Creativity across the entire enterprise

My colleague (and former roommate) Greg Stene is ramping up a new initiative. Greg has always been insanely bright and creative, but in framing his new business he’s asserting the importance of creativity in a way that I think doesn’t occur to most business people.

They’re still in the process of pulling the launch together, but here’s the first punch:

…the truth of being creative is deadly serious if you’re in business, government or the arts.

We’ve got to do more with less. And we’ve got to gain a competitive edge.

Creativity51 teaches organizations how to think more creatively, to gain that edge.

See that? Creativity = Resourcefulness. Budgets are tight, and conventional methods may lack efficiency and effectiveness. We need better answers to old questions and improved techniques for addressing ongoing challenges. This includes all the challenges an organization faces, too, not just the ones we normally associate with creativity.

In my experience, that word “creative” all-too-often connotes advertising and conjures images of those off-center “creatives” who have cubes and offices full of toys and whom businesses tolerate because they have that mysterious edge needed to get an audience’s attention.

We don’t as often associate creativity with less exciting business processes, though. Creativity stays on one side of the building and the business people on the other. I’m exaggerating, of course, but there’s enough truth in the stereotype that it’s probably fair to ask how good a job we’re doing at applying our creativity across the entire enterprise.

A brief case study illustrates the point.

Some years back, when I was with Gronstedt Group, we were working with Roger Ormisher and the PR group at Volvo Cars North America (which remains perhaps the best small corporate PR operation I’ve ever seen). They were facing a common enough problem: Ford corporate was a) slashing budget and b) insisting on greater results. Sound familiar?

So how could they “do more with less”? In a brainstorming session, somebody offhandedly said “wouldn’t it be great if we could turn all of our dealers into local PR branches?” Silence. Yes, wouldn’t that be great? But how could you do such a thing? For starters, local dealers lack the skills. They’re sales people and car people, not trained communicators. More critically, they tend to be focused on short-term returns and you’d have a hard time helping them see that money spent on PR could be as good for them as advertising aimed at the next weekend’s sales event.

Solution: The Local Angle, a highly tailored, three-part e-learning suite that employed game and roleplaying elements. Part 1 was aimed at winning the dealers’ hearts and minds – here’s why this is good for your business. Part 2: PR 101 – lots of how-to stuff on developing relationships with local press, etc. Part 3: events – because so much of what a local business can do in the way of effective PR revolves around community and events, sponsorships, etc. This episode presented a case study illustrating what one very successful Minneapolis dealer was accomplishing, because nothing is quite as compelling as a success story driven by the insights of a peer.

A fourth installment leveraged the event episode in prepping dealers for the company’s annual Drive for Life promotion. The upshot – VCNA credited this creative answer to an all-to-common budget crunch with generating over a million impressions and making the event the most successful one of its kind in company history.

The actual e-learning suite was fairly “creative” in its design and production, but that’s not what makes this a useful study in business creativity. The real value of creativity was in putting the innovative impulse to work in the service of what was ultimately a budgetary problem: they want us to do more and they’re taking away the money we need just to do what we already do. For an organization with VCNA’s commitment to success, simply accepting that they weren’t going to be able to accomplish as much was not acceptable.

Many of you probably have great cases of your own where their creativity saved money. Improved ROI. Drove higher impressions for less outlay. To recall Greg’s term from above, produced a competitive edge.

I’d love to hear your stories. Meanwhile, if you have a few minutes, you can review the Local Angle case study here.

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