Creativity leads to competitive advantages. So how do you create the perfect conditions to encourage it?

Creativity in Business – Be Disruptive

Creativity is a mythical concept that appears to be out of reach for the common man or woman. It’s achieved by geniuses that only the likes of Picasso, Prince or The Rolling Stones can reach. It’s ethereal, magical, the stuff of pixie dust and unicorns. But did you ever stop to think why we think of creativity this way? Why do we believe that it’s only for the touched few, the mad geniuses? We’ll let you in on a little secret. Anyone can be creative. Here are some thoughts on creativity in business.

Some Context

The Renaissance was a period of cultural, philosophical and artistic revolution, birthed as a backlash to the Dark Ages, where some of the most outstanding creatives of human history, from Leonardo da Vinci to Galileo to William Shakespeare, emerged. And EVERYONE, from stone carvers to mathematicians, had the opportunity to infuse their work with innovation and personality.

But with industrialization came the mechanization of work and the loss of a personal and creative approach to one’s work. Today, people are too busy doing and selling to think about the opportunity to do something creative. We just assume that somewhere in the world, there’s an invisible army making the product you’re selling that some lucky creative locked up in an ivory tower dreamt up. Meanwhile, you’re busy marketing to the masses, and you don’t have the time, or opportunity, to make your mark.

The result? Work is not satisfying. People do it for the paycheque. And society romanticizes the lucky few who get to call themselves “creatives” – Banksy, Kanye, Bowie, Scorsese. How could there possibly be room for creativity in your life when you’ve got these creative geniuses hanging over you?

How to become a creative genius

Creativity is the freedom to use one’s imagination to devise an arresting new idea or a product that buyers find useful. And despite popular belief, creativity can be achieved by anyone. You just need the mindset and discipline to make it happen. Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers: The Story of Success, talks about how studies show 10,000 hours (three hours a day, 20 hours a week, of practice over ten years) is the formula that makes someone a world-class expert in their field. Before the Beatles were an international hit, they’d performed live over 1,200 times. We’re not saying you need to spend 10,000 hours on becoming a creative genius. But you can adapt some of the characteristics and disciplines that known creatives use and start implementing them yourself.

  • Retire humility. Leave your modesty at the door. You must have a lack of regard for what other people think about your wild ideas. Do not be afraid to appear silly.
  • Be audacious. You must be brave and courageous, perhaps even belligerent, to eliminate the noise and have people take notice.
  • Understand resilience. You need to have a higher risk tolerance for failure and criticism than the average joe. Learn from your mistakes and ignore the critics.
  • Question everything. Why are things done the way they are? Can they be done differently? Better? Have a curious mind and explore other possibilities.
  • Solve problems. Stop complaining and start thinking about how to change something. And don’t stop at one solution. Think of ten different ways you can fix it.
  • Embrace innovation. Let’s face it. Being innovative is a sexy way to label someone who’s offbeat, peculiar, maybe even a little strange. Let your geek flag fly.
  • Exhibit tenacity. Respond to challenges. Don’t let problems stress you out or back down and keep moving your ideas forward.

Creativity also needs a set of disciplines

  • Become a cultural connoisseur. And don’t just limit yourself to what you specialize in. Learn what the greats in various sectors are doing – art, music, cars, clothes, movies, gaming, science. You might be pleasantly surprised and find what works in one area could work for yours.
  • Establish routines. Get the simple stuff out of the way (plan work, meals, clothes, workouts, cleaning ahead of time) to give your brain the freedom to roam while you execute routine tasks. Great ideas are bound to come when you’re walking, in the shower or folding laundry.
  • Look at the world differently. Look for red objects when you’re out on your daily walk, then look for blue articles the next day. Ask your three-year-old to help with a work problem. By switching your focus up, you’ll start to notice things you wouldn’t usually see.
  • Have the right mindset. Believe you can do it. Know that with a little practice, you can tap into those creative juices and watch them flow.
  • Put in the work. Bring a deliberate, focused effort to your creative endeavours. Through pig-headed determination, you’ll start to notice a difference.
  • Put in the time. Perseverance and drive are what all the greats have in common. Mozart reportedly clocked 3500 hours on the piano by the age of six. It will take grit to stay on the same path for years, but you can do it if you have all of the above disciplines.

Why creativity in your business is important

To be competitive, businesses need to stand out and be different. Being distinct is ever more critical these days as consumers choose an experience, rather than just a soulless product or service.

Market disruptors are competitive by understanding how to appeal to consumers, completely transforming a product or solution and overturning established markets. Think about how Airbnb rattled the hotel industry, how Netflix disturbed video stores and cable subscriptions, and how Skype revolutionized telecommunications. What these disruptors have in common is they looked at their business from the eyes of their buyers. They hedged their bets on solving problems for consumers (can’t find a hotel room, hate commercials, long-distance is too expensive) by turning complications into opportunities. They didn’t exercise witchcraft – they harnessed creativity and applied a disciplined approach to get it done.

How to take a creative approach to your business

Creativity is not a luxury – it’s a necessity. And it’s not the exclusive domain of the marketing department (though they’d like you to think it is). Creativity belongs in the fabric of your business. It should be the core driver that enables everyone to look for opportunities to solve your customers’ problems. This is what sets you apart in the marketplace. To compete, or better yet, become a disruptor, businesses need a creative culture where people are looking to solve problems, rather than carry out their job duties. This is another thing the disruptors have in common: they allow people to do their best work by giving them permission to look for ways to disrupt the market, rather than just blend in.

So how do you make that happen? You can’t just install a foosball table in the lunchroom and expect the good ideas to start rolling. Here are some considerations:

  • Do you allow people to be creative, or do you expect them to colour within the lines?
  • Are you hiring the right people with the creative characteristics and disciplines we discussed above? Other factors to look for include unusual backgrounds, unrelated experience, and highly observant people who question things and take risks.
  • Are you doing what’s necessary to promote and retain them? You’ll need to create the right environment for creativity to flourish by allowing people to be themselves and give them broad briefs without too many rules or restrictions.
  • Do you measure creativity as a performance indicator?
  • Do you stand out enough to even attract these people?

Give your company a bright future

To stand out and attract the right people to inspire disruption and stand out in the marketplace, creativity must become your unique value proposition, and this is where branding comes in. Join the disrupters and discover how an authentic and unique brand will bring you out of the Dark Ages and inspire a creative renaissance in your business.