How to unlock creativity as a driver of success

Companies like Uber set the creativity standard that others aspire to achieve

Most business people are clear that creativity is an essential driver of success. Companies like AppleGoogleAmazonFacebookTwitter, Virgin, Tesla, and Uber set the standard that others aspire to achieve. Regular surveys of business leaders rate creativity as the most important characteristic their organisation needs to show. There’s very little disagreement: creativity is essential to business success.

Yet despite this consensus, a problem persists. Most organisations lack any understanding of how to embrace creativity as a high-level discipline. They have often been taught by business schools and the pressures of the market to follow an opposite path, in which creativity is classified as a risk that should be avoided or demoted to a peripheral concern. In a nutshell, businesses want to be creative but they don’t know how.

So here are the three fundamental keys to unlocking creativity as a driver of business success:

HAVE A BRAND IDEA

Long-winded, rational business strategy documents serve an important purpose, but they are not the basis of a creative organisation. Outside the company, often internally too, few care much for the 120 pages of charts, bullet points and generic statements on market leadership, superior customer service and suchlike. Creative organisations need a clearer, simpler and more compelling brand idea at their heart. The brand idea needs to engage the emotion of internal and external audiences and give purpose to the business. It needs to be something that provokes thought, inspires action and that everyone instantly understands. For Coca-Cola it is “Happiness”, for IBM it is a “Smarter Planet”. If you can’t sum up what your business is about in such simple terms as these, you are unlikely to achieve the focus and inspiration that a creative organisation needs.

DIFFERENTIATE

Many organisations live in a bubble and fail to take note of the context in which they sit. They talk about values such as quality, integrity and trust, forgetting that their competitors claim the exact same things. Many state their key differentiator to be their people, which even if it were true (it rarely is) is meaningless to external audiences. To be a creative organisation, you have to find a genuine point of difference that truly sets you apart. If you can’t find it in your current product and service mix, then do what Apple did: decide what you want it to be and build it in to future development. If it’s not possible to find true differentiation in your product, then build a differentiated personality, as Nike and IKEA have done.

BE BRAVE

Creativity is about the appetite a business demonstrates to continuously reinvent itself, go beyond or confound expectations and assumptions, and set new standards. To sponsor a man jumping from a helium balloon on the edge of space, as Red Bull has done, takes the kind of courage that few other organisations would embrace. This may be an extreme example, but unless you are prepared to push some boundaries and sometimes fail, you will never separate yourself from the crowd. You need to reject the bland and the ordinary and take some risks. A brave brand identity is often a good place to start.

 

First published in CityAM, 7 April 2015.