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The Use Case for Creativity

Andrew Rosenbaum

When businesses stray into apperception, they tend to fall from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Businesses recognise creativity when it happens; that is simple perception.  But in recent years, the attempt has been to unlock it with apperception, on the supposition that we can all be creative if somehow inspiration strikes us.

So a whole tribe of management speakers has arisen to tell businesses how to become creative; here is a sample of the movement from the heights of Parnassus to…

“Creativity begins with a foundation of knowledge, learning a discipline, and mastering a way of thinking. You can learn to be creative by experimenting, exploring, questioning assumptions, using imagination and synthesizing information,” according to one of these “experts.”

Needless to say this confuses problem-solving with creativity, and that’s why such advice isn’t creating an explosion of innovation at the businesses who employ these consultants.

There is nothing mystical about creativity. It comes from a unique association of ideas, a kind of cluster of elevated intellectual vocabulary with hard thinking. In the 19th century, individuals who had it were singled out as artists and geniuses.

But that kind of inspired thinking doesn’t fit our paradigm in the 21st century. This has been expressed more prosaically: As one pundit puts it, “Businesses need smart thinkers to succeed in the future.”

Let’s package creativity into a use case.

Excruciating cant like this is unlikely to lead to understanding creativity, — but it is worth noting the attempt to make creativity a functional concept. “Thinkers,” meaning people who have ideas, must be “smart,” meaning they must apply their ideas to business challenges.  This whole, enduring current of treating creativity as something you can list on your CV is disastrous and inept. “My Skills: Marketing, Project Management, Creativity.”

With all this said, the comical inability of business to comprehend creativity doesn’t mean that they don’t desperately need it. We are all familiar with the “Kodak moment,” that point when the executives of a major corporation could not process the idea of digital cameras replacing those that used film. This has become a classic example in management theory of how lack of creativity led to failure.

In the US today, there are 3,671 companies listed on stock exchanges, down from 7,322 in 1996. Many of these companies disappeared because lack of creativity kept them from adapting to changing conditions.

The current emphasis on business culture is a healthy response to the need for creativity, but it is not a panacea. Good business culture values creativity and innovation, but does not necessarily foster it or reward it. Nor is it true that small companies show greater creativity than large ones – we have some examples of large companies with great drives for innovation right here in our Cyprus 4.0 for August.

Creativity is manifest more often in smaller companies, because if they don’t have it, they don’t become big companies. What is interesting, however, is that successful small companies tend to be creative in a number of different ways, and our publication shows some excellent examples of these – companies that don’t just come up with a single solution, but which regularly provide different solutions as their clients propose new challenges.

Another characteristic of creative and innovative businesses, large and small, is that they not only have lots of good ideas, but they are capable of making their ideas into practical business tools.

Here we may trot out the example of Google, which, no matter how often referred to, fills the bill. Google started out with an algorithm for web searching – the first one that got solid results when seeking information on that platform. But the algorithm didn’t make the business; the fantastic innovative business structure that the companies founders built around that algorithm is what made Google a success.

And this is what distinguishes our Cyprus companies that are featured here today: They have all built working businesses based first on unique ideas, then on building the business structures around them, and finally in managing those structures for growth.

Certainly these are ‘smart thinkers,’ but there’s a lot more going on in their heads.  These are examples of the real use case for creativity and innovation.


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