The Role Of Creativity In Business

I read somewhere that the best test for creativity in business was simply to ask “are you creative?” So I tried it. And for the majority of people it seemingly proved true. The people that we all see as creative (designers, PowerPoint gurus, out of the box thinkers) said yes; and the planners, project managers, sales people said no. So I naively believed it to be true.

Then a few recent articles got me thinking more clearly. Namely Sir Ken Robinson’s speech at TED and Mike Wagner’s post on drawing a picture. These guys really cemented something that my 2 year old daughter teaches me every time I watch her play. We’re all creative. We all have boundless imaginations. We always have. Unfortunately our educational system has progressively worked that aspect our being out of us since about the third grade. No educational system on the planet puts as much emphasis on creativity as they do logic. Think about the number of math and science classes you took versus the arts and humanities. Not that logic is bad. In fact, it’s a critical element of who we are. It’s just over balanced compared to creativity.

I believe the lack of creativity is slowly killing business. It’s what’s driving everything to a commodity price-driven market. Without creative thinking how will the engineering team discover the next breakthrough product? How will the marketing team break out and stand above a crowded market place. Creativity isn’t solely the realm of designers and ad agencies. That’s what I love about Mike Wagner’s post. He asks the people in his seminar to draw a picture. Doesn’t matter what – just draw what comes to mind. Initially most people struggle with it. Imagine your finance person on this task – they’ll hate it. And why not, we’ve had decades of structured learning that tells us to ignore our creative side and to only focus on the logical. Mike tells a great story of a woman beginning to weep when she discovered she was just as creative now as when she was a little girl.

Creativity isn’t just associated with art. It does not equal wild and crazy. It doesn’t equal foolishness. When you hear “out of the box thinking”; that’s the call to creativity. It’s coming up with a new approach. It’s daring to think differently. After all, isn’t that what we’re paid to do? If everyone has the same view, the same ideas, the same approach, the same results then why are all of us still here?

To succeed in business is to be creative in your role (obviously Sarbanes-Oxley looks down at creative financial reporting – and for good reason). Growth in business demands creativity. It is what will separate you from the competition. As humans we’re trained to only notice what’s different in our environment, in other words, being different is the best way to raise awareness.

The lack of creativity across the board is hurting your brand. It’s hurting your profitability. It’s hurting your employees. Creativity isn’t a special gift – we’re all born with it. It never leaves, it’s just hiding. Look for ways you can let the two year old inside come out and play.

Nick Rice

Nick Rice

Nick Rice is a visionary accomplished marketing coach that works with successful service business owners who yearn to take their business to the next level yet struggle to attract more clients.

Nick is the co-author of "The Age of Conversation", an Expert Blogger for Fast Company magazine, and authors an AdAge Power150 blog on the topic of marketing and branding.

Download his free report, "7 Principles of Attracting More Clients," at

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  1. Nick – I dig it! Creativity IS the key. I agree…where HAS the creativity gone? That’s why I love focusing on “voice” as well. When we get clear about what our unique voice is, we can then use it as creativly as possible to spead the word (whatever our business word is).

    When we stop trying to be a half-ass version of a competitor and BEcome the first class version of ourselves (in business and in life) is when we really fly.

    When we use creativity as a channel to get our message out there is when we design businesses of true integrity and beauty.

    Thanks for the great article,

  2. Nick,
    Great post! I’m a father of two. One is entering the first grade this year. I’ve read studies about creativity in human beings and the results demonstrated that people become noticeably less creative at about age 6. Big surprise–this is when kids start attended an extremely structured and stifling environment called school.
    I do my best to encourage creativity with my kids. So far, so good. For example my oldest likes trains, Star Wars, and dinosaurs. I often find him playing with all three simultaneously, combining all into stories. I have a lot to learn from my kids when it comes to creativity. Many of us fall into this non-creative rut based on situations in society.

  3. Jon, great job trying to keep your kids creative. I think it will be invaluable for their future. I think it really comes down to risk. Logic is sort of the antithesis of risk; while creativity is inherently risky. You have no idea where you’re going initially outside of a few boundaries set. But that’s also exactly what makes it powerful. I have no intention of decreasing the focus on science and math; I’d just like to see the arts raised.

    I think that it’s one of those things that can truly elevate America in the new economy. If we have any desire to remain a world superpower we have to get back to innovation.

  4. That’s funny. When I first read the beginning of the this post I thought maybe this would work. Then I tought about it to. Yeah I guess we are all creative, but we have different levels and types of creativity. Some of us have let our creativity show, while others have been put in a box.


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  5. Hi Nick

    I agree completely. We are all born with creativity and the lack of it is killing not only business, it is killing people as well (figuratively speaking…)

    The thing to be aware of: Since our education puts so much emphasis on logic, and on the illusion that logic & rationality equals safety & security, many, if not most people think/feel that creativity is not something that you can trust.

    Trust however is CRUCIAL for creativity to flow freely and thus produce the kind of experiences and results that really make a difference in business and in life.

    Since we’re not brought up with it it’s up to us to allow creativity to flow into every aspect of our lives – business lives too – and to TRUST IT!

  6. oh yes and oh YES again! While I’m an artist, I believe that creativity comes in all shapes and sizes from cookies to a good soup (oh, they’re both food), to a beautiful garden to a well-made bed (okay, it’s all household – that and my art are my creations). And OH YES a third time about schools whose squash it all out and try to convince us that only a gifted few are creative. Phooey! Here’s to the creative spark in each and every one of us and to you for saying it so well!

  7. Creativity takes guts.

    A lot of businesses today are lead by individula whose parents sheltered them and provided everything for them. Let them live at home far too long etc. They never had to work hard for much, they follow the leader.

    To do something different in your business and make a difference you have to think creatively. Once you discover a solution and sometimes it appears “out there” you now have to have the guts to do it – to take the risk.

    Ever attend a brainstorming seesion? Everybody loves throwing ideas out there. Everybody likes the idea of creativity. “thinking outside of the box” is a very over-used mantra. Now try to implement that creative idea.

    Watch how many reasons why we can’t do it suddenly pops up. It will cost too much, it will never work, no one will buy it – blah, blah, blah.

    No guts. Creativity in business, art and life in general requires the guts to put it out there and see it through.

    Picasso could easily have painted sentimental scenes realitisically but he chose to be creative. Guts.

    Steve Jobs could have pulled a Dell and mass-produced beige products as well, but chose to be creative. Guts.

    Starbucks could have just served up java with cream but chose to get creative. Guts.

    I don’t agree that we all have the potential to be creative. It is more complicated than that. To be creative is to be leader not a follower. We simply are not all leaders. Most of society are followers, they look to the creative thinkers for their solutions and their guts to make it happen.