For those of us who started our careers in the 80s or 90s, I bet most of us heard the phrase ‘You don’t have to be crazy to work here but it helps’ at least once from a potential employer as they painted the picture of their business as a ‘crazzzy place, full of crazzzy creative people’. Then you started work and within a short period, it was clear creativity was actually left to ‘the team in marketing’ – a team that had long given up being truly creative as their ideas had been deemed ‘too wacky for our customers’.
This continues to be far too common. While it’s true that most businesses want to be seen as hotbeds of creativity and innovation, the reality is when you get inside them the opposite is often true. In most cases, this not necessarily because there is a concerted effort to obstruct creativity, but rather a fundamental failure of imagination in the culture of that business – a lack of commitment and courage to put creativity and innovation at the heart of the business. Why? Because at the end of the day, sometimes it’s easier to pay lip service to an idea rather than be disciplined enough to constantly drive it.
However, today more than ever, innovative and creative thinking needs to be at the heart of all businesses - to help them compete, survive and indeed thrive in an ultra-competitive landscape that shows no signs of ever slowing down.
We see examples of this failure to commit to a ‘creative heart’ every month in that most brutal of competitive arenas - the high street – as old businesses with old business models fall week after week, month after month. BHS is one of the latest examples in this long line. If you put aside the widely reported issues around director dividends and pensions shortfall, you still have, or had, in my view, a business that sat in the middle lane, failing to give sufficient application to the levels of creativity or innovation needed to move it forward successfully.
Perhaps the saddest thing about the demise of BHS is that it’s a company that potentially has 11,000 creative individuals at its fingertips. 11,000 employees – who turned up every day, spoke to customers, received feedback, handled the good stock and the bad and thought about what could, should and would make the business better. I wonder whether anyone bothered to ask this creative majority what their solution to the problem of this underperforming business was. I doubt it.
Yet despite the doom in some sectors of the high street, some businesses continue to flourish. Why? In my view, it is in part because they have a commitment to ‘creativity with a purpose’ – constantly looking for new products, new markets, new customers and new ways to engage with these customers. They have committed to creativity and innovation and worked it into their DNA, so they sit at the centre of their business. And, for those of you thinking this is just wishful thinking and it’s just more to do with being at the right place at the right time, it’s not. It is absolutely possible to do so if you commit to creativity and take responsibility for it, build formalised processes for it and ensure it is aligned to the commercial reality of the business. In fact, if the former is done right, the latter will be a given.
Creativity is a serious commercial initiative that drives companies forward, enables innovation and helps them to succeed. Those businesses who have it at their hearts recognise that. After all, businesses by their very nature, all start with a creative idea from a founder who then wraps passion and commitment around it and makes it happen. The shame is that somewhere along the way, many businesses then lose the very thing that got them off the ground and made them so successful in the first place.
By Paul Spiers, Head of creative & digital services, AD Communications