Our culture mythologises creativity while, simultaneously, putting up barriers which prevent people from reaching their creative potential.
As much as “innovation” has been put on a pedestal, enshrined in corporate vision statements and funded by private, state and transnational investors, most companies still do the thing they have always done, in the way they have always done it. We keep hanging on to the coattails of the status quo, for good psychological reasons – fear of failure, various biases – but also because most people, most of the time, do not really understand the direct connection between business innovation, imagination and creativity.
We applaud the achievements of star artists, musicians, designers, architects but that is as far as our appreciation, and our understanding of creativity usually go. The process is reduced to admiration of talent and awards for spectacular success.
Creativity is for the chosen few. With talent. And special abilities. It’s just not a thing for average people. Right?
We celebrate creativity and applaud the achievements of those star artists, designers and entrepreneurs, but when it comes down to it we accept the new and exciting only once it has been well tested by others.
In the meantime, instead of trying the untried, dreaming up the new, we continue to attend fabulous events and reading blog posts by thought leaders, who continue to tell us that innovation is a good thing, and we must all do it. Yay! It really is like putting lipstick on a pig.
It’s a wonderful idiom “putting lipstick on a pig.” Trying to make something that is too difficult and too ugly seem better by pretending that if you put gloss on it, you’ve done the hard work. Lots of effort, lots of shine, but practically no real effect.
Somehow, putting lipstick on the pig has become the central activity to such a degree that we no longer see the pig, just the lipstick.
If a business is to survive the next five years and then thrive for the subsequent decade, assuming it is in an industry that has a future and that it is run by competent professionals, it has to draw on the collective creativity of all of its people, and all of its customers. It has to see fishing in this collective pool of ideas as a strategic asset, not a thing you do on team building weekends.
Can you remember the last time when you spent a week working on something completely new, doing things in ways which were different from the usual ways of doing things, connecting with people outside of your normal circle of colleagues?
Creativity is in part about connecting what is in our heads with ideas from “the edge” and seeing patterns and linkages which may not be apparent to anybody else at the time.
What is required are ways to release the inherent creativity of your people and a system which builds on people’s natural strengths by centering on the psychology of individuals and groups. It needs to be simple in its fundamentals, and a “natural” thing to run. The point of innovation thinking is to allow people in your organisation to have insights about what can be done better, with a system in place to inspire them to do so, collect those insights when they come, and work with them.
Creative professionals have very real value to the business world just beyond that boundary line where art and commerce ordinarily meet.
The value which creative professionals can bring to the table, in addition to providing their specialised services, is in assisting executives in being able to look into the future and to train their people to work in this quickened, confusing, rapidly changing digitally transformed context that surrounds us. Creative professionals can answer the call when someone asks “take me, where I haven’t been.”
Creativity is not about finding new ways to put lipstick on a pig but about ways to make the pig a better pig.
This is the reason why I do what I do – or rather a number or reasons, all pulling in the same direction.
This text is an edited version of a talk I have given several times at conferences large and small, including gatherings of hundreds of bankers, and a dozen or so telecommunication executives. The message is always the same – to innovate you need new ideas, to get new ideas you need people and places you do not necessarily meet or see every day, and the best people here are artists and creatives of all kinds.