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How to be a more creative company

Inside a concept hall, lots of confetti flying in air, with audience reaching out their hands towards it

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Why read this? : We share some of the challenges of becoming a more creative company. People can approach creativity in different ways. We share how to encourage creators, and minimise the impact of critics. And we share how to get most out of those who like to sit on the fence. Read this for ideas on how to be a more creative company. 

Great ideas and actions which meet customer needs are how businesses grow.

But often, generating ideas and getting them approved can be a real challenge.

People have different views on creativity. That will include the people in your business you need to influence and motivate to be creative. 

The types of people you have in your business determine how much of a creative company you are.

Inside a concept hall, lots of confetti flying in air, with audience reaching out their hands towards it

It might be innovation planning, creating new advertising or setting up an online store. Whatever the creative new idea is, you need to persuade the people in your business that it’ll work. 

Some call this ‘stakeholder management.’ But, they’re the same people who like using words like ‘paradigm shift’ and ‘game changer’. 

Don’t be one of those people.

Stakeholder management is a terrible management buzzword phrase which has hung around too long. It’s a real energy drainer. And it’s about as welcome as an Australian Prime Minister in the countryside right now. 

Think ‘people’. 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 anyone likely to 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. 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 to prevent risk. But, as our creative problem solving article shows, they don’t help you become a more creative company.

Hmm, not so simple.

The 3 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.

The creative company - Creators

We define creators (as opposed to creatives) as those people who come up with new ideas and actions which grow the business.

They lead your innovation process by creating new products and services.

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

Or they create new sales and trade channels, such as 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. 

They’re positive and helpful in idea generation workshops. They regularly check consumer trends for new ideas to help customers. 

And yet, in most businesses, creators are in the minority. They’re free-thinkers who are flexible, agile and push the boundaries. But these aren’t the behaviours most businesses encourage. In fact many actively discourage people from doing these things.

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

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

Creators challenge

Most creators we know soon realise being creative within existing ‘set’ businesses is hard work.

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

But it’s that history and those control mechanisms which stop creators bringing in new thinking to make the business into something better tomorrow

Current rules, processes and systems which drive efficiency of the current business often get in the way of creative ideas needed for future success.

Young child holding a blue paint tube and squeezing it out

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

But revolutionary innovations get killed early. They rarely see the light of day. That’s because they run into our next creative type – the critics. 

The creative company - Critics

The expression ‘everyone’s a critic’ is especially true when you’re trying to navigate something new through a business. Approval processes seem geared to promote critical behaviours. 

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 throw objections at an idea. Occasionally, it’s to make the idea stronger. But usually, it’s to kill off ideas.

Because that’s the mindset you find in most ‘gate’ meetings. The focus is on preventing risk. 

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

Creators going into those stage-gate meetings end up feeling like Luke Skywalker facing up to Darth Vader at the end of The Empire Strikes Back.

That scene 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.

But in gate meetings, it’s not bits of spaceship getting thrown at you. It’s forecasts. Investment thresholds. Risk matrices. And those are mentally, if not physically painful to fend off.

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

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

Now, we’re not proposing a free for all and total anarchy in the way you do innovation. You need some checks and balances. (Like the Black Hat in the Six Hats creative thinking approach). 

But if you look at most innovation processes deliver 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 it has to be done 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. It’s where the creativity battle is won or lost. 

The 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 approval process 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, in terms of pure numbers of people in a business, most people are neither creators or critics.

Blond woman partially hidden behind a leafy bush

Most of them are happy 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 it is, they like it.

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 don’t like 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 new ideas.

Coasters like to follow processes. They love writing and reading reports. Going to all the regular town halls and business review meetings. They like these because they’re predictable and certain.

Appreciating that is how you get their support for your new idea. Show them how your idea helps their continuity and consistency motives and you’ll get their support back in return. 

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

Show how your idea adds to a long-term business and brand story which will enhance the future growth of the business.

Highlight how NOT doing marketing innovation threatens the future of the business.

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 critics behaviour, but we can aim to nudge coasters out of their comfort zone and bring out their creator side. (see also our Six Hats creative thinking article for more on this). 

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

Because if it’s your business, you know more creators are what you need to 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 approaches into businesses.

We think of ourselves as creators. And we love working with businesses to encourage creators to land more new ideas. Contact us if you need help with becoming a more creative company.  

Coffee mug with the word begin sitting on a wooden table with blurred chairs in the background

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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