I guess the question needs framing. If you are a design agency, then you probably already employ a bunch of reasonably creative people. At least, I hope you do otherwise what am I paying for? If you are a law firm, consultancy firm, manufacturing company, accountancy practice etc, then, at best, you’ll have small pockets of creativity but, statistically, you won’t be employing that many truly creative individuals. Until recently, you haven’t really needed to either, as your competitive edge could be gained through other means, such as speed, cost, efficiency, expertise and brand. But this may be changing.
The industrial revolution automated manual labour, effectively replacing humans with faster, more efficient means of production. We are now witnessing the dawn of, practically applicable, artificial intelligence, or AI. As with the industrial revolution before it, the revolution in digital intellect will replace those humans that are primarily engaged with analytical tasks; tasks that can be replicated with computer algorithms. Computers that can ‘think’ can already assimilate, process and evaluate information millions of times faster than any human ever could. Processes such as analysis of needs and giving of advice, or clinical diagnoses, will soon be in the realm of AI. Sooner than you think.
But what about creativity? The creative individuals, historically, are the ones that sit outside the structure. In order to think differently they must reject the social conventions and the constraints of established models. They create their own models, their own conventions and, in doing so, they catalyse fresh, innovate ways of looking at the world, which then get absorbed into the system and, eventually, becomes accepted wisdom and general practice. And the result is progress. Without creativity we have no progression. So, to a point, this answers the original question. If you want your business to move forward, yes, you need creative capability.
But the cerebral machinations that allow the liberation of creative thought are exceptionally complicated. Computers cannot replicate this. At least, not yet. So, with AI set to replace large swathes of the workforce, the value that organisations place on the creative brain will increase. We already see this happening. Businesses are recognising that the leading edge, the differentiation, lies with the ability to innovate better and faster. We see businesses, particularly the progressive ones, reshaping their environments and policies to cater for these people. Flexible scheduling, relaxation of dress codes, unlimited holiday, working from home, all appeal to those less willing to accept the traditional, conservative architecture of the large corporates. It goes deeper than this though.
It’s not as simple as just employing more creative people. You’ve got to find them first. How can you distinguish between those that are genuinely creative and those that just say they are? Can your conventions, policies, hierarchical structures and culture really withstand larger numbers of creative people floating around? And are you willing to adopt, what is ostensibly, a high-risk approach to beating the competition?
Let’s explore these questions further. Firstly, you need to identify the right people. You don’t just want ideas people. There are plenty of them about. Everyone has ideas, but not everyone is creative. And you need to really understand this point: not everyone is creative. Innovation goes deeper than mere ideas; it’s about finding new perspectives, new paradigms, new ways of interpreting the world around us. Very few companies really break new ground but, if that’s your aim (and is that your aim? It absolutely doesn’t need to be) then you need genuinely creative people in your midst. You can select these people for sure, but the selection process needs to be rigorous. You’ll need to understand a bit about personality traits, temperaments, about the characteristics of such people. Psychologically speaking, they’ll likely be high in openness, high IQ, but typically low in conscientiousness. You’ll need to know where to find them. You’ll need to know what questions to ask to identify potential candidates. There are measures and tests for such things but understand that recruitment will require more subtle and sophisticated processes than you may be currently utilising. Past experience (ie the CV) will no longer be your lead indicator and, instead, you will need to incorporate some of the basic principles of clinical psychology to inform the selection exercise. IQ remains one of the best indicators of creativity by the way, so not employing stupid people is a great starting point. But, if you can get it right, the time and effort involved in selecting these people could well pay dividends. You will be building your ability to innovate.
Secondly, is your organisation geared-up for a higher proportion of creatives? By temperament, they will reject the recognised hierarchical structures of traditional corporations. They won’t play the corporate game. They won’t high-five at new business wins, they will be easily bored, they will habitually fail to submit things on time or execute mundane tasks, they won’t be ‘on the bus’. They will question everything, they will see better ways of doing things – but not because they are being dogmatic or cantankerous, but because they genuinely can see better ways of doing things. They will be arrogant. Do your senior managers like people disagreeing with them? Seriously, ask yourself this question.
Creatives may well be higher in neuroticism, making them more sensitive to negative emotion, higher maintenance in other words. But this is my point, you need to be prepared for the reality of having these people around. On the face if it, they look like poor corporate citizens. Traditional managerial models will be just itching to manage these people out. But this is the real mistake, because then they don’t rise up the corporate hierarchy. And the result is zero creative ability at the top of the structure, which is really where you need it most. The equation is simple; creativity coupled with influence, equals entrepreneurial capability. In turn, this will mean that creativity is valued within your culture and, in turn again, more creativity will then be nurtured at the lower echelons of the organisation. So it’s not just about flexible working and dress-down days, it’s going to require a fundamental shift in philosophy and culture.
Finally, if you are serious about increasing your creative potential, understand that it’s a high risk strategy. In the way that most start-ups fail, most new ideas fail. A new idea is only the start. You’ve then got to test it, build it, integrate it, market it, sell it and run it. All incredibly difficult to do successfully, particularly, when many corporate structures are gloriously ineffective at nurturing new concepts. Getting a new idea off the ground can be akin to lighting a fire with two damp sticks whilst single-handedly sailing around Cape Horn in a force 12 gale. And then, once the idea is born, most creative people then lose interest very quickly. They don’t generally have the application, the conscientiousness or the discipline to actually see it through to fruition. You need other personality types to implement and execute.
So it’s kind of like buying a lottery ticket; little chance of winning. But, if you do win, you win big! But as with lottery tickets, the more tickets you buy the more chance you have of winning. It may just be easier, in the long run, to simply take other people’s ideas and try to do them better. This is certainly a valid strategy and, in point of fact, what most companies actually do. But, back to the original point, this will be increasingly difficult to do as AI and computer automation homogenise quality and service levels, eroding the field of battle on which businesses can effectively compete.
To boil it all down, AI is on the way. The value and scope of human capital is, at best, changing and, at worst, being diminished. Creativity is still one area however where we are not in competition with the machines and the computers. Businesses that embrace the transformative power of the creative human mind will be the ones that not only succeed but, at the same time, inspire all of us to reach further. Put it this way, I know which type of company I would rather work for.