Why your business will never be creative

You won't be like Apple unless you change at the core, says creative consultant Jim Prior.

by Jim Prior
Last Updated: 17 Mar 2017

You’d love your company to be more like Apple. Or maybe Google, Tesla, Dyson, Amazon or some other trail-blazing, fast-growing, volatile-economy-defying, pin-up brand. Of course you would. The problem is you most likely won’t get what you wish for because you’re not prepared to do the things that are necessary to make it so. At least not if you’re like most leaders, that is.

Wanting to be a more innovative company is now evidence-based common sense. Creative companies are the new business benchmark. That’s where the growth is, where the money is and where the best talent wants to work. In survey after survey business leaders acknowledge creativity to be the most important quality their organization needs in order to succeed. They talk a great game to their shareholders, customers and staff about how the only winners in today’s world will be those that think fast and differently, that invent and disrupt, and that act creatively across every aspect of their work. 

But here’s the rub. The vast majority of these same leaders wholeheartedly fail to put into practice anything that delivers against that vision. It’s the biggest business dichotomy of our time: the thing that is most important to business success is the one thing that gets consistently ignored. Hindered by the narrow channels of their education and experience, and a fundamental lack of understanding of creative processes, far from promoting creativity in their organizations most leaders actively discourage it. It’s a double whammy problem: business leaders don’t know how to be creative, and, even when told, they lack the courage to act on what they hear.

Addressing this problem requires more than the triviality of a few brainstorming techniques and some funky furniture, as many articles on business creativity lazily espouse.  It requires a fundamental shift in organizational behaviour and leadership. If you want to be creative, you’re going to have to change from the core. Here are three key areas in which you will need to adapt:

Stop writing strategy and have an idea

Strategy proliferation is the grey goo of the corporate world. Generic statements that offer no distinction or differentiation, that are endlessly reinterpreted and reviewed across business units, are the comfort blanket of the unambitious manager. They are almost all a waste of time. A creative organization has something more powerful at its core. It has an idea. Ideas are quick to convey and understand and no more than a few words long. They go beyond stating what the firm does: they describe what it means. They inspire every decision and action the company takes. Yet they take great bravery to define and enforce. Unless you find courage for such single-mindedness, true creativity will forever be beyond your reach.

Invest in creativity at the expense of the mundane

Creativity doesn’t come for free. It needs investment in the right people, R&D and production, and it needs to be sustained over the long-term. Yet it so often falls at the first hurdle: We don’t have the budget’, is the common response. So, go find it. Take it out of your IT infrastructure plans, your company car upgrades, your travel budget, or your client entertainment spend. Creativity is more important than all of those things. You’d expect me to say this, I know, but fire your management consultancy (who are concerned with cost destruction) and hire a creative consultancy (value creation) instead. You need to break the paradigm that creativity is the last thing on your budget list and make it the first.

Challenge everything and be challenged yourself

It’s no coincidence that many of the world’s most creative companies are run by their founders. They know by instinct how creative companies behave. They are creative geniuses, which you, probably, are not. But you can adopt some of their approach. Lay out your vision and insist that everyone aligns with it. Set unreasonable expectations for the standards you expect your people to achieve. Get used to taking risks and dealing with occasional failure and learn to trust the conviction of creative people when they propose something that you feel uncomfortable with. If that doesn’t feel like you, then get used to the fact that you’ll never be the creative company you’d like to be.

Jim Prior is CEO of The Partners.

Image credit: Eric Kilby/Wikipedia

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