How to be a more creative company

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Snapshot : It’s easier to talk about being a creative company, than it is to act like one. To be a more creative company, you need to encourage more people to think and work as creators. You need to minimise the impact of critics who set up road blocks to creativity. And, finally you need to recognise the many people are coasters, who can be more creative if you push the in the right direction. 

Businesses succeed when they come up with great ideas and turn them into actions that meet the needs of customers.

But often, generating creative thinking and managing creative approvals through your business can be a real challenge.

You need to work out how to influence and motivate people in your business who have very different views on creativity. That’s when you find out if you work in a creative company or not.

It might be innovation planning, or creating a new advertising campaign or setting up a new online store. Whatever it is, you need to persuade the people in your business that this new creative approach will work. 

Some people like to call it ‘stakeholder management.’ But, those same people like using words like ‘paradigm shift’ and ‘game changer’. 

Don’t be one of those people.

Stakeholder management is one of those management buzzword phrases that has hung around like a bad smell. It immediately drains the morale of anyone hearing it.

It’s as welcome as an Australian Prime Minister in the countryside at the moment. 

Think ‘people’ and not ‘stakeholders’.

Influencing people to do stuff is how you get things done in business. Who you need to influence is anyone who can help you bring an idea to life, or who can get in the way of an idea. 

Simple, right?

But wait a minute.

Challenges to being a more creative company

These people who “get in the way”, who are they and why do they do that?

Maybe it’s the factory manager. They tell you the production line is at full capacity and they can’t fit your new product in until next year.

Or maybe it’s the finance manager. They ask you  to justify your idea’s budget with a 3 month break-even plan so the P&L hits the next quarterly target. 

Maybe it’s even the IT and procurement teams? 

The ones who want you to see the business case for that piece of marketing technology. Or, who want to go through a formal Request For Proposal process to find a new marketing agency

These processes, systems and checks are all part of managing a business with rigour and preventing risk. But, as our article to creative problem solving covers, they’re idea killers to being a more creative company.

Hmm, not so simple.

The three types of responses to creativity

There are many different perspectives on creativity. Some come down to different creative personality types. Sometimes it’s your job role. Marketers for example deal with creativity regularly, but often have to explain it to non-marketers who don’t.

But the one we’re going to cover today, we call the 3C model of creativity. (not the most creative name, we know). This model is based on people’s openness and positivity towards new ideas. It splits people into 3 groups –  creators, critics and coasters.

Be a more creative company - Encourage creators

So we define creators (as opposed to creatives) as those people who come up with ideas and actions that grow your business.

They create new products or services with innovation.

They build relationships with new customers though advertising, public relations or CRM.

Or they create new sales and trade channels, either with new retailers or setting up an online store.

Creators are the catalysts for change. They’re the most vocal, most visible and most active at putting ideas on the table and bringing ideas to life. 

And yet, in most businesses, these champions of creativity are in the minority. Because the people with creator skills are free-thinkers who are flexible, agile and push the boundaries.

But these aren’t the values that many business encourage. In fact many so called creative companies actively discourage these behaviours.

(Check out our article on barriers to e-Commerce for an example on setting up a new online store).

Senior leaders and HR people in your business might say otherwise, but the realty is creators are risk-takers. And risk-takers struggle in the many businesses.

Creators challenge

Most creators we know who’ve got imagination and drive and creativity skills soon realise being creative within existing ‘set’ businesses is bloody hard work.

Those existing businesses have a history. They have a set of control mechanisms that make them the business they are today.

It’s that history and the control mechanisms that are generally the key barriers that stop creators bringing in new thinking to generate ideas that will make the business into something better tomorrow

Young child holding a blue paint tube and squeezing it out

Rules, processes and systems set up to defend the efficiency of the current business often prevent people working to set up the success of the future business.

So, evolutionary marketing innovations like new flavours for an existing product or new pack sizes for example, those might scrape through business stage-gates (which we’ll come to in a second). But only because they’re imitations of what’s gone before. 

Revolutionary change-the-model innovations rarely see the light of day. That’s because they run into the type of manager (and they’re usually managers) who are perpetual critics. 

Be a more creative company - Critics

The expression ‘everyone’s a critic’ (now we’re on to stage-gates) has never been more true than when you’re trying to navigate something new through a business and get people to approve it.

Many businesses call each stage of the approval process a gate. You get through the gate to get to the next stage.

A gate.

Think about it.

hand showing a thumbs down

Gates meetings don’t encourage creators to be creative. They encourage critics to put objections in the way of creativity. 

In theory, a way to make creative ideas stronger. But in reality, a way to kill most ideas. 

Because that’s the mindset you find in most ‘gate’ meetings. The onus is on finding ways to stop or prevent things happening. 

Have you researched your idea enough? Have you given the trade customer at least six months notice? Will it fit on their shelf? How much money will it make? How many people will it need? Is it better than what we’re doing now?

