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Leading Creativity – How To Capitalize On Creativity And Drive Innovation (Part I)


By Nigel Collin, LeadingCreatives

Being Creative is Sexy

Being creative is sexy. Everybody is talking about it and everybody is doing it. Being creative is the new black.

And in business, being creative is even sexier. Why? Because being creative drives business. It adds real value to a business. Value to its people, value to its customers, and value to its bottom line.

In 2010, IBM released a report titled ‘Capitalizing on complexity, which indicated a survey where 60% or CEO’s listed creativity as the number leadership skill needed over the next 5 years.

Log onto any business website, such as Business Week or Harvard Business Review, search for ‘creativity’, and you’ll find a plethora of articles. In his book Flight of the Creative Class, Richard Florida points out that in the US alone, workers in the creative sector make up 30% of the workforce and earn nearly 50% of the money. Being creative is not some whimsical, intangible thing – it’s a major business tool.

Intrinsically, we all understand this.

The Creativity Gap

But there is a problem – because there is a gap. There’s a gap between the value an organization places on being creative and its ability to tap into its creative resources to fully use the talents of its creative people.

How do we know this? Because we asked. Recently, we conducted a survey of both business leaders and creative people. One of the questions we asked was, ‘In business, should creativity have a commercial value?’ Pretty straightforward and, as you would expect, most people answered yes – 90%, in fact. Not surprising, when you think about it. In the commercial world, creativity just isn’t that useful unless it leads to a positive business outcome.

BUT… the surprise was the result from another fairly straightforward question: ‘Do you fully utilize the talents of your creative people?’ Only 17% of people answered yes!

I don’t know about you, but that rings alarm bells for me.

On the one hand, business emphatically understands the need for creativity to be commercially valuable – yet 83% don’t make full use of their creative people’s abilities and wisdom to achieve this. What’s even more amazing is that they know they don’t!

It’s like building a bridge across a canyon to get a heap of stuff to the other side, but only using 17% of that bridge’s capacity. You’d have to limit how much you carry across or do multiple trips. Either way, it’s inefficient: you’re not making full use of a very useful bridge. You wouldn’t utilize only 17% of the bridge’s capacity, so why use only 17% of your organization’s creative capacity?

The Challenge

The answer lies in the challenge that faces organizations in regards to creativity. The challenge is not actually to find creative people and it’s not to teach your people how to be more creative. The real challenge facing creative organizations is knowing how to lead your creative people and your innovative thinkers. It is knowing how to tap into their talents, harness their genius, and direct it towards viable business outcomes.

Hollywood is a great example of this. Why? Because Hollywood is all about the business of creativity. It taps into the potential of very creative and very clever people, it lets them do their thing, but it directs and funnels that potential to become commercially successful. When we think of Hollywood, we often think of the actors, directors, writers, set designers – all of whom are immensely creative. But we also need to focus on the producer. Their role is to bring the creative talents of those people together, let them do what they do best, but then steer it and direct it so that the film pays dividends.

Like it or not, Hollywood is about making money from creative people. And that’s not a bad thing: it allows many talented people to do what they love doing. Sure, you can train up your actors, directors, and set designers (and you should) but the key to business results is to orchestrate their talents and genius.

It’s important to focus on building individual talents, but it’s even more important to focus on building the right leadership skills, the right environment, and the right processes that allow your creative people to thrive – with all their creativity, thoughts, and ideas. That is where the future gold of your business resides.

Monkeys, Zoos, and Ducks

To do that, you need to consider 3 things.

1. Leadership

Leading creative people is a completely different game. It’s like herding monkeys.

2. A Stimulating Culture.

You need to build an environment that supports and stimulates creativity. You need to build a Creative Zoo.

3. The Right Creative Process

You need to have a process in place where coming up with ideas is like shooting ducks at a carnival.

Herding Monkeys – Leadership

Leading creative people is like herding monkeys. Creatives often appear to be all over the place, off in a world of their own, but they’re also very communal and enjoy hanging out with other creative types. They’re brilliant at slinging stuff; they’re always throwing ideas, designs, and concepts around. They are incredibly smart. And we need them.

They think, feel, and act very differently, so leading them requires a different set of leadership skills. We need to know and understand what frustrates them, what motivates them, and how to help them be their best.

So the old style of leadership, where you rally the troops and expect them to follow you as you head off into the wilderness with your blunderbuss in one hand and a machete in the other, simply won’t work with creatives. You need to be a conductor – someone who knows how to orchestrate their talents and bring them together in a beautiful symphony. That takes understanding and it takes vision.

You need to understand how creative people work, what they need, and what obstacles you need to break down. In many ways, the leader’s role is to support and guide, not interfere or constrain.

You also need to have and maintain a vision, to ensure that their talents are directed towards your and your client’s expectations and goals. They need to know what the task at hand is.

Robert Davis of Davis Advertising Inc put this beautifully when he said, ‘My job is to develop and communicate my vision.’

You need to be a mentor and a coach. You need to know how to empower them, guide them, earn their respect… the last thing you want to be is their boss

Creatives love having clear direction, knowing what the rules of the game are and what boundaries to play within. But they also need the freedom to figure out how to get it done. Part of the leader’s job is to be very clear in setting those guidelines and establishing the vision. But the leader also has to be brave enough and smart enough to let their creative teams do what they do best without getting in the way – just steering and guiding them occasionally when they get off-track. It’s like standing on a mountain and telling your people that you need to get across the valley. Let them figure out how – it’s what they do best.

To lead creative people effectively you need to be a nurturer and custodian of their talents. You need to be a mentor and a coach. You need to know how to empower them, guide them, earn their respect, and let them play. The last thing you want to be is their boss.

Perhaps we should change the word ‘lead’ to ‘nurture’ or ‘empower’ or ‘be guardian of’ and perhaps we should change the term ‘Creative Leader’ to ‘Creative Conductor’.

Nigel Collin will be speaking on “Enterprising Creativity To Drive Digital Innovation And Obtain Commercial Results” at the upcoming ad:tech Singapore 2011 on Jun 16-17.

Nigel Collin runs LeadingCreatives, providing coaching for businesses and their leaders. He also helps companies gain valuable insight into their strengths and find any missed opportunities to use the talents of their creative people better, with a unique 360 assessment service ‘LeadingCreatives360’.





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