What is creativity? Simply put, creativity is the process by which something new is formed. It could be anything: an idea, a scientific theory, a joke, a book, a painting, an invention, a song, a sculpture… The list is literally endless. But when we think of creativity, our default thinking is usually to assume that creativity is only about the tangible: the novels, art and crafting physical things, rather than the purity of an intangible idea.
This week on the blog, we’re looking at how creativity (the intangible kind) can be a potent and powerful force for your business – but only when wielded correctly. We’ll also explore how you can engender and harness creativity successfully.
The power of constant improvement
First, let’s review the why – why does creativity matter?
You might think that creativity has a place in business: In marketing, research and development. And you’d be right. But where you might be wrong is in restricting it to specific disciplines. Take for example, accounting. A lot of managers would not consider accounting a creative endeavour. But every accounting technique employed by your team is an invention. Every process your accountant uses to make things run smoother was created by someone.
The real truth of creativity is that when it is fostered, it creates continuous, self-perpetuating improvement – no matter your discipline, trade, or area of expertise. Every idea that gets put into action is the result of creativity, and every successful idea has a positive impact on how your business is run.
Sometimes these gains are small, but small change adds up over time. Compare a company which has implemented new small new ideas even once a quarter, to a company which has stood still for years, and you’ll see how rewarding small changes can be. Creativity is like a steady flow of water, which carves through strong rocks over time and finds paths back to the ocean of success.
Another valuable reason to encourage creativity is resilience. Yes, this is the bit where I talk about the pandemic. But if ever there was a year that showcased and highlighted the importance of resilience, it was 2020.
Whether your business was hit hard, or had a relatively easy time of it, COVID-19 demonstrated that drastic, dangerous change is always possible. The companies that survived the worst of it are the ones that had the most creative solutions, whether that was changing their operational workflows, their customer engagement, or pivoting their business model altogether.
Another reason to be creative is that it is the only way to arrive at a unique (or more likely, unique enough) proposition. In Etch’s Play division, we work with games publishers, who are confronted with the reality that hundreds of games launch every month and simply launching a good game is not enough.
Creativity powers every decision that can and should enable you to stand out. Whether it’s an elaborate marketing campaign, a strategy for your product launch, or even a rare and intriguing aspect of your product itself.
Creativity is not enough
All in all, creativity sounds like a silver bullet. But while it is something to be encouraged, and grown, creativity doesn’t pay dividends unless it is enacted. If you have ideas but do not act on them, that is wasted creativity.
There’s also something to be said for creativity with restraint. While your staff may enjoy taking the gloves off and coming up with fanciful, bold, radical ideas (who doesn’t?) the truth is that unless someone steps up and gets them done, they have little to no merit. Even an idea which turns out to be an abject failure in reality has more value than a good idea which never gets enacted.
“In business, originality isn’t enough. To be creative, an idea must also be appropriate—useful and actionable. It must somehow influence the way business gets done—by improving a product, for instance, or by opening up a new way to approach a process.” [Source: Harvard Business Review]
It’s a slippery slope that some companies fail to avoid. Ted Levitt’s article puts it best: “By failing to take into account practical matters of implementation, big thinkers can inspire organizational cultures dedicated to abstract chatter rather than purposeful action”
How to be more creative
Tips for individuals
Adapted from the Innovators DNA, there are five key traits to being creative. And yes, you can practice them, learn them, and become creative, even if you don’t currently think of yourself as a creative person.
- Associating: drawing connections between questions, problems, or ideas from unrelated fields
- Questioning: posing queries that challenge common wisdom
- Observing: scrutinizing the behaviour of customers, suppliers, and competitors to identify new ways of doing things. The customer defines a job well done.
- Networking: meeting people with different ideas and perspectives. But always know when to work alone and when to work together.
- Experimenting: constructing interactive experiences and provoking unorthodox responses to see what insights emerge
Tips for managers and leaders
Avoid homogenous teams – when teams with different backgrounds, perspectives and approaches to work get together, creativity is increased exponentially. Think of the team like a chemistry set; putting all of the same elements together might be a smooth process, but it won’t produce any interesting new reactions.
Acknowledge innovative efforts. Even unsuccessful ones – as I said before, most dead ends have a ‘failure value’, providing lessons or enlightenment about an approach.
Reduce negativity towards new ideas – Studies show that being critical at work correlates with personal professional success. It makes people see us as strong, deep thinkers. But in reality, the strongest thing you can do is support others. Don’t be dismissive of new ideas when they arrive, try to actually consider them. And always remember the timeless quote from Grace Hopper, a pioneer of computer science:
“The most damaging phrase in the language is ‘We’ve always done it this way’.”
Tips for organisations
Organisations looking to inspire, and foster creativity should consider the 4Ps of creativity: Person, Process, Product and Press.
Person refers to... People! Treat each person as a potential entrepreneur and empower them to action their creative ideas.
Process is about how we think – are there ways you can encourage people to think in more creative ways? This may include formal spaces for creativity, or it might involve encouraging the creative attributes listed in the “Tips for individuals” section above.
Product means outcomes. Always remember that the most valuable creativity is that which comes to fruition and produces an actual, measurable, end result.
Lastly, Press refers to the environment and whether it pushes for creativity or inhibits it. Tackling this P might mean a rethink of your organisational structure, to better empower your leaders to meet the tips in the section above.
Conclusion: Creative offence is the best form of creative defence
Creating and fostering a culture of creativity will help to encourage and maintain creativity in any organisation. This is clearly hard work, but there’s a huge payoff. Creativity has the power to radically transform your business. Being committed to deliberate creativity can turn failure into success. It can bolster and improve whatever gains you’ve made so far. It can even save your business from dire and unforeseen circumstances.
In fact, creativity is seen as a winning formula for businesses to boost value and growth, because creativity is at the heart of business innovation, and innovation is the engine for growth. This is backed up in the numbers too; looking at financial results of companies with a top Award Creativity Score, 67% of those had above-average organic revenue growth, whilst 74% had above-average net enterprise value.
Creativity can therefore be a potent and powerful force for your business – but only when wielded correctly. And whilst we’ve explored how to engender and harness creativity successfully, those businesses who’ve managed to foster a culture of creativity will have the biggest impact to their bottom line.
“Creativity gives you a competitive advantage by adding value to your service or product, and differentiating your business from the competition.”
This article was written by Adam Burt, Senior Developer for Etch Play, a creative team of designers and builders of digital experiences and products dedicated to the games sector. For more information about their services, or to discuss a creative solution to your business need or problem, get in touch.