Balancing creativity with growth.
Rebecca Moore

Member Article

Why Business Growth Shouldn’t Kill Creativity

Another year, another set of words on the verge of becoming meaningless buzzwords. As the workforce becomes more inundated with millennials we are seeing more of these words come and go, for example “amplification”, “native advertising” and “return on relationship”. Ok, so these are more phrases than singular words, but come the end of 2015 they had all been done to death and the majority of people were over them.

In 2016 all I am seeing is “Creativity” and “innovation” and the danger here is that repeating these words over and over without truly seeing the value that they hold is dangerous. Because the truth is that creativity is widely considered to be a precious skill to possess, it doesn’t come naturally to everyone. As an employer, when you come across an indiviual who is authentic in their ability to ‘think outside the box’ – you should recognise their value and potential to influence others in their approach.

It appears that there is some confusion when it comes to the understanding of creativity. It isn’t limited to ‘creating’ a stationary, passive piece of work; a creative mind-set ultimately leads to unconventional, unique and flexible solutions. It becomes influential and inspirational and in today’s fast paced, egotistical business world of ‘self’ being creative it is not just appropriate – it’s necessary.

Innovation is born from creativity and we are a generation not merely attracted to innovation but infatuated by it. Of course we are, we are relying on it to propel us to the next level of success. Today’s business world is congested and multifaceted; we are all trying our best to prove to a customer base that it is our offerings that are worthy of their attention. But the issue here is that most businesses expect their staff to take a creative approach to their role, but work in an environment where they are suffocated with draconian policies that have been considered the gospel for so long. Surely a top down approach is needed here? If creativity is to blossom than the business culture should be modernised first, developing an environment that is contusive to this way of working.

Looking beyond the superficial words and engaging with the weight that they carry is business critical. If you are a business leader that does not strive to nurture a working culture that breeds creativity, then in my humble opinion you have signed your own death warrant. Everyone wants to ignorantly believe that their business is creative and innovative in some relative respect and when a business is in its infancy, the team is small and workload is manageable, the adoption of exercises that create an environment where creativity flourishes is easy.

But as a business begins to grow, it’s not uncommon for the focus on culture and imagination to slip, and in its place, is shifted to bureaucratic management systems and policies. Putting process before people, these management systems are designed to control and co-ordinate a workload that is increasing. However, in doing this they can stifle the natural flow of ideas and robotic processes become over relied on.

“The true value of creativity within a company is that it is the engine for enhancing the business. A successful company starts out with a unique value proposition, which is its first creative act, and then executes on that promise. Without any evolution or change to the business, however, the company runs the risk of a competitor developing something better, or a disruptor substituting for the product or service that the firm provides. By harnessing its creative capacities, a company is able to evolve its business either in the way it creates its product, the product itself, or in the pool of consumers, thus increasing revenue.” Explains Orin Davis, a start-up advisor and business professor, “At a micro level, the value of creativity is that it enables each person to engage in meaningful work. Instead of doing something that leaves us feeling like cogs in the wheel, when we are creative on the job we are injecting a part of ourselves into the work that we do. We apply our unique combination of knowledge, skills, attitudes, and experiences, to put our imprint on the product/service with which our company creates value. In doing so, we are able to see how we create value, and how we make this spinning bit of rock better off specifically because we were on it. It is this very notion that inspires people to put their all into their work, from the basic functions to the extra mile of discretionary effort that keeps employees staying late to “get it done!” Best of all, when people feel free to be themselves on the job, they are also more likely to share their ideas, take smart risks, and bounce back from failure, because they recognize the ways in which their work fulfils their sense of purpose.”

While success is often measured in growth, it shouldn’t be overlooked that creativity and innovation are key drivers in a number of departments. As a start-up begins to scale up, those with a senior position can swiftly become distanced from the front line. This creates a problem, because those still on the front line can see glitches occurring but have lost the ability to take a creative approach to solving them.

An ever increasing workload results in once open minds that functioned objectively being overwhelmed and becoming subjective, completely submerged in the sheer volume of work. This means that completing a large amount of work to strict deadlines compromises the quality, because a subjective mind cannot take a creative approach when it’s needed.

