’s easy to adopt exercises and create environments where creativity flourishes. However as a business grows, more often than not the focus on team culture and induvial imagination gives way to bureaucratic management systems and policies. While these systems are designed to co-ordinate and control increasing workload, they often stifle the ‘idea’ flow and processes become over relied on.
“The true value of creativity within a company is that it is the engine for enhancing the business. A successful company starts out with a unique value proposition, which is its first creative act, and then executes on that promise. Without any evolution or change to the business, however, the company runs the risk of a competitor developing something better, or a disruptor substituting for the product or service that the firm provides. By harnessing its creative capacities, a company is able to evolve its business either in the way it creates its product, the product itself, or in the pool of consumers, thus increasing revenue.” Explains Orin Davis, a start-up advisor and business professor, “At a micro level, the value of creativity is that it enables each person to engage in meaningful work. Instead of doing something that leaves us feeling like cogs in the wheel, when we are creative on the job we are injecting a part of ourselves into the work that we do. We apply our unique combination of knowledge, skills, attitudes, and experiences, to put our imprint on the product/service with which our company creates value. In doing so, we are able to see how we create value, and how we make this spinning bit of rock better off specifically because we were on it. It is this very notion that inspires people to put their all into their work, from the basic functions to the extra mile of discretionary effort that keeps employees staying late to “get it done!” Best of all, when people feel free to be themselves on the job, they are also more likely to share their ideas, take smart risks, and bounce back from failure, because they recognize the ways in which their work fulfils their sense of purpose.”
While growth is an indicator of success, it shouldn’t be forgotten that creativity and innovation are both key drivers in all parts of a business. As start-ups begin to scale up, directors and senior level staff can become distanced from the front line all too quickly and while those still there can see the problems appearing, there is no longer the room for creative solutions to be generated. The burden of an ever increasing workload can prevent open minds from operating because everyone becomes so focused on completing the tasks to timescales, suddenly maintaining creativity levels is no longer a priority. I would argue that creativity leads to productivity when managed correctly, but productivity also relies on processes that have already been learnt and mastered. So perhaps it’s more of a fine balance of the 2 that leads to maintain high levels of productivity. If everyone is head down 9-5, you soon find the very soul of employees being sapped without a disregard for how the energy and drive is going to be replaced. Productivity levels will drop off the chart. It undoubtedly comes down to the Quality Vs Quantity argument. It’s a fine balance, of course every new business is striving for growth. However in the quest for growth, it’s important that creativity isn’t compromised.
Allowing your team to use their creative skills communicates that they are trusted to make the right decisions and those decisions are respected, building an emotional connection and developing a culture of self-progression and self-determination. By now we understand the value of ‘story telling’ when it comes to marketing our businesses, and the fundamental impact of building an emotional connection with consumers. But how can businesses expect to build a connection with consumers when the connection with their employees has been lost? Personal development is crucial, a continued cycle of education and support gives individuals the chance to understand the issues and opportunities that would benefit from creative thinking.
David Dews Creative Managing Director at Speed Agency shares his experience, “For us a creative culture is key because some of the best ideas come from the Speedsters that aren’t specifically here for their creative thinking…. So if you encourage a creativity and collaboration then you breed a culture where people want to share their thinking and that naturally sparks more ideas and deeper thinking. Allowing creativity to blossom seems natural at Speed so I don’t know if I have the answers but I think for us it’s probably because we have a fairly flat structure which encourages contact. So for instance, our apprentice would feel as comfortable talking to me about an idea she’s had as our Senior Designer would. We don’t really have loads of formal meetings instead we replace them with shorter impromptu ones when we feel we have something interesting to share or we are needing some help. Right now, we have a tight and fairly stressful deadline, so we’ve just had a meeting where we critiqued each other’s designs, the work is still very much in motion but because we know how to critique each other without causing offence or being too precious it helps us to keep projects moving in the right direction and sometimes a touch of stress keeps us creatively focused. So I guess writing this has helped me articulate how we achieve a creative culture here at Speed Agency – it’s about collaborating, at the right times, in the right manner and in an open yet purposeful way. Failing that give us alcohol -That’ll work too.”
Be proactive! Many mistake creativity as being something spontaneous, distracting focus. When in fact regular and planned creative breakout sessions, for instance once a week or fortnight can be therapeutic in a number of ways, some businesses even set aside some of their budget to fund experimental projects to generate further ideas ad offerings. These tactics serve to prevent employees from becoming overwhelmed by their work load, they also encourage problem solving and dissolve creative blocks as people bounce ideas off each other until a solution is found. They often have a fundamental impact on team morale and motivation, making for a far more efficient and productive business. There is no reason why these sessions should not continue as a business grows, as long as they remain focussed and happen within a pre-determined time frame they will continue to feed the team in a positive way. To be successful when it comes to innovation and creativity, embrace the mistakes. The attitude that many businesses have is a ‘zero tolerance’ one when it comes to errors; it is very rare that something fails 100%, lessons are always learnt that allow you to push the boundaries further. Dwelling on the negatives is a rookie mistake and often stifles further creativity as seeds of self-doubt begin to grow, obstacles lead to new approaches.
Creativity leads to flawless adaptation to changing conditions, vital for survival in the fast paced world of business. To nurture creativity it needs to be rooted into structure and policies to feed into the culture, making it part of your company’s reality. Keep an open mind to all ideas and solutions, especially from those on the front line of the business and steer away from making assumptions. Look to implement strategies that invest in a holistic culture and strive to prevent presenteeism, when staff work at a pace they are comfortable with without undue pressure it often leads to ‘Eureka!’ moments. Ultimately, look to create a business with a culture that gives its team the opportunities to be creative in their approach and the growth and revenue will come naturally.