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The place for creative thinking in the world of big business

by Jackson B
The place for creative thinking in the world of big business

By Lee McCormack, CEO, MyGlobalHome

How big business sees creative thinking

In big business, it is often felt that whilst creative thinking occupies a very important space within the organisational hierarchy from a product or marketing perspective, creative talent, their skill-sets and ways of working should be confined to the design studio. By contrast, the heavy lifting of running the business should be left to individuals well versed in the business-school playbook and traditional ways of doing things.

The sentiment that creativity has little place within the wider way businesses should be run goes hand in hand with the perceived risk of change and fear of experimentation, particularly within traditional service industries. The feeling that it is easier to follow the proven path than risk embarrassment or disaster is pervasive within big business structures and is enforced from the top by deeply entrenched corporate hiring and career development practices.

Nothing great was ever achieved without a degree of risk

Whilst large, established businesses do of course try to solve problems and seek out opportunities, they tend to do so following existing or proven tactics and strategies, so the old ways of doing things tend to be propagated. This reduces the risk of failure but also reduces the potential impact of an idea or solution. Following a set of rules or proven path is fine during the good-times – it is easier and faster to roll-out or scale a way of working when it is deeply embedded – but this can lead to stagnation, missed opportunity or worse when the tides change. Big business does not know how to evaluate the opportunity that comes with the risk of failure, and so individuals are encouraged to fear it rather than see it as fuel for their creative endeavours.

Big business doesn’t encourage creative thinking as it doesn’t understand it

Lee McCormack,

Lee McCormack,

It is arguable that the image of the creative individual’s value as being solely within the ‘creative domain’ and the perception that it is easier to play it safe than be sorry, have evolved because big business doesn’t encourage creative thinking as it doesn’t understand it.

The art of creative thinking and the creative process generally, is about problem solving and understanding the strategies needed to overcome obstacles. Whether formally taught in design institutions or innately felt, the creative process looks at a problem as a stepping-stone to a better solution and is diligent, robust and ethnographic in nature.

Unfairly seen as being unbridled in its freedoms and overtly experimental, the creative process, its training techniques and the ways of thinking it encourages are focused on overcoming real-world challenges through listening and observing how people try to tackle the issues that face them in their daily lives.

Creative training not only provides the tools and ways of working to tackle a problem and develop innovative solutions from the challenge, but a range of other benefits which are hugely valuable outside of the design studio: it builds empathy, resilience and confidence and gives perspectives which are valuable in any environment, particularly in the work-place.

The greatest business leaders understand the value of creative thinking

There are of course examples of large established companies which are recognised for putting creative thinking at the heart of their way of working. Often established by individuals with ‘non-traditional’ backgrounds who set out to innovate or disrupt their industry, companies like Dyson and Virgin are famed not only for their product innovation but for the culture they instilled within their organisations from the ground-up. Apple is seen as one of the world’s greatest companies, not only due to the design of its products and the strength of its brand, but for embedding design thinking throughout its organisation, which is expressed in everything from the layout of its offices to the flexibility of its team structures.

Steve Jobs, Richard Branson and James Dyson all had fairly unconventional backgrounds for big business but went on to revolutionise their respective sectors. Their contributions and successes have influenced a new generation of founders and business leaders, who despite often having traditional backgrounds and technical skill-sets, are staying clear of the establishment playbook and are building some of the world’s most valuable companies by encouraging their teams to think creatively and focus on innovative problem solving for their customers. Jeff Bezos has his concept of ‘Day 1′, looking at each day as if it were a chance to re-start Amazon from fresh, whilst Elon Musk seeks out and encourages talents from non-traditional backgrounds to join Tesla, understanding that this leads to a better environment for problem solving and a wider skill-set within the organisation.

Creative thinking in the new world

The world of business has been turned on its head by the pandemic. Entire industries have had to re-think their ways of working overnight. It is becoming clear that the companies that have not only thrived but which will continue to do so, are the ones which saw the change and uncertainty as a force for opportunity and were most willing to think creatively about the problems they faced.

We are all born creative individuals, but time and environment distances us from our creative instincts. Whether through employing individuals who have nurtured their creative capabilities and situating their work and role within the wider framework of the organisation (outside of the studio) or implementing the principles of creative thinking, businesses, however traditional or established, will be better placed to perform and adjust to the rapidly changing global landscape.

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