Squeezing the Most from Creativity

Authors Pat Fallon and Fred Senn describe how they put creativity to the test in their book, Juicing the Orange: How to Turn Creativity into a Powerful Business Advantage. Fallon, CEO and Chairman of advertising agency Fallon Worldwide, and his partner Senn describe how they use creativity to gain a secure competitive advantage. In fact, they argue that

“Imagination is the last legal means of gaining an unfair advantage over the competition.”

Fallon Worldwide is the agency responsible for memorable campaigns such as Citi’s “Live Richly,” BMW Internet films, and Lee Jean’s “Buddy Lee” spots. You can see a collection of their work here . The authors tell the stories of how these memorable ads came to be and summarize the book with a chapter called “Lessons Learned,” which I highly recommend taking a look at. (You may also want to see a book review in Business Week).

What’s significant from a librarian perspective is that the authors don’t rely on huge sums of money to carry out these campaigns. Rather, they employ something called “creative leverage” to get the job done. As they define it, creative leverage is the ongoing process of making creativity accountable for eliciting changes in consumer behavior. In other words, they make creativity work and achieve concrete results.

What’s also notable is that there is no one technique for unleashing creativity. Sometimes, creative leverage is found through humor, other times it’s found through artistry, rigorous market research, or innovative uses of online media. There are, however, some themes that run throughout that give us insights into how to seize our creative potential. Here are some of the points about creativity that struck me:

Hit the pavement. The advertising teams never did their work from the sidelines. They conducted focus groups and talked to people on the front lines. In the case of the Holiday Inn Express campaign, planners hitched rides with business travelers and recorded their accounts of their family and work lives. Creativity, it seems, can’t be found from a desk. It’s necessary to see the problem from many different angles and points-of-view. Keen listening skills also come into play here.

Define the problem. The first of the authors’ 7 principles of creative leverage states, “Always Start from Scratch.” In the book, they illustrate this point from their work with Purina Dog Chow. The product had been commoditized and so it was undifferentiated from its competitors. The planning team rallied their dog-owning friends to find out what motivates people to buy dog food. The team found that customers mistakenly believed that changing their pup’s food frequently offered them desired variety. In reality, a steady diet is easier on dogs’ digestive tracts, and so the team focused its message on re-educating consumers. I personally have also found that identifying the correct problem is one of the most challenging tasks in designing services because it’s easy to over-rely on past experience and assumptions rather than approach an issue with a fresh take.

Don’t underestimate emotions. People are rational beings, to a point. At one time or another, emotions will exert influence on thought processes. As we apply creativity to design work, it’s important to recognize that our services should appeal to people on both a rationale and emotional level. In Juicing the Orange, the authors describe their work with United Airlines and their “It’s Time to Fly” campaign. Their breakthrough was recognizing that target customers were brand-conscious and wanted to display their success through consumption choices. In other words, these travelers considered more than just the costs and flight times when buying their tickets. Being creative involves tapping into emotions, as well as intellect.

Finally, welcome risk. Creativity, as I previously defined it, is the ability to create something. Making something out of nothing entails making guesses about the present and future. When those guesses are well-received, we achieve some measure of success. In fact, the authors argue that we achieve a competitive advantage. When attempts fall flat, organizations must maintain a creativity-friendly environment to encourage further risk-taking that may lead to the next great innovation.

As you can see, there are a number of pointers that can enhance an individual’s creativity, but you may be wondering how we can encourage creativity at an organizational level. In an upcoming post, I’ll discuss research conducted in the financial services industry that produced a model for establishing creative and innovative organizations.

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