Creativity is at the core of every successful brand. It is continuous reinvention driven by new ideas and new ways of doing business. Apple, Netflix and Amazon are great examples of iconic brands that continue to evolve. Creativity is the catalyst for innovation. How do you build a creative culture to ensure your brand is always on the top? It starts with an understanding of creativity. Then, talented people must know how to be creative and have the freedom to do so.
Pixar is a wonderful example of a company with a creative culture; the innovative animation giant has created 14 blockbuster movies in a row. Pixar President Ed Catmull, coauthor of the book Creativity, Inc., points out some basic observations:
- Talent is rare;
- Management’s job is not to prevent risk but to build the capability to recover when failures occur;
- The working environment must be safe to tell the truth. Everyone must constantly challenge all of our assumptions and search for the flaws that could destroy our culture;
- Always remember that the ultimate goal is ‘making the product great’.
Creativity isn’t elusive or exclusive. According to a joint study by Harvard and Insead, 85 percent of creativity is a learned skill. All we need to do it learn it! But that is easier said, than done for most of us.
To get started, here are nine creative ideas to help build an environment to sustain a great brand:
1. Connect the Dots
Maria Popova, the creative genius behind BrainPickings.org, says that creativity is the ability to connect the unconnected – it is the melding of existing knowledge into new insight about the world around us. It’s the ability to connecting the dots between unrelated ideas. Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group incorporated this concept into the company’s philosophy of growth. They call it the ABCD process: Always Be Connecting Dots.
Steve Jobs said “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”
Psychologist Todd Kashdan said that curiosity “appears to be a fundamental motive in facilitating industry and creativity.” Curiosity goes hand-in-hand with creativity. B. F. Skinner, psychologist and author, said “When you run into something interesting, drop everything else and study it.” Visit a bookstore or library and wander the rows of books and maybe get inspired to read about something different. Buy a magazine from a section that you rarely view. Watch a movie or TED Talk on a topic you know nothing about. Take a course on a new skill set that you are interested in but know nothing about. Start asking the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of everything around you.
3. See Things Differently
In Maria Konnikova’s book Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, she emphasizes the importance of observing your environment on a deeper level. Leonardo da Vinci observed that many people look, but few people see; mindful seeing is the foundation of direct experience and the foundation of direct knowledge. Writer Joan Didion kept a notebook with her at all times, and said that she wrote down observations about people and events as a way to better understand the complexities and contradictions of her own mind. Try to be in the moment.
4. Expand Your View
Involve individuals and ideas from all walks of life to help collaborate. Google provides lunch every day for all their employees but there is a catch – everyone from all departments and levels must participate. They share their current projects and discuss new ideas. According to Caitlin Adair, from Google’s head office, their café and micro-kitchens create collaborative space for employees to “discuss, brainstorm, meet and relax.”
Google goes to great lengths to provide employees with fun perks such as beach volleyball courts, mini golf courses, and adult playgrounds. The goal is to create an environment that lets employees feel relaxed and comfortable with vocalizing creative, even wacky, ideas. Businesses need to do their best to foster a safe, creative space where unusual ideas are celebrated and where creativity is nurtured.
5. Experiment – Appreciate That It’s a Process
Creativity is a process that is developed over time. We have to embrace that and give it time.
All facets of life have sped up except the human brain. Technology has reduced production time down to seconds but thinking still takes same amount of time today as it did 300 years ago. Great ideas come from anywhere at any time. If you sit someone down and tell them that they need to produce a brilliant idea in ten minutes, your chance of success is extremely low.
The first iPhone didn’t just happen. It took many hundreds of versions before it was finally released. Some of them were terrible versions that Apple never showed us like the rumored click wheel iPhone.
“Creatives fail and the really good ones fail often,” Forbes contributor Steven Kotler wrote in a piece on Einstein’s creative genius.
“There is a deep and meaningful connection between risk taking and creativity and it’s one that’s often overlooked,” says Kotler. “Creativity is the act of making something from nothing. It requires making public those bets first placed by imagination. This is not a job for the timid. Time wasted, reputation tarnished, money not well spent – these are all by-products of creativity gone awry.”
Don’t be frustrated that you didn’t come up with a brilliant idea in five minutes. Creativity takes time – sleep on it, and get others to sleep on it. The more brain power, the better.
