The importance of collaboration, the need to listen to others, and the value of curiosity are all vital to ensuring creativity not just in oneself, but in a company’s culture.
These key topics, and more, were discussed at Inspiration, a conference about where ideas come from, how they can be expanded and developed, and how their impact can be maximised. The event, organised by Digital Doughnut, took place in London last month.
Inspiration opened with a session looking at the myths surrounding creativity from Dave Birss, editor-at-large and head of TV at marketing and media news site The Drum, and author of A User Guide to the Creative Mind. Creativity is “one of the least understood areas in academia and the business,” he said. One of his core beliefs is that anyone can be creative, but that a “fear of somebody being able to do it better than them” produces mental barriers.
Offices Are Toxic
Birss also warned that “offices are toxic” for creatives. His suggestion? “If you have creative people, get them out of there.”
This view was shared by Lazar Dzamic, head of brand planning at Google’s in-house creative team, ZOO. He stated that “we have managed, in the last 100 years, to turn companies into the worst place to be.”
Dzamic described his experiences as a Serbian immigrant, drawing parallels between immigration and creativity: “Innovation is a foreign land we have to go to”, but this “is a frightening prospect… and companies can be risk-averse”.
He advised anyone managing people who they want to be creative to give praise all the time, and to surround them with as many kinds of stimulus as possible.
Stimulation Is Vital
Another speaker who argued that stimulation is vital was Paul Bay, founder of marketing communications specialists citizenbay. According to him, the missing ingredient of inspiration and creativity is curiosity.
“Once you light the fire of curiosity, you put the brain in a state that’s more conducive to learning,” he said. He suggested: “Go and spend an hour a week discovering something you didn’t know.”
And Bay too warned that while business people are accepting that curiosity is good business sense, more often than not “companies are brilliant at shutting down curiosity before it even blossoms.”
There is something that companies can do, though. As Ben Pask, co-founder and director of marketing consultancy Rare Consulting explained, “people have ideas, and businesses don’t”, so the priority should be to support staff trying to innovate their business. But Rare’s surveys showed that “only 50 percent of people feel empowered, and 30 percent feel incentivised”. Therefore, he argued, “culture should be the first thought of any leader.”
Stepping Outside The Organisation
Unilever Foundry’s global marketing strategy director, Jeremy Basset, explained how Unilever tackled the issue of creativity head-on by working with others.
“We have to think fundamentally differently about how we collaborate,” he said. As such, The Unilever Foundry was formed to allow startups and creatives to pitch to Unilever on a variety of projects.
Basset recommended “giving a framework for inspiration… You have to give space, take educated risks, and collaborate.”
However, Fran Brosan, chairman of creative and technology agency Omobono, warned against the viewpoint that innovation necessarily needs to be revolutionary.
“I think we’re in this mindset that we’ve got to disrupt or die,” she said. Companies like Uber and Airbnb “didn’t exist before, and so have no legacy systems”, whereas other companies need to take their past into account and innovate step-by-step.
“Innovating in a business space is one of the most interesting areas we work in at the moment. Is it disruptive? Absolutely not, that’s the last thing we’d want to do.”
Listen To Every Voice
Companies should question whether they have “the right processes” for creativity, according to Julie Chakraverty, non-executive director and chairman of the innovation committee at global investment management group Aberdeen Asset Management.
“Each of you can enact real and durable change,” she told delegates. “Change the way you listen. Are you giving every voice around you time?”
The ability to listen to others was something that Denise McQuaid, group managing director of digital technology accelerator UP, also highlighted. Talking about her time working in China, she described learning from Buddhism and Confucianism, which “advocate harmony and difference”. And she realised that good management was “about listening and trying to see different viewpoints.”
“In today’s advancing technological world, we don’t take enough time to observe,” she said, “and we miss out on many creative opportunities.”
Discipline Is A Virtue
With so many channels to promote brands on, technologies to follow and things to learn, one can sometimes feel overwhelmed and worry that resources are not sufficient. But Ross Sleight, chief strategy officer of connected solutions company Somo, told attendees to value the importance of such restrictions. Constraints, from time to budget, force one to have discipline. He declared: “Discipline is a massive virtue.”
We can use constraints to our advantage, making tasks more manageable. For example, as a project gets “harder and harder, we procrastinate more because it’s painful”. The solution? To reduce the task to smaller pieces that are less painful to face.
“Massive constraints on a platform can actually be a huge virtue” he added, citing M-Pesa, a mobile-phone based money transfer and microfinancing service for developing regions that embraced the constraints of pre-smartphone devices to create a simple, stripped-back service used by millions.
The former lead guitarist of The Verve, Nick McCabe, reiterated this view of constraints, and in doing so harked back to Dave Birss’s opening point that anyone can be creative.
“I started off with very limited technique,” he said. “In certain aspects that has been one of my strengths. I’ve developed my own vernacular specific to my strengths.”
But the important thing to remember is that, as Birss says, creativity and talent should not simply be expected because you think you’re creative.
“It’s not easy. The most talented people work really, really hard”.