One million creative ideas: The true role of creativity in business

One million creative ideas: The true role of creativity in business

In our increasingly changeable and competitive world, creativity is a key ingredient for success. Whether it’s developing innovative products, creating compelling marketing campaigns, or solving complex problems, the ability to be creative is a powerful tool that can help businesses thrive.

However, where creativity actually fits within the parameters of a business’ operations can be hard to pin down. More often than not, we associate creativity in business as a distinct kind of entrepreneurship – as the force behind the big business idea. An initial spark of genius through which a unique product or service is conceptualised and conceived.

Once this idea has been realised, it’s often assumed that its longevity then becomes the exclusive work of creative departments and agencies: the product of ideas-factories where bright sparks and free thinkers come up with novel ways to attract and hold the attention of stakeholders.

But, whilst entrepreneurship and creative departments are an essential part of the process, to suggest that they hold the monopoly on creative thought fails to acknowledge the level of creativity displayed across all business operations.

In this piece, we’ll examine some of the factors responsible for the demotion of the role of creativity in business and aim to detach creativity from the notional sense of frivolity that it can sometimes carry, in order restore brands’ confidence in the power of ideas.

Rigour and the role of measurement

Commonly, creativity is defined by a sense of freedom and scale; by a resistance to being constrained by the finer details. However, increasingly, businesses are empowered by the ability to quickly determine which of their strategies are working, and which of them aren’t, through the omnipotent power of data.

With a well-rounded data strategy, brands can measure how their marketing output is performing in real time, enabling rapid course-correction and deeper insights into consumer behaviour.

As such, the accuracy with which businesses can measure their performance has often led to big data and the monitoring of minutia – those finer details – taking precedent over big ideas in the hierarchy of importance within marketing operations.

Across the board, brands have the power to fine tune, but with that comes the propensity to fixate on tweaking procedures, rather than affecting wholesale change. In many instances, this level of data-driven specificity has seen creativity become synonymous with frivolity; that little bit extra that can be skimmed off the top in order preserve a business’ core operations. This represents the furthering of a long-standing theoretical phenomenon: Cognitive fixedness.

Put simply, cognitive fixedness is a process through which individuals and/or businesses begin to believe that there’s only one way to operate, or to approach a challenge. This tends to occur when businesses have had success with a particular product, strategy, or style of communication.

However, this is in tension with the need for businesses to innovate. Because, in reality, for something to be innovative it has to be creative. More specifically, it needs to be novel, and to perform a useful function. In other words, without creative thinking, innovation simply isn’t possible.

As the Harvard Business Review states, there are two key worlds that businesses operate within: The operational world and the innovation world.

As they describe it, ‘The operational world is the concrete, structured side of business. This world focuses on improving key metrics and achieving results.’ In contrast, ‘The innovation world requires curiosity, speculation, creativity, and experimentation.’

Each are equally important, and it’s vital that one doesn’t diminish the other. As the review goes on to explain, ‘business leaders must be ambidextrous when navigating between them and provide environments for each to flourish.’ In other words, creativity, and innovation, as well as pragmatism and measurement, need to be infused within every challenge a business might face.

So, how can business achieve this ambidextrous approach in practical terms?

Picture big thinking

Of course, big data and deep insights are enormously beneficial parts of a business’ ability to adapt successfully. But rather than only implementing limited, highly targeted course corrections which may simply perpetuate an overall state of fixedness, brands also need to take creative leaps and risks that can provide meaningful reform.

This tension is made even more apparent by socio-economic pressures, which are causing widespread disruption across the marketplace. These rapidly changing circumstances have proved fatal for those business who are slow-moving, and cognitively fixed.

But, whilst traditional KPIs have become less effective during such tumultuousness, creativity has proved an invaluable tonic time and time again. And the creativity in question may not be the kind of creativity you’d expect.

Take, for example, the approach that organic grocer, Whole Foods, employed in order to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead of simply closing their bricks and mortar premises, Whole Foods converted them into so called ‘dark stores,’ which functioned as warehouse spaces and online order fulfilment hubs.

This enabled Whole Foods to capitalise on the rising demand for online grocery shopping whilst minimising the impact caused by overheads.

On a deeper level, this kind of idea facilitated a deeper sense of connection between Whole Foods and their consumer base. They weren’t just reorganising their operational structure, they were presenting a united front that acknowledged the needs of their customers during a difficult time, where supply chains were disrupted, and products could be scarce.

Instead of viewing creativity as an afterthought, Whole Foods allowed radical creative solutions to become synonymous with employing a practical approach to responding to and solving problems.

To adopt this level of creativity in their own operations, businesses need to understand exactly what it is their stakeholders expect, whilst simultaneously finding novel ways to approach challenges which defy expectations.

Create a truly creative environment

Ultimately, in order to achieve this, a brand needs to have access to the right network of tools and talent.

It’s one thing to commit to taking a creative approach to all aspects of your business but, in reality, creative thinking requires access to certain resources. We believe that innovation across the board requires an interdisciplinary network of specialist agencies and talents, united by truly unique ways of thinking in their given fields.

This is because the best ideas don’t happen in isolation. For creative ideas to form, people from different backgrounds and cultures with different perspectives and skillsets need to be able to work closely together. Building that network, or tapping into an existing one, can be a powerful way to up your creative solutions.

Acquiring new talents with innovation-ready skillsets, as well as developing and empowering existing talents, is an effective means of amplifying creative output. By ensuring quality training, mentorship and development programmes are in place, you can provide your team with the best tools possible for innovation to occur, however this can take time.

If building creativity into your network seems like an overwhelming task, or if you need creative solutions faster than you’re able to lay your own creative foundations, leveraging the help of a creativity-first agency network like the mci group could help you to instantly amplify innovation across your operations.

Our diverse agencies and talents span a range of disciplines, continents, and cultures. This enables us to help our clients to develop creative solutions to their own unique challenges and opportunities. If you’d like our help, call +41 22 33 99 500 or Email:

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One million creative ideas: The true role of creativity in business

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