What I wish every company knew about creativity

It's a process, not a discipline, says this senior strategist.

"Creativity" is a term that holds an almost mythic status in modern business. CEOs have deemed it more important than rigor, management discipline, integrity or even vision when navigating an increasingly complex world. Studies have shown companies that foster creativity achieve greater revenue growth. And an Adobe report found that creativity is increasingly a crucial part of every business's agenda.

Still, as much as it’s celebrated in industries like technology and design, creativity is often underappreciated in others. Part of this may be owed to the nature of the businesses. Technology thrives on disruption and design thrives on delight, which means both require experimentation to achieve their aims. On the other hand, the law, accounting and insurance industries are risk averse by nature, and therefore more likely to see creativity as too big a hazard to undertake.  

But there may be other factors at work, namely common misconceptions about creativity. That’s why it remains crucial to educate every company about what creativity is, who is capable of it, how it manifests in organizations and why it’s valuable for every business, no matter the industry.

Creativity is a process, not a discipline
The most valuable assets in business aren’t technology, offices, or even talent, which will always come and go. They’re ideas. Ideas solve problems. Ideas inspire people. Ideas invent what’s next. Ideas make an impact. Most importantly, ideas are the direct output of creativity. To put it another way, generating ideas is creativity in its purest form.

But ideas on their own don’t amount to much without action. It’s applying ideas to business problems and profiting from the resulting solutions that constitutes the creative process. And this process involves more people than just those who have the word "creative" in their job title.

Anyone can be creative
There’s a belief out there that creativity is innate -- either you have it, or you don’t. But the myth of the creative genius or the "eureka!" moment is just that, a myth. Genius is most definitely not required to have great ideas. In fact, ideas are the very thing that makes us human -- homo sapiens were the first species equipped with the perfect problem-solving brain.

As Professor Teresa Amabile from Harvard Business School has shown, creative thinking is a skill. As with all skills, creative thinking can be strengthened with regular practice. The more often you approach problems flexibly and imaginatively, the easier it becomes to develop original ideas. So, whether creative director or financial controller, everyone has the ability to be creative.

Creativity can manifest in every part of an organization
The ability to generate ideas is as applicable to teams as it is individuals. While it’s true that certain departments -- namely marketing and research and development -- have a reputation for being creative, there’s an important difference between doing creative work and approaching the work you do creatively. It’s the latter that drives innovation, and it can manifest in any department.

In HR, creativity may result in new recruitment practices, such as PwC’s "Multipoly", gamification that stimulates the first year on the job. In supply chain management, it may help develop adaptive distribution channels, like Volvo’s partnership with FedEx to provide in-car deliveries to its customers.

No matter what the job function, creative methods of solving business problems can provide clear competitive advantage.

Creativity has the power to improve the future of people and organizations
Far from being an intangible quality, creativity is a process that can be fostered in any organization, for any industry, to act as a tool for change.

Creativity encourages collaboration and bringing people closer together. It cultivates empathy, requiring those who engage in the process to imagine the perspective of others. And perhaps most significantly, it fosters a belief that any challenge is surmountable if approached in new and novel ways.

With so many reasons for engaging in creativity, it’s imperative that all types of organizations invest in becoming more creative. In turn, they can transform what was once considered a mythic and untouchable trait into a valuable modern-day function of their everyday business.

Andi Davids is a senior strategist at Superunion.

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