In a global survey of more than 1500 CEO’s, it turns out that creativity, even more than vision, is the most crucial leadership trait for success in an increasingly complex world. The world of business is beginning to accept that creativity is of value across industries, rather than being simply the preserve of the creative industries.CEOs today are confronted with rapidly changing customer preferences, shifting economic power centres, sudden industry transformations due to technological advancements, new government regulations and growing volumes of data. As per the study, they agreed on the need to foster ‘creativity’ in an organization, especially using this creativity in their dealings with customers, partners and employees.
What is Creativity?
So what are organisations looking for in people when it comes to creativity? Creative thinking is about how people approach problems and solutions — their capacity to put existing ideas together in new combinations.
Sir Ken Robinson, the author of his bestseller, The Element, says that creativity involves putting your imagination at work to make something new, to come up with new solutions to problems. Imagination is the first step in the process of creativity. The step beyond imagination requires that you actually do something to give shape to the imagination. It’s a very practical process of trying to make something original. It may be a song, a poem, a story, a dress, a new sauce for a dish or even a communication on one side or a device, a contraption and even an app on the other. Creativity is thus applied imagination. And people with this trait will be in demand.
Organisations that could think creatively have led
One such organisation that believes in creativity and lives by it is GE. It’s tagline is ‘Imagination at work’. In 1879 Thomas Edison, founder of General Electric, invented the electric bulb, which spawned a company that would, in turn, become America’s flagship corporation.
Ever since, the House of Magic, the popular name of GE research lab, can be credited with 3,500 businesses, all number one or two in their markets. Jeff Imelt, CEO of GE, says, “Imagination at work is not a tagline, it’s a way of being”. Awarded America’s most admired company by Fortune Magazine, seven times in a row till 2007, GE has straddled the entire twentieth and the early part of twenty first centuries as a technology and innovation powerhouse only to lose its top position to another highly creative organisation, Apple in 2008.
Led by Steve Jobs, Apple, which was initially a computer manufacturer and later a consumer electronics company, changed six industries forever – computers, through the Mac, music with the iPod, mobiles with the iPhone, tablets through the iPad and animation movies through Pixar.
His company Pixar took computer animation from a niche to a multi-billion dollar industry that smashed the hand-drawn animation. Everyone knew computers were the future; Apple put them in people’s living rooms with amazing graphics and the mouse.
Similarly, Apple’s iTunes changed the concept of music consumption altogether. The recording industry, which was merrily selling music in complete albums was in for a shock when Apple introduced a pricing model which allowed consumers to peck around for specific songs, not albums. iTunes also spelt the demise of the neighbourhood brick and mortar music stores which were impacted by the digital delivery that was immediate, affordable and democratic — it allowed anyone from the young to old a way to buy music without stepping outside the house.
Ever since Steve Jobs first introduced the touchscreen, do-it-all device – the iPhone – to the world in 2007, it brought about a revolution on smart phones. He was the first to realise that existing mobile devices were overly complicated with little focus on usability. So he designed the iPhone from altogether another perspective to utilise capacitive touch technology, which meant rethinking the user interface. It took real design sense to depart from accepted standard features considered necessary and replace them with a whole new experience of touch and still have a good product.
What is Apple’s secret recipe for success? Apple has built an innovation factory. It harnesses unbridled creativity and ideas from its people and successfully launches innovative products that catches the consumers imagination… time and again!
Jobs had a unique appreciation for creativity. He allowed designers to flourish in a way that is rarely seen in business.This encouraged designers to create products, experiences and interactions based on what was important to the people using them.
Interconnected world biggest challenge facing enterprises
The other finding of the survey is that the biggest challenge facing enterprises will be the increasing complexity of a world that is interconnected. CEOs agreed on information explosion and industry transformation as being the top two factors impacting their organisation. They are learning to respond swiftly with new ideas to address the changes affecting their organizations. 95 percent organizations chose getting closer to customers and engaging them as their most important strategy – using web, interactive, and social media channels.
Today, more than 1 trillion digital interactions take place in a month, according to comScore. Those who are creative enough will see this historic explosion of information as an opportunity. For a trifle too long we have seen marketers thrusting upon consumers their products through a communication model, which can be best described as a monologue – where the messaging was on the product’s technological accomplishments.
But now marketers will need to wake up to the situation and educate themselves on how consumers engage digitally in social media and integrate their messages accordingly. The new communication model is a dialogue – where they have to focus on consumer needs and their benefits. Those marketers who are still building their own social platforms will finally tire out trying to manage and lead conversations in social networks. They will instead focus on participating in conversations in ways that provide consumer value.
70% of people trust consumer opinions posted online, says a Nielsen Global Online Survey. Smart marketers to derive value from digital channels will have to create high value content that is optimised not only for the digital medium but also for the device.
Although lumped together in the mobile category, usage of smartphones and tablets vary. While tablet usage tends to be more research and entertainment focused, smartphone usage is more task oriented. Marketers will soon identify the two target markets to deliver better messaging based on the device type. This also means digital media opportunities.
Implications for advertising agencies
So what’s in store for creative agencies? Those agencies which have embraced digital advertising and marketing will lead the way. There will be an explosion of creative work in the form of generating valuable content, designing icons, creating graphics, illustrations, marketing collateral and user interfaces for various Internet applications as the digital world turns more visual based.
Marketers should choose agencies who have the creative depth to make every interaction count. For if you deliver one-size-fits-all content to customers, they won’t stay loyal for long. Agencies have to continually create, personalized messages that get noticed, increase conversion, and keep customers coming back for more. After all, social media is only going to become more persuasive and play a crucial role in the success or failure of any business.
Source: The IBM Global CEO Study- This study is the fourth edition of IBM’s biennial Global CEO Study series. To better understand the challenges and goals of today’s CEOs, IBM consultants met face-to-face with the largest-known sample of these executives. IBM interviewed 1,541 CEOs, general managers, and senior public sector leaders who represent different sizes of organizations in 60 countries and 33 industries.
Ashok Majumdar, a journalist by training and a marketer by profession, founded Abhiyan Marketing Services (P) Ltd. in 1994 after puting in 6 years with The Times of India. He also co-founded Ebony & Ivory, an advertising agency accredited with the Indian Newspaper Society (INS) in 2005.