Working for the last 25+ years in the event industry, I’ve appreciated the privilege of collaborating with businesses of every shape, style, kind, and size.
The most important business driver I’ve discovered transcends all industries, every operating model, and permeates the most successful companies today, regardless of how big or small.
Worth thinking about for your own modus operandi, the concept of creativity in business, is likely one you haven’t examined from an operations standpoint. But hear me out.
The premise is simple, but at the same time huge:
If you have a business, you must create everyday.
That’s what I’m saying.
But not everyone understands the role or importance of “creator” in business or how it is part of great businesses on a day-to-day basis.
Hotly debated as far back as my early college days was the question of “learning” vs. “creating” in terms of both difficulty and necessity in the big bad business world.
Since then I’ve learned that creativity in business is even more important than I argued…way back before I ever started my career.
Beyond important, I contend that it is an everyday operation in doing good business and creating great business!
You’re thinking, maybe not. But in truth, yes, you must create, and you do. Here’re some basic examples:
- You create business by making sales,
- you create happiness by providing a positive customer experience,
- you create economic value by hiring people and buying materials,
- you create impact by contributing to environmental issues, charity events or by mentoring,
- you create meaning for what your business brings to people and why it’s important.
I could go on, but you get the point. You can easily see that part of the essence of doing top notch business requires that you create. But, how?
TaDa…that’s where creativity comes in.
Creativity on an individual basis and organizational levels are a key business driver and characteristic of the most innovative businesses.
Creating a Message that Communicates You
When you start a business, you first create a message giving information necessary to establish yourself.
You select the perfect name with thoughtful purpose. You brainstorm.
Your communications plan precisely presents:
- who you are,
- what you do; and,
- helps develop how people view you, both internally and externally.
What you communicate and how you communicate it becomes who you are. That’s fairly it. It’s that big!
Therefore, your communications efforts shoulder an enormous job to create a positive impression for your business.
Creativity in business begins before you open; creative intent factors into every phase along the way in building your image and brand, consistently.
Formulating a solid and original content strategy reflecting this creative intent at all levels of communications is integral to your success.
Developing a strong Mission/Vision/Values, or “Statement of Purpose” provides focus and direction to drive business from its initial stages. A cornerstone piece, this business framework is often your most significant creation of all.
It becomes the beaming mothership to pinpoint your focus. And to draw on, mapping a clear vision to guide business operations.
So, write this down. For real!
Written strategies get 60% better results, so make sure your MVV and content marketing plans are written, posted, shared, and understood by all.
BIG NOTE: Of course you will always adapt, evolve, and change to survive and grow in today’s business landscape. I’m not saying to chisel strategies in stone. Testing, evaluating and improving your business is a critical, ongoing process.
But There’s Way More to Creativity in Business than just Effective Communications
For example, sometimes creativity stems from thinking on your feet, surfaces in the face of adversity, or comes about in order to offer more value to a customer. Do you have a story based on these scenarios? I know I have many!
Keeping an open mind induces creativity because ideas are more likely to be considered or even expanded upon rather than shut down automatically.
Ann Handley expresses “creative people know that creativity finds expression in many ways” in this article where she talks about imagination and creativity and how they are essential components of innovation in organizations.
Innovation is a transformation that stems from creativity. Without those who can imagine the unimaginable, innovative changes, progress, inventions, and disruptive technologies would never occur or perhaps would occur at a much slower pace.
Innovation is, in some respects, a culmination of creativity that builds upon itself and becomes greater and greater. Stacking ideas adds to an innovation all along the way, from concept to the introduction, and beyond.
As an example, think of brands who have added “New and Improved” to a product to expand its value or extend, even reignite, the sales cycle. Or maybe to pick up a new audience for a product, allowing it additional growth and new sales.
Ideas Come from Every Which Where
Finding ideas all around you, listening to various sources, and not discounting other perspectives cultivates creativity as well. And acceptance.
Social media and content marketing have led to a more consumer-driven product and company in today’s marketplace. Another call for innovation.
So, companies have learned to embrace an audience’s voice to guide products/product development and innovation. They are under greater pressure than ever to meet customer needs or suffer a very public social media kind of forum raging against it.
Marketing to someone has become marketing with them. Creativity is needed, and found, in this arena of companies large and small each and every single day.
GoPro is the perfect example of audience/customer participation in advancing their huge growth and marketing of this cool product. Users using it. That’s the interesting spin and a pretty innovative way to sell.
Customers are the sales persons and in so many WOW ways that GoPro probably couldn’t produce or buy this perspective from the inside/out. Unique. Successful. And as innovative as the product itself.
Not only does the site include the GoPro Channel to view it in use, but it also offers GoPro Shop by Activity to bring users a custom fit in a user-friendly way. Talk about adopting an all-about-YOU mentality on what is mainly a business and sales portal.
