Introducing Creativity to Your Business
Monday, February 2, 2015
We recently discussed how creativity is becoming an increasingly vital component of our global economy. But, how do you go about actually implementing it within your business in a practical way? Thinking even more bluntly – does your specific type of business even need to implement creativity?
From a certain point of view, no. You do not necessarily need creativity to succeed in business. But, that is true in the same way that you do not necessarily need a written household budget to maintain a comfortable lifestyle within the world. You don’t need it – but it is greatly advantageous to have it, nonetheless. And, yes, regardless of your specific type of business.
This is not an unpopular opinion, either. In a 2010 IBM Global Survey of over 1500 CEOs, ‘Creativity’ was consistently listed as the most crucial factor for future success in business. This is borne out by other statistics, as well. According to Professor Richard Florida of New York University, creatives currently account for two-thirds of America’s annual wages3,, for example.
In fact, many economists believe innovation – i.e. applied creativity – is currently central to economic prosperity worldwide. By way of demonstration, government investment in technological innovation over the past three decades has significantly improved the economies of China, India and Germany. It’s a school of thought known as Innovation Economics.
…But, again, how do you go about practically implementing creativity and innovation within your day-to-day business?
In truth, it can be relatively simple.
How Creativity Works – The Genealogy of a New Idea
From 2008 –2013, I worked as a freelance music journalist. In that time, I interviewed a wide array of musicians, film-makers, dancers and theatre-makers. One of them was a musician/composer named Amon Tobin. When I asked him about his goals, he was circumspect – ‘All I’ve ever tried to do is apply what I know to what I don’t know’.
That is creativity. There are many complex psychological, social and spiritual aspects to creativity that you can talk about – but, for sheer common-sense understanding, there are few definitions quite as accurate or effective as applying what you know to what you don’t know’. If you’re unsure of what it exactly means, I’ll give you an example.
Since I was about thirteen, I’ve been heavily drilled in academic essay writing and structure. When I did my first remix as a musician, I transplanted that same architecture to a musical format to understand songwriting. It was later added to high rotation at FBI Radio.
And that’s it. Applying something you know, to something you don’t. It’s a trick I’ve used countless times throughout my career.
How Creativity Works In A Specific Business Context
If my example seems abstract or unusual, you need only look at Apple’s iPod for a more recognisable demonstration of ‘Applying What You Know’. Apple’s iPod was initially released in 200110. Since then, they’ve sold over 300 million units. Since 2004, no other MP3 player has so comprehensively dominated the portable media player market like the iPod.Except, Apple didn’t invent MP3 players. They weren’t even close to being first to market. The world’s first MP3 player was released in 1997. Yet, nearly twenty years later, Apple’s iPod remains definitive. Why? Because Apple understood user experience, software, design and branding better than anyone else – and applied that to the MP3 player market.
They’ve done it a couple of times. Microsoft, for example, tried to popularise tablet computing as early as 2002 – but it wasn’t until Apple released their iPad in 2010 that tablets became a popular accessory. Again, they applied their skill with branding, user experience, design to a new market (tablet computing) – and triumphed. It’s how creativity works.
There is a romantic ideal of creativity as something magical that correlates to wholly new ideas that spontaneously leap into being within the minds of pioneers and innovators – but I don’t subscribe to it. Even if we aren’t always fully aware of it, most of our creative ideas are a product of earlier concepts and philosophies. It’s simply about finding a practical way to navigate that process.
Creativity & Your Business
As we’ve just discussed, applying what you know to what you don’t know is a great, pragmatic way to tackle that navigation – whether you’re an individual businessperson like me or a large business like Apple. But, if you’re not doing it already, how do you actually implement that practice and start using it within your own life and business? It’s a lovely idea – but it’s also a bit vague, isn’t it?
At this point, it might still be tempting to think of yourself as simply a non-creative person – someone who is just intellectually ill-suited to (or outright incapable of) applying what you know to what you don’t know. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, I’d disagree with you. Again, creativity isn’t some magical thing that falls out of the sky. It’s just a tool. In fact, I’d wager you’d use it every day.
Think of someone working at a cash register. They’ve had a busy morning and they’ve run out of one- and two-dollar coins. To ensure they’ve got sufficient change for future customers, they go to a nearby register that isn’t being used and swap a fifty dollar note for a collection of one- and two-dollar coins of equivalent value. They’ve solved their problem.
That is an example of creativity within a working environment. Our worker didn’t know what they were going to do when a customer needed a certain form of change. They did know a nearby register had that particular change and that they had sufficient alternative change to make an equivalent transaction. They applied what they knew to what they didn’t. It can be that mundane.
As I said, creativity is just a tool. We use it whenever we problem solve or improvise. The only difference between working at a register and running your business is a degree of knowledge. You only need a little knowledge to solve that register problem with creativity. To be creative within a larger business, you’d need significantly more knowledge.
Knowledge Management & Creativity
That’s the key. If creativity is defined by applying what you know to what you don’t, it’s developed by increasing what you know. How do you do that in a strategic way? By implementing a Knowledge Management architecture. If you’re not familiar with the term, Knowledge Management refers to a body of study concerning how businesses acquire, store and distribute knowledge.
You might already have some manner of knowledge management structure in place in your business – a library to store necessary information for research or a newsletter to communicate with your employees – but creating an official architecture will help you acquire and utilise your knowledge more effectively and implement creativity within your business more comprehensively.
So, what does that look like? Well, knowledge management is a relatively young discipline and implementing it can grow into quite a complex endeavour, depending on the scope of your organisation (and every organisation will be different) – but, for a basic structure, think of how/where your business acquires knowledge, stores knowledge and distributes knowledge.
To acquire knowledge, try setting up Google News and Google Scholar Alerts relating to your industry. You’ll be emailed whenever anything new is published about your industry. If your company has a Twitter or a Facebook page, you may also want to use them to follow companies and organisations relating to your area of business.
(It’s also important to remember that your staff are sources of knowledge as well. If you want to gather and benefit from their expertise, perhaps think of getting them to write short articles in a newsletter or presenting a small seminar to the rest of your staff. Film it or get them to write their speech down and store it in your knowledge-base.)
To store knowledge, you could try something as simple as setting up a folder on your computer to sort and store new findings – or you could have a full-fledged library. It will depend on your organisation. One solution that works in a variety of contexts is a folder that is accessible across all of your businesses computer networks. You could do it easily with something like Dropbox.
To distribute knowledge, you could try anything from those aforementioned weekly seminars and newsletters to a monthly reading list. Like a lot of knowledge management policy, it will depend on your organisation. Whatever it is, try and make sure is something that appeals to and rewards you and/or your employees for engaging with new knowledge.
(If you want to get particularly in-depth, you might also want to periodically make a list of types of knowledge that you’d like to acquire to advance your company – new techniques, using different technologies, certain experts – and how you could go about acquiring those types of knowledge. Knowing exactly what you don’t have or don’t know can actually be a powerful advantage.)
Again, it all depends on your organisation. You could employ multiple staff to handle these roles. In any regard, byy specifically enriching your knowledge base, you and your business will be in a proportionately better position to think, plan and act creatively – and reap the benefits of utilising creativity in business.
Remember, it’s simple a case of applying what you know to what you don’t know. Creativity’s not magic. It’s just a tool. Use it well!