In a world where personalization is the norm, where machine learning is making everyone intelligent, and data-driven marketing is table stakes, standing out will come down to the creativity of the people behind the scenes, experts say.
Creativity, as we all know, is about the big idea, but it encompasses an innate ability to problem solve, too. And it also requires business leaders across an organization to motivate their teams to fire on all creative cylinders.
Look no further than your own creative department for tips and best practices. Nowadays, these colleagues are measured by how they innovate and transform workflows, operations, products, and services for businesses through strategies such as design thinking and creative problem solving.
CMO.com asked three creative experts to outline their tips for fostering creativity throughout their organizations. Here’s what we learned.
1. Offer Ample Time To Be Creative
According to Jamie Myrold, VP of experience design at Adobe (CMO.com is owned by Adobe), giving your team the time and space to do their work is imperative.
“Often as we’re trying to hit deadlines and are focusing on finding solutions to problems, that time to really be creative gets compressed,” Myrold told CMO.com in an exclusive interview. “Creativity and problem solving takes time. It’s not something that just falls out of the sky.”
Leaders must also pay close attention to what is being asked of their teams and whether it’s feasible for them to actually deliver on it—without getting burned out.
“Don’t expect your team to deliver more than it has the capacity to do,” Myrold said. A balance is needed between delivering really creative, innovative work and also giving the team the “air cover” to breathe and “reassess,” she added.
Myrold also advised giving teams the chance to work on projects beyond just the day-to-day deliverables. For example, Myrold’s team does a lot of pro-bono work, which gives them the opportunity to work outside of the company’s walls.
“We have people working with nonprofits and causes that they have a deep belief in,” she said. “It allows them to use their creative brain power in a different way.”
2. Encourage Teams To Use A Mix Of Data And Intuition
Data is nothing without intuition, experts all agreed. According to Jay Acunzo, founder of Unthinkable Media and author of “Break The Wheel,” intuition is not just a “fluffy” idea.
“Intuition is the process of thinking for yourself, and that is a crucial creative skill,” he said.
Adobe’s Myrold said that while a company can certainly learn a lot from data, the ability to translate that data into user value is important. That’s where she sees intuition comes in.
“We have to be careful that the data doesn’t hold us back,” Myrold said. “Data is an important tool in our toolbox, but we should also continue to bring that human element into creativity as well.”
3. Encourage Curiosity
Acunzo believes a fundamental change needs to happen where leaders push their teams to stop acting like “experts” and instead act like “investigators.”
“In other words, the skill that you have to foster for teams is asking really great questions all the time,” he told CMO.com. Historically this is not how leadership works, he said. In the past, an executive “dropped the answer” on plates, and the team executed with no questions asked.
The shift, Acunzo said, is to become a lifelong learner. He encouraged leaders to never allow their teams to rest on the idea of a best practice.
“Every individual can be a visionary in that they need to see the world more clearly and ask better questions,” he said.
Leaders need to also encourage curiosity and discovery among their teams, said Anthony Yell, chief creative officer, North America, at Publicis.Sapient.
“Stop talking about things, and go experience things,” he said. “The more experiences and understanding your teams have, the more they can bring those learnings to whatever problems they are asked to solve, and the more connected the team becomes.”
4. Step Back And Trust Your Team
Leaders must work with their team to articulate and establish very clear “walls of the box” and then, once they are established, “stay out of the box,” Acunzo advised.
“A leader [might] not articulate the constraints, like resources, time, and budget, or goals clearly enough, causing the team to run into invisible walls,” he said. “That actually squashes creativity and the willingness people have to try new things or investigate. … Once you’ve put up the walls of the box, your goal is to stay away and let teams be creative inside those constraints.”
Publicis.Sapient’s Yell added that today’s leaders must be supportive of failure, from which important lessons can be gleaned.
“It’s not easy to create new things, regardless of how simple they may seem,” he said. “Be open and supportive of failure, and fight fatigue. That is how you master anything, including creating what is next.”
5. Embrace Diversity And Difference
Diversity and differences in perspective provide the makeup of a great team. To boot, according to Yell, diverse teams are typically more creative.
“One perspective, regardless of number of people, doesn’t create change,” Yell told CMO.com. “Having the right mix of experience, skills, and personality within your team is a force multiplier and essential to solving new and complex problems. But it needs to be constantly refined as the challenges evolve.”
Diversity includes demographics such as age, sex, race, and sexual orientation, but it should also include diversity in experience, industries, and personality types.
6. Operationalize Creativity
One way to operationalize creativity is through events and enrichment programs, Myrold said. This year, Adobe held its first Design Summit, an internal event meant to re-energize designers and creatives, specifically. A total of 560 creative employees gathered in one space for three days to connect, collaborate, and share. Adobe also brought in external speakers from other companies to inspire employees.
“It was a great way to drum up the inspirational energy in a team,” Myrold said. “Companies that want to be more creative must see the value that the skill set of the designer brings to the table.”
7. Lead By Example
Publicis.Sapient’s Yell believes that the “how” in fostering creativity and innovation is a personal choice that each leader makes.
“Clearly, there are myriad of ways to [foster creativity], but having the personal ability to adapt to whatever the situation is should help the most,” Yell said. “The only way you can become that adaptive is by trying new ways yourself.”
After all, how can you ask the people you lead if you don’t live up to the ideal, too?
“If you stop learning, how can you encourage the creation of what is next?” Yell added. “It’s already date-stamped past due.”