And on, and on, and on. A relentless barrage of questions from the critics in the business.

Prove us wrong they say. Let’s make sure the company doesn’t make mistakes. Make sure the proper control mechanisms are in place to protect the business from risk.

But businesses need to take risks in order to survive. Like the famous quote, a ship in harbour is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for. 

Facing the critics

Going into those stage-gate meetings as a ‘creator’ can feel like Luke Skywalker facing up to Darth Vader at the end of The Empire Strikes Back.

Where shortly before revealing the old Skywalker family tree, Darth (an obvious critic by the way) is throwing the weight of The Force at Luke.

Except when it comes to gate meetings, rather than bits of spaceship, its financial projection models and risk matrices that are getting thrown at you.

And before you know it, your idea’s slipping down into a deep dark hole.

Woman standing on stage telling a story to a large seated audience

Now, we’re not proposing a free for all and total anarchy in the way businesses and innovations and new campaigns operate. Some checks and balances are needed.

But if you look at what most businesses churn out in innovations and new campaigns, and how damn long it takes, surely there must be a way to reset the balance in favour of the creators over the critics?

To let business make managed marketing mistakes so they can learn from them. To assume it’s better to do something than to not do something. (see for example how Amazon manage this positive intent in our article on creative approval). 

We’re not averse to a bit of critical analysis ourselves, but always in the spirit of making innovation more likely to be successful.

And not in the spirit of turning new ideas into an organisational cul de sac to quietly die. And here’s where we come to our third group and where we think the real creativity war is won or lost. 

Be a more creative company - Coasters

Most critics in any business are unlikely to change. They’ve already gone over to the Dark Side.

They’ll see you trying to challenge them and their process or approvals as part of the ‘sport’ of them maintaining control over the business. 

You need to navigate past them, because you’ll struggle to ever change them.

But actually, you find in terms of pure quantity of people in a business, most people are neither creators or critics.

Blond woman partially hidden behind a leafy bush

Most of them are satisfied doing the job they were hired to do. It pays their mortgage and bills, they feel valued for their expertise when called upon and they enjoy the benefits the company throws their way.

Health insurance, company conferences, free booze or biscuits, whatever.

These are the ‘common people’ (thank you Jarvis Cocker) who keep businesses going. They keep their heads down when creators and critics clash with each other, because they dislike conflict. 

We call them the coasters.

Find out what coasters want

Continuity and consistency are the underlying motivations for these types. A savvy ‘creator’ will be able to tap into this motivation to help drive through necessary change.

Coasters like to follow processes. They like to generate the reports that need to be done. And attend the meetings and reviews that are embedded into the company culture. Predictability and certainty are key.

If you understand that, then that’s how you start to get their support for your new product or campaign.

Show how what you are proposing helps to support the continuity and consistency motives that underpin what coasters look for.

Invite them to a creative thinking session so they can see the value creativity in business brings. 

Show how you’re adding to a long-term business and brand story that will keep the wheels of the business turning into the future.

Highlight how NOT pushing through with marketing innovation threatens the future of the company.

Those are motivating and scary words to anyone coasting though the business.

But persuasive creators can use that motivation to build support for the change they want to deliver.

Yellow post it with illustration of a lightbulb pinned to a wooden pin board

So what’s our point?

Creators, critics and coasters is just one model to describe how people work with creativity. It’s a useful short-hand way to work out how to make your business a more creative company. 

Everyone has a bit of ‘creator’ in them at some point. And probably a bit of a ‘critic’ too. But in reality, most of us when we’re in big organisations spend our time coasting.

So, we’re all creators, critics and coasters at some point. We can’t change the critic behaviour, but we can aim to nudge coasters out of their comfort zone and bring out their creator side.

When you go into that ‘stage-gate’ meeting, ask them to decide which side they’re on. When you’re coasting and you spot someone actively being a creator, think about how to help.

Because the next time it might be you on the receiving end of one of the critics attacks.

Because if it’s your business and you have creators, critics and coasters, you know which one is most likely to help your business be a more creative company. 

Conclusion - how to be a more creative company

If you want to be a more creative company, it’s important you encourage the creators, minimise the impact of the critics and prod the coasters to be more supportive. 

We’ve got a lot of experience in how to bring better marketing innovation and creative thinking into business.

We live and breathe the creator profile, and love working with businesses to identify and develop this way of working. Contact us if you’d like to talk about how to be a more creative company.  

Photo credits

Confetti: Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash

Hand / Stop : Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash

Person holding light bulb : Photo by Fachy Marín on Unsplash

Kid squeezing paint tube : Photo by Dragos Gontariu on Unsplash

Thumbs down : Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Woman presenting on stage : Photo by Product School on Unsplash

Woman peeking out from bush : Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Bulb on Post it : Photo by AbsolutVision on Unsplash

Coffee Cup : Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

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