Dealing in creativity

Marketers should peddle the "drug" of creativity, writes Vincent-Wayne Mitchell, professor of consumer marketing at Cass Business School.

When the high priest of the IPA puts commercial creativity at the heart of his agenda, and the recent Cr8net conference calls for investment in creativity as well as the creative industries, it confirms the wisdom of all our MBA students: learn about the power of creativity, whether or not they are interested in marketing.

The marketing function naturally "owns" creativity within a firm, but how does owning creativity get us more credibility in the boardroom? One way is for marketers to teach creativity to other areas of the business to help them solve problems and understand the value that marketing can bring. As Albert Einstein said: "Creativity is contagious, pass it on."

Creativity can be a property of people, processes or products, and whether it's operations, human resources or R&D, all can benefit from using creativity techniques.

Creativity can be a property of people, processes or products, and whether it's operations, human resources or R&D, all can benefit from using creativity techniques. Indeed, because creativity thrives on diversity, we need people from areas other than marketing, even in marketing-related creativity exercises, in order to create more creative conflict. As fashion designer Donatella Versace has suggested: "Creativity comes from a conflict of ideas."

So how do you go about doing that? Well, ideally you tackle it on all three levels of the individual, team and organisation.

At an individual level, we need to work on three components: improve task motivation because of a production person's natural curiosity or by a company policy of rewarding creativity; make sure they have the expertise, skills and knowledge to understand the problem at hand; train people in creative-thinking skills, such as guided imagery or an "idea diary" using paper, voice recorder or tablet drawing, or develop their innate risk-taking or desire not to conform.

At the team level, it's about designing a creative process with the emphasis on warm-ups, a playful environment and suspending judgement on each other as well as themselves.

I ask my participants to bring along a picture of their favourite childhood toy, echoing Picasso's idea that "every child is an artist; the problem is staying an artist when you grow up".

At the organisational level there are three components marketers need to try to influence: management practices, such as a lack of a blame culture; an organisation's motivation to innovate and take risks; and resources - for example, having enough time and the right space to be creative. Indeed, research in this area has shown that creativity within a marketing programme is determined by social cohesion, superordinate identity, planning-process formalisation and encouragement to take risks.

So when it comes to using creativity to our advantage, let's not just keep it for ourselves. Let's follow film director and producer Cecil B DeMille, who said: "Creativity is a drug I cannot live without." So get dealing.

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