Some of the best and brightest minds in the field of creativity met in September at the World Creative Forum at the Bloomberg Centre in London. They tackled some big questions: What is creativity, and how do you make it happen in your business?
Tim Berners-Lee, the Englishman who invented the World Wide Web, kicked off the conference by stating that creativity is the exciting part of the human condition – it is what sets us apart from other species. But if, as he suggests, creativity depends on chaos then how do you do it? His answer is that you soak things up. You do not deliberately organize your thoughts but let things drop into place and then you bring out something new. What he is looking for now is what he calls “intercreativity” – using the Internet to communicate creatively and building live plans cooperatively. If he is right, then his creation of the Web could unleash the power of group creativity.
Sir Terence Conran is described as an entrepreneur of the imagination. He agreed on the creative process. “If I am looking for a new idea I find inspiration by sifting through magazines. I start with a vague notion of what I want and then let things filter down. Most innovations are not really new but are an intelligent progression.” This point was taken up by Vittorio Radice, Chief Executive for Mark & Spencer Home Group, who gave the example of rocket salad and curry sandwiches. It would not be popular in Italy, nor in India but this creative synthesis sells well in London.
There were many other examples of creative inventions from some of the most promising designers around. Paul Priestman designs everything from radiators to the interior of the new Airbus. How would you design new pasta? How could you make it better? His saucer shaped pasta does not drip and can be easily stored and measured out in cylindrical containers. He showed an award-winning knife block which looked great and snapped apart for easy cleaning. Andrew Shoben designs works to enliven public places. For a park in London he created a set of railings which play the tune “The Girl from Ipanima” as you run a stick along them. James Hodgson showed a new minimalist running shoe made of carbon fibre and molded to the foot of the athlete. It is lighter than regular running shoes and does not deform during the race.
What are their secrets for creating new designs? Hodgson starts by asking why. Why does the athlete need a shoe that covers his feet? It turns out that foot covering is not needed so his new shoe has a spiked sole and a moulded heel that leaves the toes and much of the foot exposed.
Priestman emphasizes the same point when he says, “Don’t be afraid of the questions that seem naïve. Ask the obvious.” Looking up at the first thing he saw, he asked, “Why does a door have to hinge on one side only?”
So how can you make your organization more creative? Here they have plenty of advice to offer. Design and innovation should be a key item at board level. Complacency about what customers will buy is out – you have to design things that will excite your clients. So your people have to be imaginative and entrepreneurial. Priestman says you have to give your people time to be creative. Give them space and let them learn. Ensure open communication between departments. Inspire people to see ideas through to completion.
The interior designer and author of the book,“‘New Retail,” Rasshied Din, reinforces these points. “Many big industries have lost touch with their customers. You have to start by understanding who buys your products or services and why.” He places great store on selecting the right people and then inspiring them to be creative. “Foster an environment of adventure. Give people challenging work and they will grow. Get them to generate hundreds of ideas and so to exceed customer expectations rather than just meet them,” Din added
And what about the top management in your business? What do they have to do to lead a creative revolution? Andrew Warren of Cap Gemini Ernst Young was clear that creative leadership had to be seen rather than talked about. “If leaders believe in incremental change, then that is all they will get. If they are prepared to take risks and try radical change then that message is transmitted through the organisation”’ Or as Rasshied Din put it, “Chief Executives have to be open to stimulus. They must show enthusiasm for change and gusto for creativity.”
But making creativity an ongoing part of your culture is not easy. According to Andy Law, businesses will normalise whenever they can. Law is founder of the ad agency St Luke’s and author of the book, “Open Minds”. Organizations slip back into comfortable routines. He summed it up by giving the best definition at the forum:
“Creativity is the defeat of habit by originality.”
Paul Sloane is the founder of Destination Innovation, which helps businesses improve innovation. He writes and speaks on lateral thinking and innovation. He is the author of The Leader’s Guide to Lateral Thinking Skills published by Kogan-Page.