Finding Silence Leads to Creativity
Sometimes creativity comes from silence. Silence in our over-stimulated world and brains can be hard to find but sweet for the spirit, helping creative thoughts formulate.
I have some of my best creative ideas in the shower. Or flying along on the boat in the wind.
Or swimming in a free open space that feels like I can swim and float for miles with no parameters. Or taking a spin in a summer evening’s breeze in my mom’s convertible, even in my car with the radio blasting and the sunroof open.
All of these are times of silence for my brain, relaxing in some way, and I think that’s why so many great and free flowing ideas come to me in these scenarios.
Stimulating creative flow begins within the human brain, sprouts from ideas, thinking, brainstorming and other techniques but begins as a single thread or thought “seed” from a person.
This book, though old, is still a relevant read examining the origin of ideas, step one in the creative process:
A Technique for Producing Ideas by James Webb Young
If you want a synopsis and not the whole read, here you go.
99u.com will show you 10 awesome videos on “execution of the creative process” and a great conference recap, Tap Into your Creative Genius, for more information. Tanner Christensen introduces the recap saying:
Creativity is not just an opportunity, it’s a responsibility that each of us has as entrepreneurs and creators. To tap into it, we must deeply analyze our creative process, and nothing should be off the table.”
I try to remember to have an “attitude of gratitude” to spin my thinking in a positive way. Negativity, like stress, is not conducive to this process, generally. I also tell myself, no matter what is going wrong or how bad it seems, someone else has it worse. Always.
Thinking about that statement always brings you back to looking at the good stuff and not concentrating on the bad, which only drains the soul, spirit and ideas, anyway.
Some people keep a daily “things to be thankful for” list, journal, meditate, run/walk, carve out time for family, exercise or do other decompressing activities to stay fresh and positive.
Whatever works best for you. Declutter, clear and open your mind, as a practice.
Bottom line. Everything starts at a source. Begins with someone. Starts with YOU. And grows.
Taking Creativity Up a Notch
To embrace creativity in the workplace (as a standard practice), start with accepting the individual creative soul, and ensure every person has a voice. Easier said than done of course.
Less vertical companies probably offer a culture more conducive to embracing this process in a more open and everyday way, by design.
But founders and leaders influence the successful cultivation of people to draw out creative impact their companies make on the world, or at least on their core audience. (I’m mentioning your audience because you can be a best company, and yet the world doesn’t know you, but your audience sure does!)
Creativity becomes a value-added part of your business if you look at it this way. How can companies curate the growth of much-needed creative endeavors as a business process?
I’m going to show you approaches on three (3) levels for growing creativity to use, enact, and adopt as practices for your business from the examples or discussion in each area.
- Working Approach. Inspired by writer Anne Lamott from her book on writing, “Bird by Bird,” this approach helps to grow, develop, and evolve individual insight into group action.
- Group Approach. “Firestarters” is a “Think with Google” program and everyone knows the Google Empire is certainly an example of “working creativity.” (Here’s a look at Alphabet and Google leader Larry Page, written by James Altucher, to prove my point.) So borrowing from their recent agenda, this approach will look at creativity from a constraints perspective. I pick this example for discussion in a group context to help you combat “NO” and other naysayer events.
- “Cause and Effect” Approach. This approach embraces cause/effect programming that demonstrates what I’ll call “creativity outreach” that extends to the community, and back again. Websmith Group, a woman-owned software solutions company from Virginia, USA is a small shining example. Promoting education, collaboration and ideation for students, company, and the community is what they do by producing creativity and opportunity too, in a pretty creative way.
Creativity Starts with YOU: a Working Approach
Finding creativity is easier than you may think. It’s all around you. But you have to have an open mind, and heart possibly too, to find and absorb it, making it part of life and work operations.
Ideas, innovation, creativity—start small. With collaboration and work, they grow and flourish.
So to mesh the individual and group effort for an organization, I’ve put together a plan for you to follow. But first, meet the inspiration for my proposed plan.
I can’t help but think of Anne Lamott’s, “Bird by Bird” when I think about creativity. Yes, the book is mostly about the writing process but a key part of the discussion is about ideas and creativity.
I particularly like how Anne coaxes you in her story to look at the world from different perspectives, to pull yourself from your own being—needs and indulgences—and to find empathy outside of yourself.
She tells quirky stories to explain her point saying things like, “You need your broccoli in order to write well. Otherwise you’re going to sit down in the morning and have only your rational mind to guide you.” [to sum up a story about using what you know is really real]
“Take the attitude that what you are thinking and feeling is valuable stuff, then be naïve enough to get it all down on paper,” she says about creating authentic voice and story in writing. Clearly this parallels finding seeds of ideas and peeks creativity, in general. Use this.
