“But not me!” you might say, “I’m a business person -- and definitely not creative.”
I recall a client who thought that way. Said he could hardly draw a straight line so was not creative. Yet, this man was the most creative businessperson I’ve ever met. He thought in curved lines, perceived the future with clarity, shared his vision, and in a few short years of very hard work grew his business from a handful of people in a small office to a national brand that dominated its category.
Is there a connection between creativity and business success? A 2014 study commissioned by Adobe suggests that “creative companies … outperform in both revenue growth and market share.” The study surveyed more than 300 senior managers in a variety of large global firms.
“58% of respondents from creative companies (those that encourage creative perspective, practices, and culture) said their revenues have strong growth (10%+ year-over-year) vs. only 20% of less creative firms. And creative companies are 50% more likely to report a commanding market leadership position."
Clearly, one must be cautious in interpreting findings like this, since other success factors also may be at play in these organizations. But it stands to reason that leaders who encourage people to color outside the lines and explore the outer edges of opportunity will foster innovation and growth – and also be great places to work, as the Adobe study found.
There’s no mystery to it.
Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting with three people whose advertising business oozed creativity. They not only are artistically creative, as you'd expect of an ad agency, they also think creatively, in a way that takes in both the obvious and the odd angles. If they can imagine it -- a new product, for example -- and then help their clients imagine it, the task is all but done. What’s more, they've invented a system that allows clients to “see” and interpret obscure social media relationships in a way that opens up fresh, often unforeseen competitive white space.
So how can you put that kind of non-linear thinking to work creating more success for your business?
Kenichi Ohmae, a long-time managing partner with McKinsey & Company, recommended in his Mind of the Strategist that to get a fresh look at a problem or product it helps to break it into bite-sized bits: features, benefits, base assumptions, competitive advantages, market perspective, etc, then reassemble the bits in new ways -- and question everything. The mere act of decoupling yourself from predictable thinking can open up new worlds of possibility, as long as you recognize that false starts and frustrations are a valuable part of the discussion process, plus have the courage to see your way through. If that sounds like old-fashioned anything-goes brainstorming, well … it is. It’s about opening yourself to the knowledge and experience of others.
Edwin Land, of Polaroid camera fame, observed that most major discoveries at his company were made by people able to take a “fresh, clean look at the old, old knowledge.” Like the company I consulted to recently, which turned out to have a revolutionary product benefit hidden in their competitive story that had the potential to fundamentally transform the way their products were sold. It was there all along but just took fresh eyes to see.
Another way to take a clean look at things is through peripheral visioning: looking outside your normal field of vision, beyond your comfort zone, for new perspective … and possibly even enlightenment. If you run a grocery store, study the machine tool business. If you’re in the service business, learn all you can about the marketing of consumer products. If you’re a retailer, get to know how non-profits think. Read all you can about it. Get curious! You’ll be surprised how much of what you learn can be applied to your business – that is, if you’re willing to risk leading the way through unexplored territory.
If you’re not comfortable doing this yourself, seek out professional creative thinkers like the agency described above and ask them to help. Wrap people from businesses with different problems and perspectives into your brainstorming, and it won’t be long before you find yourself immersed in a mindspace where stale, predictable thinking gets transformed into creative new possibilities.
My definition of creativity is looking at the ordinary in extraordinary ways (including those odd angles). It's a lot like daydreaming, something society has long encouraged us not to do. Some of my most fruitful ideas come during long drives with my mind in idle. Taking a twenty-minute nap gets results, too, although it has taken me a long time to get over the guilt of interrupting a “workday” for a brief snooze.
I once wrote a speech about innovation for a client to deliver to an audience of execs at 3M, a company that remains one of Fortune’s most admired largely because of its ability to generate “crazy” new ideas, “innovative products that eat up share in what are basically commodity markets,” as the magazine once put it. 3M offers constant proof that creative thinking can pay off.
But the idea has to come first, and to spend time thinking (or pay someone else to do it) can seem crazy to those more accustomed to working inside the box. At one time, people thought powered flight was crazy.
“Heavier than air flying machines are impossible,” opined Lord Kelvin in 1985. Tell that to two bicycle repairmen brothers from Dayton who dared to imagine otherwise.
Albert Einstein once called imagination “the preview of coming attractions.” So why not get busy imagining your coming business attractions? Not creative?
Don’t believe that for a minute!
TakeAway: Take the risk of seeing, thinking and learning outside your comfort zone. The dividends can be extraordinary.
Content © by Brian E. Faulkner