Why is it that some companies thrive when faced with change while others falter? How is it that companies that have been around for decades can suddenly lose market share to new ventures seemingly overnight? The answer often boils down to two key factors: vision and execution.
Great companies have the foresight to see the world not only as it is but also as it will be and how it could be. This means predicting changes in consumer tastes, anticipating economic and geopolitical changes, and envisioning new methods to meet consumer needs. Vision, of course, is only part of the equation. Great ideas aren’t worth anything if they can’t be executed and brought to market.
Creativity is the key trait that can both spawn revolutionary ideas and generate the right strategies and means to execute them. In this feature, we discuss not only the importance of creativity in an organization (the idea) but also how to create a more creative workplace (the execution).
The Advantage of Creativity
We alluded to this in the intro to this piece, but it bears repeating: Creativity is perhaps the greatest factor in setting exceptional companies apart from mediocre companies. Creative companies not only see the world as it could be but also find ways to capitalize on that future world and the change that’s driving it.
In an article for Forbes titled “4 Things That Set Great Companies Apart from the Crowd,” Glen Llopis signaled the importance of creativity to a business’s success with the very first trait on his list. “Great organizations are always on the lookout for opportunities that others don’t see,” he writes. “Think of what Steve Jobs did with Apple: he sought to create new industries rather than competing in highly saturated markets. Leaders who seek to discover new opportunities are fearless when embarking upon new things and will continually test different methods to get the formula right.”
“Getting the formula right” is the execution element of creativity we discussed earlier. An idea is just an idea until it can be put into action. Consider, for example, the ambitious concept of mining asteroids for valuable metals like gold, platinum, and nickel. The idea itself is straight out of science fiction, but executing it presents colossal logistical challenges.
How does one deliver mining equipment to an object racing through space, extract valuable minerals, and then transport them back to earth, all in a safe and cost-effective manner? It all boils down to finding creative solutions to massive challenges.
Companies that master creativity have not only the initial advantage that comes from developing a new business in an undeveloped or a nonexistent industry but also an edge when competing in a saturated, well-established industry with many players. Creative companies continually outperform the competition by finding ways to lower costs, increase value to consumers, and address challenges as they emerge.
Fostering Individual Creativity
One can think of creativity within an organization as both the creativity of individual employees and the collective creativity of the organization as a whole. We’ll discuss both in this feature, but first, let’s think about fostering creativity at the individual employee level.
Timothy Carter, in an article for Entrepreneur, suggests a number of strategies for boosting individual creativity. Some are as simple as allowing oneself more time when making a decision: “More time means you’ll think through more variables, and you’ll have more time to naturally stumble upon a solution, which leads to our next point.”
Another is embracing boredom: “When we’re bored, our minds aren’t active, which means they can wander freely (and start connecting ideas in unique ways). This is why so many people claim to come up with great ideas in the shower, or while on a long drive; being bored helps you generate more creative concepts.”
Other strategies involve creating a personal creativity-inspiring environment, which might include hanging abstract art in one’s office or playing creative music while working.
Diversity and Inclusion
Diversity and inclusion have become major buzzwords in corporate culture, social change movements, and HR circles. Unfortunately, many companies look at diversity and inclusion as purely social justice or PR functions. But diversity and inclusion have demonstrated advantages for an organization’s bottom line, and creativity is a big reason for this.
A diverse workplace has a much more varied set of experiences and perspectives than a homogeneous workforce. This diversity isn’t exclusively race-based, although that is certainly one element of diversity. Geographic background, gender identity, socioeconomic background, education, and experience are all factors to consider when building a diverse workplace.
Simply having those diverse experiences and perspectives on the payroll (which represents diversity) isn’t enough though. That diversity needs to be engaged in decision-making and providing feedback and insights. That’s the inclusion element that many companies miss in their diversity efforts. Companies need to consciously solicit input from people of diverse backgrounds and experiences and place those individuals in positions where their voices are sought out and heard.
A Culture of Creativity
When people think of creativity, they might imagine a one-off moment of spontaneous inspiration—a “eureka!” moment. But continuous creativity can and should be nurtured through organizational culture. Companies that have creative cultures have several things in common:
- They embrace diversity and inclusion.
- They are open-minded and aren’t overly critical of outlandish ideas.
- They are open to and even embrace change.
- They don’t fear failure.
It’s the responsibility of company leadership and managers to ensure a culture of creativity can thrive within the organization. Managers who are quick to criticize and shoot down ideas can easily erode years of effort put into fostering a safe place for creativity.
The modern economic and business environment is constantly changing, creating new challenges and opportunities. The enormous change brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect example. Changes like these create opportunities for new businesses and pose challenges to existing businesses, both of which create room for creative companies to explore new markets and separate themselves from competition.
Many organizations and managers incorrectly see creativity as some inherent trait that staff and organizations either have or don’t have; however, that is not at all the case. Companies can and should make efforts to promote creativity. Those that do stand a great chance of remaining competitive and profitable for years to come, even in the midst of unprecedented change and disruption.
Sam Meenasian has used his leadership, marketing, sales, and operations skills to build two successful companies over a nearly 25-year career. He cofounded USA Business Insurance and BISU Insurance, which have served thousands of small businesses.
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