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Mind the Gap

Mind the Gap

To Close The Innovation Divide, Uk Brands Need To Get Creative

Andi Davids

Senior Strategist

Superunion

Andi.Davids@superunion.com

There are perhaps no two qualities more closely associated with British brands than strong heritage and a commitment to excellence. These connotations may earn the UK’s leading brands respect both at home and abroad, but they also pose a challenge in a world propelled forward by innovation, which above all else prizes novelty and the ability to fail fast.

When asking how UK brands can drive an innovation agenda, it would be a mistake to examine innovation in isolation, because innovation is the final step in a more fundamental process that drives business and social progress: creativity.

As our Creative Partner Nick Eagleton says: “The most valuable assets in business aren’t technology, offices, or even talent, which will always come and go. They’re ideas. Ideas solve problems. Ideas inspire people. Ideas invent what’s next. Ideas make an impact. Most importantly, ideas are the direct output of creativity.” To put it in another way, generating ideas is creativity in its purest form. But ideas on their own don’t amount to much. To be innovative, a creative idea must be both useful and actionable, solving a problem in a way that is commercially viable. UK brands must therefore stop seeing creativity as a discipline, and instead view it as a process, one that involves more people than just those who have the word "creative" in their job title.

And while we’re on the topic of people, there’s a belief out there that creativity is innate – either you have it, or you don’t. But the myth of the creative genius or the "eureka!" moment is just that, a myth. Creativity is a fundamentally human trait, intrinsic to everyone. We’re all capable of coming up with ideas and solving problems. As Professor Teresa Amabile from Harvard Business School has shown, creative thinking is a skill. And, as with all skills, creative thinking can be strengthened with regular practice. The more often you approach problems flexibly and imaginatively, the easier it becomes to develop original ideas. So, whether creative director or financial controller, everyone has the ability to be creative.

The ability to generate ideas is as applicable to teams as it is individuals. While it’s true that certain departments -- namely marketing and research and development – have a reputation for being creative, there’s an important difference between doing creative work and approaching the work you do creatively. It’s the latter that drives innovation, and it can manifest in any department. In HR, creativity may result in new recruitment practices, such as PwC’s "Multipoly"; gamification that stimulates recruits in their first year on the job. In supply chain management, it may help develop adaptive distribution channels, like Volvo’s partnership with FedEx to provide in-car deliveries to its customers. No matter what the job function, creative methods of solving business problems can provide clear competitive advantage.

Far from being an intangible quality, creativity is a process that can be fostered in any organisation, for any industry, to act as a tool for change. It encourages collaboration, bringing people closer together. It cultivates empathy, requiring those who engage in the process to imagine the perspective of others. And, perhaps most significantly, it fosters a belief that any challenge is surmountable if approached in innovative ways.

To stimulate growth, UK brands need to have a clear understanding of the role creativity plays in executing their strategy. Moving creativity upstream to tackle board-level businesses challenges can affect product and service development, recruitment and retention, culture change and the driving purpose of the organisation, all of which will inevitably result in innovation.