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How to Jump-Start Creativity in 'Non-Creative' Cultures



INFLUENCER: Grey West's Bevan Mahaney on how to embrace openness in your business, no matter your field

How to Jump-Start Creativity in 'Non-Creative' Cultures

With so many industries being disrupted and reinvented overnight, you have to wonder: who’s next?

One day you’re an established leader and the next, a startup you’ve never heard of is owning the attention, affection and wallet of your consumer. While it’s happened in fields long associated with creativity – music, movies, television and advertising – disruption is also happening in industries you wouldn’t traditionally consider creative: pharmaceuticals, vitamins, feminine hygiene, mattresses, luggage and more.

Leaders in the 'non-creative' industries are most at-risk. And this is because your disruptors – the emerging competitors just beyond your rear-view – DO consider themselves creative.

And creativity always wins.

Perceptions of creativity are changing. Once, technologists were considered the people who manufactured the ideas dreamed up by 'real' creative talent. These days, the coders and the dreamers are one and the same. The marriage of left and right brain is increasingly more fruitful and successful.

This change in perception mandates self-reflection for industries that have never considered themselves creative. If creativity is not a part of your business model, now is the time to pause and make some change.

Cultural change is essential as creativity in your corporate culture is clutch for all businesses. No, we can't all watch YouTube videos, blast Drake and talk memes over oat milk-infused cold brews all day– but we can encourage creativity in small and hugely effective ways. To survive and thrive in today’s competitive landscape, you need to actively create space for creative thinking and problem-solving in your company. 

I work in a 101-year-old agency founded and continually reinvented on the value of creativity; I can feel everyday how the culture shapes ideas – defined by a sense of comfort with dramatic change. Here’s how to embrace this openness in your business, no matter your field. 

Eliminate Toxicity: Lose the naysayers. They kill creativity. Create a culture that encourages original thought by listening to everyone’s ideas. Yes, everyone. If someone makes fun or minimises another person’s thinking, get them out of the room – and probably out of the company. As a leader, you want to encourage different thinking and new ideas and that starts with mutual respect.

Be Transparent About Your Faults: Look at your company’s biggest business problems and share them with your teams. Talk about them. Encourage unusual problem-solving and be open to getting answers from anywhere. When your problems are salient you can begin to solve them from the inside out.

Domino’s 'Our Pizza Sucks' campaign is a prime example of success found through honesty. They called out their own product quality and they committed to change it. It worked. When you are honest about your failings, you build trust and likability. From there you can invite in new solutions.

Stop Rewarding Martyrdom: The at-all-hours of the day emailers, the lunchtime loyalists who never leave their desk. Reward boundaries, respect people’s personal lives and lead by example. Martyrdom doesn’t breed creativity. It saps energy and makes for lame coworkers.

Create Space for the Ridiculous: As a creative in the ad industry I understand deliverables and timelines. We all have to get things done and we don’t have time to be too ridiculous. Nevertheless, make time and create space for it. It’s worth it and it’s fun. While every meeting doesn’t have room for off-the-wall thinking, it’s imperative to have a space where you entertain unlikely solutions to old problems. Be a weirdo in thought and invite others to do the same.

Compensate New Thinking: New opportunity for your company comes when you compensate new ways of thinking. You have opened the door for people to speak up with creative solutions for old business problems, now reward them with incentives beyond the handshake. Good vibes and encouragement are important but if you want to show your people you’re serious about change, pay them for their ideas. You are bound to get a great return on your investment.

It’s simple really. If you’re a company that's open to creative ideas you are less likely to be disrupted. The next big idea might just come from within your team and when approached with new thinking, you and your team will be more receptive to new ideas that could drive new sales.

Creativity is not just valuable in every industry, it’s invaluable for staying cutting edge and keeping your people happy. Remind your team to be playful and use their imaginations while cultivating a culture that nurtures new kinds of thought. This is blatantly inherent in the companies shaping our current business landscape. You might find yourself looking forward to Monday morning when you know there’s more joy waiting for you and your team. Bye-bye, Sunday scaries.

This is a call to all industries, companies and leaders who don’t consider themselves creative: Reinvent your cultures to prioritise creativity, and YOU will be the disrupting force. It’s time to get on the offensive. 

Innovate, create or die. 

Bevan Mahaney is creative director at Grey West

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