Here is my argument: creativity leads to productivity when correctly managed, but productivity also depends on processes that have learnt. The 2 elements much achieve a fine balance in order to achieve high levels of productivity rather than one favoured over the other. If employees are head down 9-5 and the environment is completely void of human element, you will soon find that any passion, motivation and drive is sapped from their very soul with regard for how it will be replaced. Productivity levels will be dramatically reduced. It unquestionably comes down to the Quality Vs Quantity argument. It’s not an easy combination to perfect but it should certainly have an emphasis placed on it. Every new business is striving for growth but in the quest for growth, it’s important that creativity isn’t compromised.

Giving employees a degree of freedom injects an element of trust and respect into the working relationship, building an emotional connection and developing a culture of self-progression and self-determination.

After being bombarded with content marketing messages over the last 24 months, we should by now be somewhat engaged with the concept, if not the impact of ‘storytelling’ and the way it builds an emotional connection with the audience. However, is it wrong to expect to build this sort of connection with the audience when connections with employees are at a low ebb?

Personal development is fundamental, an unrelenting sequence of education and support gives employees the opportunity to comprehend the issues and barriers that would benefit from a creative approach.

David Dews Creative Managing Director atSpeed Agency shares his experience, “For us a creative culture is key because some of the best ideas come from the Speedsters that aren’t specifically here for their creative thinking…. So if you encourage a creativity and collaboration then you breed a culture where people want to share their thinking and that naturally sparks more ideas and deeper thinking. Allowing creativity to blossom seems natural at Speed so I don’t know if I have the answers but I think for us it’s probably because we have a fairly flat structure which encourages contact. So for instance, our apprentice would feel as comfortable talking to me about an idea she’s had as our Senior Designer would. We don’t really have loads of formal meetings instead we replace them with shorter impromptu ones when we feel we have something interesting to share or we are needing some help. Right now, we have a tight and fairly stressful deadline, so we’ve just had a meeting where we critiqued each other’s designs, the work is still very much in motion but because we know how to critique each other without causing offence or being too precious it helps us to keep projects moving in the right direction and sometimes a touch of stress keeps us creatively focused. So I guess writing this has helped me articulate how we achieve a creative culture here at Speed Agency – it’s about collaborating, at the right times, in the right manner and in an open yet purposeful way. Failing that give us alcohol -That’ll work too.”

Carl Jung once said, “In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret disorder”.

Don’t mistake creativity as being something only thrives on spontaneity, or view it as a negative entity, distracting from order and focus. While there is a certain kind of magic to be found within pure chaos, I understand that it’s not appreciated in an effective workplace environment.

Organised, consistent creative breakout sessions are a welcome form of therapy for overworked minds experiencing tunnel vision. Being able to listen to ideas from a fresh perspective, take some time to contemplate current situations and just generally bounce thoughts off of each other encourage problem solving and disband creative blocks. These type of sessions have a tendency to rejuvenate staff motivation and morale and redefine the purpose of their role within a business, because let’s be honest – we all want to be important in one way shape or form.

As a business grows, activities such as these should remain a priority. As long as they continue as focused and within a predetermined time slot they will continue to nurture the creativity within a team. To be successful when it comes to innovation and creativity, embrace the mistakes. The attitude that many businesses have is a ‘zero tolerance’ one when it comes to errors; it is very rare that something fails 100%, lessons are always learnt that allow you to push the boundaries further. Dwelling on the negatives is a rookie mistake and often stifles further creativity as seeds of self-doubt begin to grow, obstacles lead to new approaches.

Creativity inherently leads to flawless adaptation within changing conditions, vital for survival in the frivolous, throwaway society that we live in today. There is increasingly a demand for instant gratification, so to adhere to this you must have the ability to adapt. To effectively nurture creativity it must be rooted into the very foundation of a business, and its integrity needs to be upheld to allow it to feed into the culture, making it part of your company’s reality.

Be holistic in your approach, removing inhibitions and keeping an open mind to any ideas and solutions, especially from those working on the front line of the business. Strive to eliminate presenteeism, when staff work at a pace they are comfortable with (within reason of course) without undue pressure it often leads to ‘Eureka!’ moments. Ultimately, aim to create a business with a culture that gives its team the opportunities to be creative in their approach and the growth and revenue will come naturally.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Rebecca Moore .

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