Expert Perspective

James Womersley

14 November 2022

Eating the Elephant of Creative Transformation 

How marketers can build and nurture a creative culture within both their teams and organisation, one bite at a time

There is an inherent tension within the walls of most marketing organizations: companies (and the leaders within them) often feel forced to choose between novelty and predictability. Do we push for a boundary-bending creative idea, or do we go with the ad we know will come in under budget and might spark a slight uptick in sales?

In almost every organization, the safer route wins out.

Professor Teresa Amabile, writing in Harvard Business Review, points out that: 

‘In the pursuit of productivity, efficiency, and control, [management teams] undermine creativity.’

Maybe you work in a company like that. Most people do. Your conversations are probably littered with acronyms that don’t mean much to other people. You probably feel the need to say no to your agency a lot. You probably don’t get nervously excited the night before your new campaign launches. 

Your company is also probably prioritizing short-term gains over long-term growth, and leaving money on the table because of a miscalculation of the risk inherent in creativity. 

Good news: the first step to righting the ship is finding out why it’s listing. Understanding the underlying science of how and why creativity works to grow brands is the first step for most organizations to embrace a culture of creative bravery, and make strides toward producing more creative and more effective work.

No matter how stuck in its ways your company feels, there are brands that have turned around bigger boats in tighter bathtubs. It can be done. Creative cultures can be built in the most old-fashioned organizations, creative muscles can be strengthened in the least imaginative teams. And although it doesn’t happen overnight, companies can re-train themselves to doggedly pursue creativity - on strategy, right-for-the-brand, risk-minimizing creativity - in everything they do.

If the task of making headway on this mission has fallen to you, it can feel equivalent to being asked how you’d go about about eating an elephant. As Desmond Tutu said, the answer is ‘a bit at a time’. When we break it down with our clients at Contagious, here are three important questions we ask:

  1. What is the organisation’s creative ambition? This question asks whether business leaders are pointing towards a compelling creative north star, talking in a consistent way about it and behaving in a way that makes it clear: creativity is our priority.
  2. Are its tools for creativity fit for that purpose? While tools, processes and templates will only get you so far, does the way you ask people to work help or hinder you in achieving that ambition?
  3. How and where does the organization learn about creativity? Most marketers are involved in the creative process infrequently. So how can we provide spaces for team to understand, engage with and be motivated by creativity.

What those answers reveal will be holes, gaps, conflicts on one hand, and promise, potential and sources of momentum on the other. Creatively ambitious businesses grapple with all three levers - ambition, tools, learning environments - so that they knit together and work in unison, helping them to elevate the creative bar and build better brands.

If you need help with starting on that elephant, Contagious is here to assist. Get in touch via [email protected].

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