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  • How Creative to Be in Times of Change spacer
  • The pandemic brought about a great deal of change. It drastically reduced revenue in some industries. At the same time, digital transformation of businesses, which was already well underway, accelerated due to the pandemic. This happened as lockdowns and social distancing meant that much more business had to be conducted virtually. As a result, the pandemic left many businesses grappling with how to change.

    Some businesses faced dire circumstances due to the pandemic. For example, restaurants have been severely impacted by pandemic mandated dine-in shutdowns. Businesses in such dire straits can be under intense pressure to change in order to survive. With their survival possibly at stake, it is often said that these businesses need to be creative in finding ways to do things differently during such dire times.

    But, is creativity really what these businesses need?

    Furthermore, just like we have seen some corporate executives encourage more risk taking,greater creativity is reportedly now being encouraged in the corporate world. For example, an executive in a major corporation is advocating as much creativity as possible. However, this call for creativity came with a directive that the creativity only entail what can actually make money for the company.

    Based on my research, what makes money for companies is usually something that builds on the strengths of the business. Having researched business success and failure patterns for 25+ years, I find that business success occurs when the right kind of change is made. The right kind of change is generally not something wildly different from what was done before. Thus, including the importance of money in the call for creativity essentially recognizes that something besides creativity will drive the success of the business. And, this approach works because wildly creative solutions often don’t build on the strengths of the business. On the other hand, successfully making money generally does build on business strengths.

    Of course, this doesn’t mean that creativity has no place at all in business. Creativity can be especially valuable in areas like advertising and sales promotion, as long as it is in keeping with the business strategy rather than merely being wildly creative. Creativity can also be important in brainstorming sessions that dream up new ideas for the business. However, while ideas should not be judged during those brainstorming sessions, afterwards it is important to identify those ideas that are right for the business and are in keeping with its strengths.

    Despite creativity’s integral role in areas like advertising and promotion, however, these functions do not always require something wildly different. A good example of this comes from a comment I posted online about a 2017 Harvard Business Review article. The editors selected my comment from many posted on line and included it in a smaller number of comments featured in Harvard Business Review’s print edition. The article discusses how too much novelty can backfire. My comment dealt with the issue that novelty is not the only way to stand out. Depending on the situation, repetition of the same selling point over and over again can be as or more effective than a creative new ad campaign.

    So, back to the issue of whether creativity is what businesses need in order to deal with pandemic driven change. In light of the above, the answer is generally no. Creativity is not necessarily what businesses need in order to change successfully. What they need is to be selective about the changes they make and to be sure those changes fit with the strengths of the business. As I said in a previous newsletter, some businesses may be able to do things that are less of a fit with strengths if they participate in government mandated production. Some companies made shifts like this to produce pandemic related supplies, such as ventilators. But, other than those somewhat rare exceptions, it is generally better to stick with company strengths as best as possible when changing the direction of the business.

    In conclusion, when asking how creative to be during times of change, the answer is that creativity can play a role, but creativity should not dominate. For achieving success, it is far more important to build on strengths and get change right than it is to be wildly creative.

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