Why the c in c-suite should stand for creativity

Creative director at PR and integrated communications Herd MSL,Tom Sanders, says it is time the c-suite to demonstrate creativity when delivering ideas.

Creativity has been shown time and again to be a key driver of businesses success. Yet for all its impact on the bottom-line, it can still be a tough sell to the top of table.

Perhaps because it is too unpredictable and intangible, creativity is sometimes less of a focus for the C-suite than the immediate rewards of improving execution or driving efficiencies.

Yet reducing costs and streamlining processes can only go so far. With Australia predicted to drop out of the G20 in the next decade or so as emerging markets rapidly up-skill and innovate, it’s clear the entire country, not just corporations, need to find new ways to grow and prosper.

Rather than trying to cut corners, the c-suite needs to be trying to build new foundations. That means embracing creative thinking is crucial to securing Australia’s future prosperity.

Creativity is a word that’s thrown about all too easily

Sometimes it’s helpful to go back to basics. Creativity is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “the ability to produce or use original and unusual ideas.” We’re probably all comfortable with the first part of that definition – creativity as the production of fresh, unexpected thinking. That fits our stereotypical image of the crazy creative conjuring new ideas out of nowhere – and why many of us proclaim, all too falsely, that “I’m not a creative”.

But what about that second part – creativity as the ability to use those original and unusual ideas?

I think that’s the most interesting and neglected area. I often say that ideas are cheap. With the right prompting and a little bit of help, anyone can come up with a ‘creative’ idea. But what then? In my experience, having the ideas is the easy part. It’s making them happen that’s the real challenge.

To take an idea off a page and into reality requires a different kind of creativity – the vision and insight to see its potential and to understand not just why it makes sense but why it is worth investing in.

This interpretation of creativity – the ability to use original and unusual ideas – is the real opportunity for the c-suite. In that elevated circle, the pressure is less about having creative ideas (that’s what people like me are for!), and more about recognising and applying them.

That’s both the exciting opportunity and nerve-wracking tension of being the final decision maker. It means being asked to make decisions that go against the status quo and traditional ways of doing things. If you’re not careful, or not brave enough, that often means making the safe choice rather than the creative choice. Afterall, who wants to be responsible for not just rocking the boat but potentially capsizing it?

This isn’t the time to play it safe

In a volatile, dynamic, highly innovative world companies and their workforces are having to navigate the challenges of automation and technological disruption at blistering speed.

Personally, I have a motto; “better sorry than safe” and whilst that might be a bit radical for mainstream adoption it reflects my belief that success, in life and business, comes only from stepping outside of your comfort zone.

Afterall, industry disrupting business ideas such as smartphones, ride-sharing services and online streaming have all emerged from leaders who deployed or adapted existing technologies in new ways – their creativity was not their invention, but their implementation.

Not many people can excel in both idea generation and idea commercialisation – hence why large corporations often separate these two functions. But getting an idea ready to go to market takes time and money, and along the way it is all too easy for an original concept to be chipped away or diluted until it is only a shadow of its former glory. In this situation, the c-suite must demonstrate creativity in their determination to deliver ideas that remain true to the initial principles and ideas of their creators.

So how can anyone in the C-suite enhance their creativity when it comes to recognising and supporting creative ideas through the business and into the world?

I think there are four important skills to cultivate: 

Remove internal barriers
Creativity depends upon collaboration – which can diminish as a business adds people and projects. Adding layers tends not to build things higher, but instead weigh them down.

Remove bureaucracy and silos and encourage an entrepreneurial spirit that facilitates an exchange of ideas, learnings and shared responsibility for risk-taking.

Love your customer
To support a creative idea, you need to know why your customers will love it – even if they can’t tell you themselves. That means knowing them inside out. A truly creative company should be able to tell you first-hand about its customers, and where their products currently fit in their routine. If you understand their problems, you understand how your products and services can help solve them, in new and powerful ways.

Feel the need for speed
The world is moving faster than ever, and this isn’t a request to speed up for the sake of it. But how many opportunities are lost due to hesitancy or delay? If you turn ideas into action faster, then you create more opportunities to win. It’s important to note that this isn’t a blind forward march; rather, we’re talking progress with discipline and rigour, defining specific deliverables as opposed to vague goals, and making clear who is accountable for delivering them and when.

Adapt or try
We have defined creativity as the ability to use new ideas. That also means the ability to use new data and learnings gathered through the process and even post-launch. In this permanently Beta-world, launch is just the beginning of a process of obtaining marketplace feedback, which serves as the basis for ongoing evolution and improvement.

In a world awash with ideas, success belongs to those who know how to use them.

Australia’s c-suite, and the companies they manage, will thrive when they see creativity in terms of application not just innovation.


Tom Sanders is the creative director at Herd MSL.


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