Why creativity must be a big part of the business world

The old rules

I once had a boss in a previous job who was considered a legend. As he walked through the office, you could see people tense up just by hearing his footsteps. He was a powerful, respect-demanding man. Everybody around the office knew the set of rules he had and the strict ways he enforced them. To every task, a recipe! It came to a point in which every workday was a no-brainer.

When a new suggestion was put on the table, only the executives could make a decision about it and if someone tried to help with the decision making, he was told that the issue was “above his pay roll”. The same went for finding better ways to help our clients achieve their goals—if the client thought of a certain way he wanted our product to work for him, even if someone knew there was a better way that would probably save the customer money (hence, cause the company to make a few dollars fewer), he could never suggest such an idea. That was forbidden.

In one of my last conversations with this legendary boss, he told me: “Your brain works differently from the rest of us. It’s very creative. You should change it, because creativity has nothing to do with the business world.”

Why they do not apply anymore?

Not long ago, creativity in the business world was forbidden. The business world had a non-written set of rules that were so strict and clear-cut, you could never break them. When looking back at those “old rules”, it seems like they were written in a different world than the one we are living in, as if they almost don’t apply anymore.

In the eco-system of today’s business world, a new set of exciting and groundbreaking rules to do business have grown; these rules—the “new rules”—are more advanced and far more creative than the old ones.

Creativity is a phenomenon whereby something new and somehow valuable is formed. According to a recent survey, when senior managers were asked to state the most important and valued traits in workers, they said creative problem solving and new ideas.

In business, creativity can help you launch major projects or untangle minor snafus. It provides fresh insight and a new perspective on even the most routine elements of your job. Best of all, it enables you to view problem-solving as a creative opportunity.

“Revolutionary ideas come about when we doubt our existing view of the world,” says Alan Iny, co-author with Luc de Brabandere of Thinking in New Boxes: A New Paradigm for Business Creativity. Iny, a specialist in creativity and scenario planning who has trained thousands of executives and BCG consultants, and de Brabandere, who leads seminars with boards, senior executives and managers, use their extensive experience to break creativity into five key steps:

1. Challenge your current perspectives.

2. Explore the options around you.

3. Generate many new and exciting ideas, even if they seem absurd.

4. Select the ideas that it is thought will drive breakthrough results.

5. Re-evaluate. No idea is good forever.

Creativity and entrepreneurship go hand to hand

Successful entrepreneurs are those who think the most creatively, not only in terms of their initial product or service but, more importantly, all through the stages of growth from startup to maturity. But even the best of them can easily slide toward some bad decisions that limit or hurt their business, due to natural human tendencies and the pressures of business challenges.

Obviously, the business of business has been around a long time, with many “best practices” well-defined and well documented, so creativity that ignores these is usually not a good thing. Thus every entrepreneur struggles to achieve that balance between methodically following “proven” processes and enjoying a new and creative approach which may be a real differentiator.

Pitch perfect—be a storyteller

By now, you are probably asking yourself, “How can I do that?”

Well, there is not one way to do it (creative thinking, remember?), but in my experience I find that creativity can come from storytelling. Whenever I’m writing to a new client, I’m using my writing skills as well as my storytelling skills in those five or six lines. I want him to read my words and become so engaged that the client will feel he must work with my company. Those few sentences are like the CV of your company: just as you put everything you have in your CV, put everything in the short email you write to new clients. Your pitch must be perfect, engaging and create as much impact as an email can make.

If you are afraid of talking in front of an audience or if you feel a little bit awkward talking to strangers, I suggest going to an acting/improvisation class: it’s funny, awkward, but it can also teach you a lot about how to represent yourself and how not to be afraid to be in a room where you know no one. I did it and it was amazing.

Make your employees more creative

Sometimes as a company we “kill” our employees’ creativity. Employees are often afraid of being responsible for failures caused by their suggestions, so they decide not to be creative at work if they believe that there is the slightest chance they might be blamed if the idea causes a financial loss or anything else. It’s not the actual failure that makes them think like that: it’s the feeling of “shame” that keeps them away from creative thinking.

A true manager (or a leader, as I like to call managers) will always encourage his employees to be as creative as they can be, even if that means they may cause the company a loss. A creative leader is a manager who stands by his employees’ creative and sometimes weird ideas to solve a problem.

How to jump start the creativity every day

I heard a cool talk a couple of months ago from a music producer, ill Gates, called: “ill. Methodology Workshop - Chapter 1”. He talks about the working process of producing music. In this great talk (which you can find on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XVQ8c19unnM), Gates talks about the ways in which the creative part of the brain works while we sleep and that’s the reason our dreams are so vivid and weird.

In order not to shut off the creativity mode, it’s very important to keep doing creative things when we wake up. Most of us wake up and drink our coffee while scanning the newspaper, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Those actions cause the creative part of us to slowly shut down and we get to work with negative creativity: if we want it to kick in again, it will take us a lot more time than if we hadn’t killed it hours ago.

Since I heard this talk I’ve created a routine every morning whereby, instead of browsing through social media, I’m looking at a list I created before I went to sleep of problems I need to find a way to fix, and every morning I look at this list while drinking my morning coffee and I see how creative and sometimes crazy ideas come to life. Try it. I promise it will blow your mind.

Excuse me, creativity—where are you?

What to do when you lose your creative mojo? Look for something that will help you clear your mind while motivating you to be creative.

One of the things I'm passionate about is architecture, so whenever I feel like my creative mojo has left the building and it is time to be creative, I browse through one of the dozen architecture blogs I'm following and looking for some creative motivation. Most of my good ideas come after reading about how to preserve old houses in the modern world.

Another thing you can do, if you have a creative studio nearby or inside your company, is go and sit there for an hour, talk to the designers and embrace their creativity, and boost yourself with enough creativity to get you through the day.

You can always go play with the office dog: that might help as well.

The world we live in is not only material, but also creative. Due in large part to creativity, the tech industry is evolving rapidly. Every day I hear about new startups with super cool ideas that could change the way we live our lives, and there is no doubt that creativity is what drives these founders’ ideas. Every good and successful startup starts with the question: “What is the problem I want to solve?” And while the answer is very simple, its ‘How’ they get there that matters. This ‘How’ is where creativity is fundamental. The more creative the solution, the higher chances the startup will be unique and beneficial.

I believe in creative thinking, and I encourage my employees to embrace their creativity and never give in to mediocrity

As Albert Einstein said: “Creativity is intelligence having fun”