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February 2007

Creativity Isn't Restricted to the Creative Department

As both a marketing executive and artist, I get unsolicited career advice on combining my two vocations, including "you should be in advertising" or "you should design greeting cards"...   I don't mean to disparage well-meaning career counsel, but if creativity just lives in the creative department, then say good-by to innovation.   

Creative thinking is required for every corporate function (creative accounting excluded).  Stuart Jackson's article in today's Wall Street Journal Finding Tomorrow's Winners Today -- Try Firms with Fresh Perspectives suggests investing in companies with a creative twist on their market space -- and there's not an ad agency in sight.   

Tenfaces Thankfully, there's no shortage of creative thinkers, and they don't have to pack a travel easel to be inventive.  But how do you find them in your organization?    IDEO,  the industrial design firm, has come up with a process for characterizing innovators and nurturing their entrepreneurial instincts.    Their 2005 book, The Ten Faces of Innovation will help you see ingenuity beyond the creative department and dig deeper into the product development process, regardless of the market space you're in.    You might find yourself in one or more of the "faces", whether you're coming up with the concept, corralling the forces in your organization to deliver the product or putting the final product into your customers' hands.   I initially identified myself as a "cross-pollinator" and "hurdler", but have since been characterized as an "anthropologist" and "storyteller".   Regardless of the label, I'll keep the book as a reference to encourage everyone in the organization to contribute new ideas.   

Sorry Sun Tzu, Strategy Based on Military History is History

Artofwar No offense intended.  I have several copies of The Art of War -- all given to me by former bosses.  Could it be that our current generation of CEOs feel compelled to quote military analogies because they never served in the military?

Conventional military strategy is not the path to victory in the 21st century.  And it has lost its effectiveness on the corporate battlefield as well.   Head to head competition doesn't build shareholder value -- it ravages it with inconsistent earnings and lower margins.

So what's the alternative?   Fortunately, there are several fresh opinions on the subject.  I'll start with one and post more ideas over the next couple of weeks:


A strategy guide I refer to often is Blue Ocean Strategy, 1591396190_01__scthumbzzz__5 which turns conventional strategic thinking on its head by offering paths to finding "uncontested market space" where you can build value for customers without getting battered by competitors first.   Quite often, creating value is about what you DON'T offer the customer -- why spend time and money to offer customers what they don't want, just because your competitors do?   

Thoughts on the software industry (my own industry):  application software is well-known for piling on more and more features in each release, but not building significant value as a result.  I use PowerPoint daily -- but 85% of the time I use features from release 3.0  (which was released over 10 years ago!).  Are more features adding more value, or more frustration?   I resent the extra space the new version takes up on my laptop.

Perhaps less really is more.   Or perhaps it's all about listening to the customer.  Which is what we should all be doing in the first place.