Anne talks about opening yourself to your surroundings, noticing everything and everyone around you, stepping back to observe and take things in. She calls curiosity a writer/creator’s asset and learning, fuel. These same attitudes invite thoughts, questions, and ideas and lead to creativity in a person, writer or otherwise.
Here’s an excerpt from the Chapter entitled, “Some Instructions on Writing and Life” and the essence of this passage feels to me completely essential to opening the doors to seeking, allowing in, and finding creativity for the individual.
I honestly think in order to be a writer, you have to learn to be reverent. If not, why are you writing? Why are you here? Let’s think of reverence as awe, as presence in and openness to the world. The alternative is that we stultify, we shut down. Think of those times when you’ve read prose or poetry that is presented in such a way that you have a fleeting sense of being startled by beauty or insight, by a glimpse into someone’s soul. All of a sudden everything seems to fit together or at least to have some meaning for a moment. This is our goal as writers, I think; to help others have this sense of—please forgive me—wonder, of seeing things anew, things that can catch us off guard, that break in on our small, bordered worlds. When this happens, everything feels more spacious…
…There is ecstasy in paying attention. You can get into a kind of Wordsworthian openness to the world, where you see in everything the essence of holiness, a sign that God is implicit in all of creation. Or maybe you are not predisposed to see the world sacramentally, to see everything as an outward and visible sign of inward, invisible grace. This does not mean that you are worthless Philistine scum. Anyone who wants to can be surprised by the beauty or pain of the natural world, of the human mind and heart, and can try to capture just that—the details, the nuance, what is. If you start to look around, you will start to see.” Anne Lamott, “Bird by Bird.”
Adopting a like mindset for members in a group, company, business unit, or division enhances openness to others, idea acceptance, and an environment to cultivate open thinking.
Further, Anne talks about how embracing mistakes opens the door for new thinking. She says this:
“Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend.”
Messes, problems, situations, I think, are all drivers for creativity and solving “messes” brings out innovations and other creative solutions, especially in businesses.
Finally, I’m reframing a formula (for fiction writing) from the book to give you a process allowing for an open forum and flow for:
- Ideation creation building
- data-driven development
- plan and strategy
- execution and
for a useable system to use to embrace creativity.
I created a Piktochart for you to show this ABDCE (no typo) Formula for Creativity, a Working Approach in a simple, easy to follow and use, outline:
Notice the graphic at the bottom of the chart. It solidifies the process that I am identifying in a more scientific presentation for those of you who prefer more science in methodology.
Check out: Whole Brain Thinking Skills for Creativity & Innovation by Linda Naiman, founder of Creativity at Work for a deeper understanding.
In the article, she states the scope, perfectly, “Creativity is a core competency for leaders and managers, and a crucial component of the innovation equation. Creativity requires whole-brain thinking; right-brain imagination, artistry, and intuition, plus left-brain logic and planning.”
Or better yet, read What is Creativity? on Linda’s site where she breaks it down by talking about creativity, innovation, and finally, creativity and economic development, reflecting one of my main points here.
This graphic, from the first article, is attributed to Dan Pink. Thank you, Linda Naiman, for some great insight and for highlighting Dan’s book in your “whole brain” discussion.
Firing It Up: a Group Approach
Taking it up from the individual to a group is a little trickier than just finding and embracing creativity in terms of ideas, thoughts and possibilities.
It’s more than working with a formula, like the ones above, to roadmap a way to successful outcomes.
It means mixing people.
And people have their various skills and abilities, personalities, quirks, biases, backgrounds and so on and so on. A mindset to be part of, and open to, a creative process must be shared by your people.
Unwillingness on any one person’s part can be a detriment. To cement the quality of creativity, starting in the mind of the individual, and postured to grow from there, read these from the “Creativity Portal:”
Now, let’s hop back to the reality of the situation, you know, the real world of businesses and organizations, worldwide, of every size and shape. They want to embrace creativity but offer a truckload of naysayers, corporate starch, and constraints to thwart the process at every turn.
Back to Michael Mihalko, (you can get lost on his site for days) I transition to this next discussion, with a quote from the above-noted work:
…the world is largely in your mind. It’s how you think, how you dream, that determines how you see and perceive things. Life is not about waiting for storms to pass, it’s about learning how to dance in the rain.”
To Dance in the Rain!
If I were to subscribe to the idea of constraints in business, I wouldn’t be in business this long.
Some of my most highly creative and lowest cost accomplishments in operating a business over a 25-year span have derived from what seemed to be at times, overwhelming constraints. But here I am, with many stories to tell!
Anyway, constraints can be, well, constraining. And worse, can choke the life out of creativity in an enterprise.
