Is Creativity the New Business Edge?

The business world is very rational. Operational excellence, financial mastery and technology savviness have become pre-requisite not to stand out as a winner but to be allowed to compete. While a hard-nosed business mind is essential to cope with the increased pressure of globalized competition, it is creativity, in the form of innovation and the ability to implement it rapidly that is fast becoming the most treasured competitive asset. Companies need to innovate in a fast yet relevant manner in order to remain competitive today and develop the game changers that will allow them to remain competitive in the future.

Why creativity is crucial in a hyper-competitive business world

According to a recent IBM survey, chief executives believe that their companies’ ability to successfully navigate an increasingly complex world will require more than rigor, management discipline, integrity or even vision. In fact “CEOs identify creativity as the number one leadership competency of the successful enterprise of the future,” said Frank Kern, senior vice president, IBM Global Business Services. Creativity is key to create and sustain value. Micael Dahlén, professor at the Stockholm School of Economics has found that creativity in marketing and product development directly correlates to a company’s success. “Creativity in marketing products is related to the quality people attribute to the product, and their expectations that the companies’ future products will be of high quality and satisfy their needs,” he explained in an interview, “creativity is needed to continuously meet those expectations.” His results show that creativity is not a buzzword, but a way to improve company performance.

If creativity is so vital to modern organizations, it will become increasingly important to adopt an intelligent posture towards creative thinking. Companies need an ambitious plan for the management of creativity both inside and outside their organizations. “The most successful organizations marry creativity and disciplined execution systems in a way that enables them to flex the focus depending on the opportunity they are addressing,” PWC’s Global CEO Survey explains.

…an in-house creativity course offered at GE resulted in a sixty percent increase in concepts available for patents…

Companies have adopted various techniques to beef up their creative stock: Hiring a chief innovation officer is usually a first, strong signal although their practical influence is still debated. Teaching employees to think creatively has also become popular, with the help of workshops, courses, competitions… This is to the delight of external consultants and seems to produce some results, especially when the structures and processes are also in place to incentivize and reward creative thinking. For example, an in-house creativity course offered at GE resulted in a sixty percent increase in concepts available for patents, Stefan Lindegaard, a Copenhagen-based author, speaker and strategic advisor explains. Yet it is fair to say that changing decades of company culture, rewarding risk taking and balancing compliance and free thinking often prove too big a hurdle for the majority of organizations that are yet still eager to compete on the creative plane.

The solution could lie in an open approach to innovation, as the most promising in creating and sustaining value.  That is to tap into employees, suppliers or consumers’ creativity through open competitions and crowdsourcing

Co-creation as the gateway to leverage creative thinking

Consumers have always been a source of insights and inspiration in business. The novelty of the approach does not lie in the fact that companies listen and adapt to what consumers say and do, but in the acceptance of consumers as a strategic creative resource, able to drive innovation. That is turning consumers or employees from a source of insights into a source of ideas. The world’s leading companies are already doing it. Bert Grobben, R&D Section Head at Procter & Gamble in Singapore explains:

“Although we develop and train people to become very skilled in recognizing and understanding consumer needs, we do realize that outside of P&G the knowledge landscape is evolving. We apply multiple creative techniques to co-create with consumers in developing short to long term ideas“.

Recently, Procter & Gamble has tapped into consumer creativity to reinvent Pampers’ packaging for modern moms and dads. In collaboration with co-creation community eYeka, the brand launched a global contest, asking creative individuals to propose ideas that create a better experience when people buy, carry, store and use diapers. In only 24 days, the company received almost over 80 designs and ideas from 39 countries. Pampers decided to reward 3 ideas from China, the Philippines and Colombia.

“Getting ideas from “creative consumers” is important because it shows how to meet consumer needs in an uncensored and unconstrained way,” says Sue Mills, Baby Care Research Fellow at Procter & Gamble, “we can then find the best way to make it possible… and this is innovation.”

Another company which increasingly calls upon consumer creativity is The Coca-Cola Company. In 2011, the German branch of Coca-Cola launched a design contest to co-develop a new bottle crate with consumers. More than 440 designs provided creative inspiration for the company’s designers. David Butler, Coca-Cola’s global VP of Design, commented on the project:

“This is the future because we live in a reality of more transparency and connectivity than ever before. What we’re doing in Germany is indicative of the future, it is part of how we will operate going forward,”

The Coca-Cola Company initiated another consumer co-creation project with eYeka to work on their global brand platform of “energizing refreshment.” The massive interest that the contest generated helped Coca-Cola to source new interpretations of their positioning, especially across Asian markets.

“We had a massive response of creative content from across the globe, which was very exciting,“ explains Leonardo O’ Grady, ASEAN Director of Integrated Marketing Communications for Coca-Cola, “and it has had a ripple effect within our organization in the way we look at accessing creative and fresh ideas.”

The company explains that it is crucial to have access consumer-rooted creativity to create compelling communication strategies:

“It is one thing to have a strategic intent and it is another to see a broad range of how that strategy can come to life from multiple cultural perspectives,” O’Grady says, “co-creating at early stages allows us to measure the depth of the territory and to find an acceptable and credible positioning to communicate.”

Could consumer creativity bridge the innovation gap?

It is commonly accepted that creativity is necessary to innovate and to lead through turbulent times. Companies need creative thinkers not only to develop new products, but also to bring them to market faster and to promote them more relevantly among their audiences. Unilever used eYeka to source creative ideas for its beauty care brand Pond’s. The contest generated considerable interest among consumers, with some welcomed surprises:

“Some of the ideas came from countries where the brand is not even present,” explains Rey D’Silva, Global Brand Director for Pond’s, “this allowed us to create fresh content, which is bang-on on the messaging and our content territory and still interesting for our consumer.”

By crowdsourcing creative ideas on a global scale directly from consumers, Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola and Unilever have found a secret weapon to market their brands faster and better without the hurdle of transforming their entire organization into a creative powerhouse.

The emerging trend by which businesses rely on consumer creativity is still in its infancy but fast growing. Not only do companies recognize its value, but specialized intermediaries have also built solutions to allow them to tap into this resource easily. The Paris-based company eYeka is one of them, and already has an impressive portfolio of clients.

“Global companies desperately need this type of creativity to market their brands both at global and local levels,” François Pétavy, CEO of eYeka explains, “our role is to make this co-creative connection between brands and consumers as seamless as possible.”

Not every marketer can become a creative genius but with crowdsourcing, every marketer can talk to one, two or hundreds of willing idea generators.

Through co-creation and crowdsourcing with consumers or employees, organizations can tap into a ready pool of motivated creative thinkers that can rapidly offer solutions to marketing, brand or product innovation problems. While the onus to turn these fresh ideas into actionable marketing campaigns or ready-to-market products still lies within the hands of capable in-house marketers, this open approach to sourcing creative ideas is an elegant and efficient solution for any company to become more creative, while avoiding internal resistance to change. Not every marketer can become a creative genius but with crowdsourcing, every marketer can talk to one, two or hundreds of willing idea generators. The companies that will have a business edge today are the ones who quickly understand that it is easier to turn themselves into curators than creators. That is to learn how to stimulate, access and implement great creative thinking not from within their four walls but from the billions of connected creative minds that like and buy their products.

By Yannig Roth

About the author


Yannig Roth graduated in marketing and is now pursuing a doctoral degree at the University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne (France). His main research interests are online communities, co-creation, and creative crowdsourcing. Yannig is also Research Fellow at eYeka, one of the leading platforms in online co-creation, where he leads and coordinates academic research. Yannig also blogs at yannigroth.wordpress.com

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