In addition to my marketing business, I teach creativity and innovation at a nearby university. This new curriculum is a response to feedback from business leaders expressing a concern that graduates are not prepared to respond to the creative challenges of the constantly changing business landscape.
According to a Boston Consulting Group survey, 79% of respondents ranked innovation as either the top-most or one of their top-three priorities. Traditional business strategies rely on stability and predictability. In this world, scale is the primary way to gain an advantage; the big fish eats the little fish. In the new landscape, the premium is on adaptation and innovation; the fast fish eats the slow fish.
Businesses can no longer depend on product or service innovations to stay competitive. New business models are emerging as nimble organizations identify opportunities that create and shape new customer experiences. These new models are increasingly customer-centric, often from an ecosystem perspective that addresses the customer experience more holistically. In some instances, these new models are blurring traditional market segments so that some executives aren’t even sure who their competitors are.
Defining Creativity and Innovation
Since creativity and innovation are sometimes used interchangeably, let’s begin by defining them. Creativity is the process of generating ideas that are both novel and useful. Innovation is the implementation of those ideas. This is an important distinction because one could come up with many creative ideas that might not have any practical application.
Create and Capture Opportunity
Creating and capturing opportunity is fraught with many challenges.
Traditional marketing is usually based on data or insights about customers. Often these insights are generated by a market research department or consultant who contacts customers on behalf of the company. Companies are discovering, however, that direct contact with customers can be extremely useful. It’s not a question of either-or, it’s both.
Customers are not always able to articulate their needs and challenges. Uncovering opportunity requires an empathetic view and a process of trial and error discovery. Most companies are biased in favor of their own product or service. While this is understandable, it can be a barrier to uncovering unmet needs or frustrating challenges.
Customer needs and challenges are continually changing based on many different factors. Mapping the customer journey is an effective technique that can help identify, capture and monitor these factors. The mapping process captures interactions and emotions experienced by customers across all touch points.
To create and capture opportunities, look for ways to connect your employees with customers. Experiment with cross-functional teams that can work together to identify needs or challenges and then respond quickly. Addressing opportunities is often an iterative process that requires experimenting and learning. Start by looking for small wins that help customers and generate internal momentum and interest. Share all the learnings, not just the successes.
Finding the insight and creativity sweet spot will require resources. In addition to financial resources, there will need to be a commitment to experimentation. Many have the impression that innovation and creativity are events.
Our imagery of innovation is a light bulb, often associated with the notion that an idea or concept was delivered in a momentary flash of revelation.
The reality is quite different. Most creativity is a steady iterative process, often the result of multiple iterative tweaks. This kind of discovery requires patience and grit.
Training and reward systems are also significant resource categories.
Creativity thrives in an environment of diversity and close encounters. Research has shown that diverse groups that challenge each other tend to produce better results. Proximity is another important component. Organizations, like Pixar, that thrive on creativity design work spaces that promote chance encounters between colleagues.
Diversity often creates tension. Creativity often flourishes outside our comfort zone. Organizations that nurture diverse connections spend considerable effort ensuring a safe environment for debate and disagreement within a context promotes values based on respect and civility.
Creativity often flourishes with constraints. This might seem counter-intuitive but our biggest creative challenges often occur when there are no limits. The blank canvas or empty page can be very intimidating.
Most children see themselves as creative; however, many adults don’t. One reason has to do with the terminology, but mindset plays a significant role too. We tend to associate creativity with the arts or significant innovation.
One simple way to improve creativity is to ask for it. Let everyone know that you want them to be creative. Don’t just make an announcement continue to communicate the message. Reinforce the message by sharing stories and examples of creativity.
Issue specific creative challenges using language like “how might we….”. For other scenarios, you might try “wouldn’t it be nice if…” as a means of uncovering challenges.
Delivering a Better Customer Experience Pulling it all together
Now that you have organized and are capturing opportunities how does this all translate into practice?
Here are 5 things you can do to harness the creativity sweet spot.
Create space – Creativity thrives on diverse unplanned interactions. Ideally, the space should be accessible and near traffic to attract random visits. Put a coffee machine or snacks in the space as another way to draw visitors. Creativity thrives on diversity, encourage everyone to stop by.
Display work – Post work and invite comments and observations. Even if people are not making suggestions at least they are more aware of the initiatives you are working on. Send a clear message that everyone is capable of contributing. Here are some tips that can help you develop some visuals.
Make it fun – Think about some clever activities or exercises to encourage creative activities that may not be work-related. Creative output is often tied to fun.
Communicate – Keep everyone informed using different communications channels. Think about clever ways to communicate. Newsletters are only one way; consider videos or audio messages. Post updates in the space so people can see progress. Videos can be real easy using your phone here are some tips.
Embrace the journey – In this new landscape change is the only constant, the customer experience is not static. Continually seek out new opportunities and, where possible, leverage these to improve the customer experience.
Creativity is a process. It’s often uncomfortable, It is, however, a skill that can be taught. All of us are creative. Although we don’t all have the same creative skills, we are all capable of contributing. In fact, we are more productive when we don’t have the same skills.
Now is the time to begin. Expect change. What else can you do? I’d like to hear your ideas.