So, I present my findings, via “Think With Google.” (remember I called them an example of “working creativity?”) Their “Firestarters” program (under “creative” tab) showcased a source that supports my thinking and offers a lot of information on how you can use constraints as an asset and change naysayers to have more of a “hell yeah!” attitude.
Integrating some of this information with the above approach may yield an even better solution to use for creativity in your work.
This is an introductory statement for what the book is about:
We live in a world of seemingly ever–increasing constraints, driven as much by an over–abundance of choices and connections as by a scarcity of time and resources. How we respond to these constraints is one of the most important issues of our time, and will be a large determinant of our future progress as people, businesses and citizens of our planet.”
Their premise is to change “apparent constraints into sources of possibility and advantage” and they offer a process around METHOD, MINDSET, and MOTIVATION to do so.
This graphic gives you an outline of the technique they introduce:
The “Firestarters” interview with the writers narrows the book’s core concepts to 3 and I think they represent a useful starting point to consider in keeping innovation at the top of your business to-do-list. (You may want to pick the book up and get more “to do” and “how to” pieces for the full story.)
3 Core Concepts
The first: Ask Compelling Questions.
Personally, I am a fan of questions. I think they lead to improvement by default.
Adam Morgan explained it like this, “Propelling Questions are meant to propel you out of your habitual behaviors. A Propelling Question is a bold ambition explicitly coupled with a significant constraint.”
I love the “propel you out of habitual behaviors” part. Also, I think the more questions you ask, the deeper you will get in covering the topic or idea at hand.
Next: Adopt a “Can-if” Answers Attitude.
The idea is to change focus for finding what’s possible, as in, starting the conversation with “we can do that if…” rather than “we can’t do that because…” Promoting a focus on possible outcomes and reframing thinking and attitude in a habit changing way will impact forward thinking, creativity, and innovation.
I find this to be absolutely the case, in my experiences.
Finally: Create Abundance.
The last concept speaks to “abundance” and suggests that we use our core competencies, business properties and, most importantly, our people assets and strengths to make progress in our actions to turn constraints into positive and forward-moving capabilities for business and business services.
It’s about creating abundance from what you have, uniquely, to work with, and making an impact, despite constraints. Use abundance creation to build, progress and grow, that’s the objective, overall.
Cause and Effect Approach
“Creativity Outreach” is the final aspect of creativity I want to touch on. It’s the next natural step in taking your creative endeavors and innovations LIVE.
For most businesses, this is about introducing the finished product (of their creative input, new ideas, and innovations) to the world, and in particular, to their customers and prospects.
But mostly these initiatives, although beneficial to those you do business with, are about you.
For example: Adding value, differentiating your brand, innovating new features. Or unveiling upgraded products or versions, streamlining processes, cutting costs, enhancing the user experience, etc. are objectives set to better the company/product/brand, to grow, to increase sales, to enhance your business image, and so on.
But I think there’s more to think about.
Many businesses do create and innovate to better the world, to help people, to cure illnesses, to forward green causes and more, but sustaining, or increasing, the business itself is often the central purpose of creativity for business.
That’s why WebSmith Group, a US software developer, is an interesting example, albeit on a smaller scale, for the important point I want to make. Here’s why.
WebSmith Group keenly focuses on what I think of as the Holy Grail in business: customers. They boast stats on customer retention and referral rates above the national average for high-tech firms for the last eleven (11) years. Wow!
I like this statement on their homepage:
Do you have an innovative idea that could transform your business? Partner with us to make your idea a reality.”
CEO, Kishau Rogers, smartly has her eye on “the customer experience” as a “key brand differentiator” and strongly recognizes how technology can be used to increase quality in interactions with clients, deepening customer relationships.
To me, every business discussion, whether it be about marketing, research and development, technology and yes, even creativity, circles back to the life force of business, or customers.
Beyond that clear customer service focus, the WebSmith Group does something else, something more, as an outreach program that ties in with their core statement of purpose (shown above) to students and the community.
The WebSmith Studio is creativity and sharing and technology all rolled in one. The think tank style studio is set up as “…a maker space for public use to unleash curious thinkers and promote (the) availability of technology to the underserved members of the technology community.”
The studio also celebrates, promotes and encourages collaboration with a “scientifically designed” space as “an incubator to foster innovative ideas for employees, the community and all students of technology. The studio will be located in (the) Websmith Group office (Richmond, Virginia) and will house cutting edge software and hardware for studio users to test, break, and build.”
I love this.
And I hope this gives you a complete picture of creativity as truly, an everyday job in business, from the individual to within the spectrum of a group to businesses and out the door.
Are you thinking about getting more creative in your business? I think it’s a brilliant idea:)