04/18/2009 08:40 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Wouldn't It Be Great If We Were All Creative?

One piece of non-asked-for advice for this lovely Saturday: Get Your Creative On!

Over the years creativity has been assigned a limited role in business in general and marketing in particular. For the most part agencies do not influence decisions that affect business beyond the little ones right when the objects are being brought to market. Only a decade or so ago a guy in advertising would have called himself a partner with his marketing client and nosed his helpful self into everything from new-product development to retail distribution.

Not today. Through the years most of those so-called ad guys, like the doctors they visit with a sigh, began to become specialists, and annoying ones at that. They got uppity and focused expertise on a small set of skills, leaving other specialists to work on everything else that wasn't in their purview.

Advertising agencies are a good example for this ramble 'cause they no longer have the wherewithal to think broadly, and that is a mistake. Clients think them irrelevant in discussions about business because they've made themselves so.

Tsk, tsk. Lost their place at the big-boy table.

So guess what's going to happen? The creativity marketing agencies offer will become even more marginalized. This is bad news for every marketing professional, who is told budgets are under terrible pressure to shrink.

I put forth that without creative advisers to jump up and rudely challenge and provide fresh thinking to guide business decisions, everything we do will become more formulaic and less effective and pretty much depress us.

Creativity is almost impossible to define. According to consumer-insight researchers at Lucid Incorporated, every person recognizes he or she has it, but its meaning varies widely. Anna Sandilands and Anna David, who quit Starbucks Corp. in 2004 to found Lucid, have appealing perspectives on creativity, both from their experience at the coffee lords and from an astounding 2006 research project on behalf of Apple Computer Inc.

There they found that people not labeled (and pressured to be) professional Creative Types usually have fresher and less formulaic views on what being creative is. A lawyer they interviewed saw his mountain-bike riding as highly creative because it gave him inspiration for legal cases.

Lucid also found that for all people--regardless of their jobs and whether they are thought of as ingenious by others--to create is as basic a need as food, water, and sleep. Even if the result of their creativity--a poem or a cake--doesn't turn out perfect, and the process was a nightmare, it is rewarding to them because it exercises a part of their brains they feel fulfilled for having used. So next time you're at a museum pretending not to be bored, remember you're a better person now!

Those Lucid talked to cite time constraints as the reason for limiting creativity. It seems all of us would benefit from time for real thought, so put the book down right now. Put your feet up and ponder the stars and the sun and that gorgeous bit of chocolate you munched upon last night. Daydream, believe it.

Corporations do not nurture creativity! Even at an innovative company such as Starbucks, so say Lucid's founders, any artistic aspect is not brought in until the key people upstairs have nailed down the business end, at which time it is often too late to influence key decisions.*

Problem? In many firms creativity is seen to be an add-on rather than a must-have and is treated with Rodney Dangerfield levels of respect. And everyone, O must remind you, has an opinion and an asshole, so Wilde said to no one in particular. We are all so eager to share our opinions on creative work that is now being managed to death so it becomes a useless melting pot of poor and superb. (There is too such a thing as a bad idea.)

Teresa M. Amabile, Edsel Bryant Ford Professor of Business Administration at the Entrepreneurial Management unit of Harvard Business School, argues that every intelligent person has potential to be creative at their job, regardless of whether they toil in Marketing, HR, Finance, or Lunch Meat Selection. And accounting too, but that's dangerous to say in public. . . .

From Lucid's lucid insights it appears encouraging people to be creative in their jobs makes folks feel better about the daily grind and gives real value to those who have to "think different" for a living.

Whatever, so long as people stop treading on the toes of others trying to do something hard, fast, and innovative.

Big corporations aren't organized so that the people with ideas are respected for them.
Recommendation is to bring in the outsiders, whose businesses revolve around being an Idea Factory. Plus those who haven't drunk your Kool-Aid will tell you your shit stinks. Get those folks into the process as early as possible.

Bring 'em in, put 'em on pedestals, chain 'em to a desk, give 'em M&M's.

Besides, no one has ever formalized just what creative is! It's not on any job description I've eyeballed.

Obviously, some work environments are more conducive to creativity than others. For instance, a high-pressure work space of go-go-go will distract from the focus required to make one's mind roar. There is also a school of belief that creativity has a direct correlation with joy: people are happy when they have an idea, and because they also have better ideas when they're happy.

Guess van Gogh should have left that ear on.

Twitter: for the feed.

For more like this, see "Punk Marketing," the book by me and Mark Simmons, out in paperback in May.