6. Shake Things Up
Sitting around a table brainstorming isn’t thinking out-side-the-box. Get up. Move around. Change your perspective, literally. Physical movement has been shown to have a positive effect on creative thinking. Add other stimuli like toys and music to help stimulate your brain.
Facebook‘s Mark Zuckerberg conducts meetings on foot – walking around the Facebook campus. Creative thinking improves while a person is walking and shortly thereafter, according to a study co-authored by Marily Oppezzo, a Stanford doctoral graduate in educational psychology, and Daniel Schwartz, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education.
Experience new things. Take different routes to and from work. Use your left hand for the things you would normally do with the right hand. Avoid anything that makes life monotonous or mundane. Promise yourself you will do something different today.
Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO is believes that creative thinkers need time, space, and permission to play in order to do their jobs well because playfulness helps us get to more creative solutions. Check out his TED Talk as he talks about the powerful relationship between creative thinking and play – with many examples you can try at home (and one that maybe you shouldn’t).
8. Problem Solve
Creativity ultimately helps a successful brand solve a problem. Nick Woodman couldn’t get any great action photographs of himself surfing in Australia. This problem inspired him to develop the GoPro camera. Doctor Joan Fallon noticed that many autistic children had a deficiency in a certain kind of enzyme for processing protein. She started Curemark and raised $50 million to develop a treatment to solve the problem. Today, she is taking her unique technology and tackling problems like schizophrenia and other neurological conditions. Maybe Ingvar Kamprad couldn’t get a table into his trunk of his small Swedish car, so he took the legs off and then started IKEA.
As Steve Jobs said “You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right. If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick it out.”
9. What ‘If’ Questions
To help change your perspective, use a simple question to reframe the opportunity. Its like the “what else can you do with a brick” question.
Think outside the box by taking an existing object and asking clever questions to twist the very concept of it and make it new and different. Steve Jobs started off by making the iPhone a super “slick” phone. With a few “what ifs” added into the equation, Apple transformed the cell phone into the smartphone that dominates the world today. Here is some potential “what if” questions:
- What would happen if you take away or eliminate one element or ingredient of the brand?
- How could you change or improve the brand to use it in a different way?
- If you could turn the brand services into a physical product what would it look like? Or if you could turn a brand product into a service what would it look like?
- If you could get your brand quicker or more conveniently to your customer how could you do this (in X months)?
- If you wanted to offer your customer something free that no one else offers what could it be?
- If you could change one thing in your company (process, systems, structure, etc.) what would it be? How quickly could you do this?
- What do you wish your brand could do better if you had the resources to change it?
This isn’t the definitive list of questions but using these and others is a powerful tool that can help you to think differently.
Without Creativity There is No Innovation
You need a safe and collaborative environment to implement any of these ideas effectively. If your brand is about sticking to the rules and follow ridged processes with a mentality of “it won’t work here”, the brand’s life will be shorter. Today’s world demands new innovations. To get to an innovation, you need a great idea. Great ideas come from being creative.
Understand there is no universal recipes for creativity. You need to try these ideas and others to develop your own approach and figure out what works for you and your team. If it was easy you wouldn’t be reading this article. But remember everyone can be creative if they are in the right frame of mind. As American author Elizabeth Gilbert said “If you’re alive, you’re a creative person.”
Being creative in and of itself isn’t terrible productive or profitable. The unique idea must create value. In essence, creativity helps stimulate new and unique ideas. If they are good, they can be turned into an innovation that people will line-up to buy.
Creativity is subjective and impossible to measure. Innovation is measurable. When a unique idea is put into action, you can always determine its success or failure. Sometimes you have to go through a number of ideas before you get to a successful innovation. A true brand innovation is one that meets or surpasses your customers’ needs.
A creative culture is also a culture that sees the glass as half-full. Instead of just complaining, employees must feel empowered to actively look for better solutions. Having the permission to be creative and innovative is very powerful.
Successful brands have passionate people who willingly unleash their creativity everyday and understand how it keeps a brand relevant and loved by its customers. Creativity is a beautiful thing.
This is a remake of a previous article A Brand’s Ultimate Weapon – Creativity published April 12, 2015.