Creativity or Bust

In the past, there were creative companies and non-creative companies. Ad agencies were creative. Bolt manufacturers were not. The music industry was creative. The steel industry was not. The difference today is that all companies and industries must embrace creativity in order to compete.

In today’s hyper-competitive world, everyone at every level of the organization has the opportunity and responsibility to be creative no matter what the role, company, or industry.

Bob Lutz, Vice Chairman of General Motors, was recently quoted in the New York Times. When discussing the company’s future he said, “Its more right brain… I see us being in the art business. Art, entertainment, and mobile sculpture which, coincidentally, also happen to provide transportation.”

The United States Military is probably one of the last places you would think creativity exists, or should exist. Blind obedience was a core principle of the Army since Washington was in charge. But the world has changed, and we are now fighting non-traditional enemies in non-traditional settings. As in the business world, the need for creativity and improvisation has become the difference between winning and survival. Newsweek Magazine ran a story about the General who was the U.S. Commander in Afghanistan getting fired. The main reason that was cited for his termination was that the General was “insufficiently creative.” If a General in the U.S. Army can be fired for lack of creativity, just think how important it is in your business and to your career.

Unless you are in a dead industry, you have competition. If not, it is on the way. If you are in an industry where customers are willing to spend money for products and services, others want to earn that customer revenue just as much as you do. What allowed you to reach this point in time is interesting, but somewhat irrelevant. The new upstart competitor that is poised to steal your customers away doesn’t care about the rich heritage and legacy you’ve built over the last 25 years. To keep your customers, you need to constantly be on the prowl to find a better way.

Markets don’t stagnant – they are constantly in motion. There are very few products or services that can remain the same and continue to command customer support. Think about the changes in the Real Estate industry over the past ten years. What about consumer electronics? Fashion? Entertainment? For example, Madonna remains popular and relevant because she is constantly reinventing herself, not by playing old standbys “Like a Virgin” or “Borderline”.

Even in industries where the product may remain constant (a number-two screwdriver), finding a better way is critical to success. That better way may involve a smarter, more efficient way to produce the screwdriver. It may involve a new, groundbreaking model for sales and distribution. It may involve a way to empower the team to come up with new uses for screwdrivers in order to increase demand, or brand your specific screwdrivers in a way that commands a premium price. Each of these gains is intimately linked to creativity. In the same way that steel and glass are raw materials in a car, creativity is the raw material in nearly every business improvement or breakthrough.