Guest Column: "Tomorrow's biz success will come from today’s creativity"

As we move into an era of tech-enabled simultaneity in marketing, perhaps the fraternal covenant of creative groups needs to be revived, says Shubhranshu Singh of Visa

e4m by Shubhranshu Singh
Updated: Jul 23, 2013 8:41 AM
Guest Column: "Tomorrow's biz success will come from today’s creativity"

Perhaps, one day it will be possible to formulate scientific laws for generating effective creative ideas, but till then, we have got do better than cross our fingers and pray.

In my opinion, the most important pre-requisites for excellent creative output are creation and sustenance of high performing creative groups and collaborative success with chosen partner agencies.

“All happy families resemble each other,” says Tolstoy in ‘Anna Karenina’, “each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. So it is, with most things in life. There is only one kind of good health, whereas there are many kinds of diseases. There is one kind of victory, whereas there are many types of defeats and so on.

In my experience and observation, all great creative groups are also alike/ congruent.

What is the clear and evident pattern that appropriately delineates successful creative groups in marketing?

Empowerment and leadership

The creative group doesn’t come about by itself. It is created by a highly empowered and creative leader starting with a small nucleus around him/her. There has to be a leader of ability and stature. “You may choose to put two armies under the command of one general but you shall come to grief if you put one army under the command of two generals,” Napoleon had said. This unity of command is essential for smooth and successful operation.

Within the group, there is unity but with diversity. The common inspiring purpose acts as the cementing glue. This coalescing and focused detachment usually makes these groups a bit unpopular since they may appear to be deliberately exclusive and have strong shared convictions.

Output and its significance

Creative groups must generate output. Their success is in proportionate to the demands made upon the group. They expand, as stretched. When they are not stretched, they shrink.  Deadlines don’t deter them. Resources don’t matter beyond a threshold. What matters is that ideas must spring forth and come alive.

Inspectorial supervision, inquiry and scrutiny over routine (these are what they think of as hygiene parameters) doesn’t work with creative groups. They respond to encouragement and enthusiasm.

The leader of the group is the pin in the grenade and no matter how much resource is furnished; the group is no longer the same if the leader changes. At times, with generational change, groups may even need to be disbanded and regrouped.

Never ‘more of the same’ after more of the same! The urge is to create afresh, to raise the bar, to exceed previous performance. Regular catering cannot make great Chefs. Monotony is an enemy of creative flourish.

The output of the creative group must be linked to the most significant business driver(s). Else it is ‘bonsai’, that is, art without fruition.

The true liberator of the creative spirit is the conviction that the output will be significant, that it shall change the course of things for the better- An objective, a purpose, the chance to build something- that is what excites creative groups. Bear in mind that, historically, great creativity and innovations have been trivialised because of being pressed into service for insignificant ends, for example:

The Byzantines invented clockwork but used it only for levitating their Emperor to impress visitors

The Chinese invented gunpowder but used it only for fireworks

The Tibetans invented Turbine mechanics but used it only for rotating prayer wheels

The challenge to the creative group must be that they are tasked to solve the most critical issues which will be propel the business, society in epochal ways.

Centralised decentralisation

There must be federative decentralisation, that is, good centralisation needs to be accompanied by good decentralisation. The more you do the latter, the more you can afford the former.

Creative groups must be tightly pre-soaked (even indoctrinated!) – The Romans didn’t have mobile phones, email, webinars, video conferencing or air travel but even the farthest outpost of their Empire ran the Roman-way (customised to local reality, of course). They were firm on the generics but flexible on the specifics. Smart!

This was possible because they ‘centralised’ the man who manned the ‘decentralised’ post through a long apprenticeship in a highly trained and well organised central pool before running the show elsewhere .

As we move into an era of technology enabled simultaneity in marketing and brand communications, perhaps this fraternal covenant of creative groups needs to be revived, retained and encouraged ever more. Only when bonds are strong, does concern mutate to criticism. And criticism from loyal followers is essential. A cabin with obsequious ‘yes’ men surrounding an autocrat can’t be a center of creative good!

Leading a creative group, seeing ones work flourish and grow is heady wine. But the adulatory vapours that surround one, if inhaled, lead to dulling of the vital nerve of feedback. The sensitive, easily wounded ego, once numb, instantly leads to mediocrity. Therefore, externally focussed leadership and partnership with external entities that keep on the osmosis of ideas always on, is also an equally critical aspect of generating creativity and innovations. I hope to focus on these aspects in my subsequent submissions.

The author is Marketing Director – India and South Asia, Visa. Views expressed here are personal.

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