One of the most interesting and life changing courses I studied during my MBA was on creativity and innovation and I have pursued my interest in the field during the decade or so since then and have provided many training sessions on the subject. I am also pleased to be presenting a half day open session on “introduction to creativity and innovation” later on this year for the PM Forum.

Happily, whereas once the professions were terribly risk averse and only wanted “tried and tested” approaches that many others had used, there is a much greater acceptance of and even a desire for more creativity within young marketers and not just in terms of design and marketing communications – but across all aspects of strategic marketing. So. I have just a few hundred words in which to summarise this huge and fast growing area. I will do my best.

There are many definitions and many theories about how creativity comes about – whether divine inspiration, serendipity, association, cognitive or personality based. I particularly like the observation by Hayes that “it takes 10 years of intense preparation for creative contributions” – it underlies the value of the old hands like me in the face of the impressive young members of the profession around today. There is also the “two brains” view that sees the left brain logical and rational strengths of the professions pitted against the softer right brain skills. Kirton’s spectrum of adaptors and innovators helped me during my early years in the professions understand why often I (a classic innovator) sometimes found it hard to understand and communicate with my legal and accounting clients (often adaptors who use rules).

There are also a number of different aspects of creativity – whether this is within the person, the process (Wallace – preparation, incubation, illumination and verification), the place, the product or the art of persuasion. Perkin’s snowflake model of creativity provides a useful way to self-evaluate the various competences and attributes needed and as a marketer with a predisposition to models with 4Ps I find value in Henry’s positivity, playfulness, passion and persistence. In terms of creating the right place or conditions for creativity I am a great admirer of the work of “Time to think” by Nancy Kline.

And then, of course, there are the huge number of tools and techniques to support the problem framing, problem solving, idea generation, evaluation of ideas and implementation (and here we overlap with the huge topic of change management). At business school we had text books by Jane Henry and Arthur B Van Grundy and a former fellow student – Peter Cook – then went on to write a great book called “Best practice creativity” – these are all great sources. In my courses I focus on seven key problem definition tools and nine idea generation tools and a couple of idea evaluation frameworks. But there are literally hundreds.

But the key is not to think about creativity as a separate activity but to try to integrate it into your everyday life. For example, many of those who have attended my marketing and sales workshops and training sessions will be familiar with De Bonos Thinking Hats, superheroes, brain sketching and the use of metaphors for things as diverse as business development styles of partners or difficult partner behaviours. Countless delegates have been encouraged to use yellow stickies (Japanese KJ method), music, mind maps, storyboards, quotes and drawing to explore issues and find solutions (I am currently reviewing an excellent book on this subject called “The back of the napkin” by Dan Roam). One or two have even been asked to design board games to bridge the professions-marketing communication gap.

So in reality there are no right or wrong ways to bring more creativity into your professional life – you only really need some basic knowledge and lots and lots of confidence. For example, I use convergent-divergent thinking as a key tool when looking at sales questioning technique and “ideal world” when helping senior managers formulate and articulate realistic goals. In coaching situations, I often use “other’s perspectives” while in day to day management, I frequently use the 3D framework to help others (particular junior staff) to solve problems for themselves and when I am under pressure and time constrained I will use “60 ideas in 60 minutes”.


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As always, if there are particular topics you would like me to address in the future, please let me know. You will also find a source of more and up to date information on a broad range of management and marketing issues in the professions by checking out the blog where I also post regular reviews of books that might be helpful.