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December 19, 2018

How to look at art: Creativity in business: Profits not aesthetics

Future leaders
Future leaders

Creativity means generating novel ideas. In business, however, the novelty is not enough: the ideas need to be practical. Bringing novel and practical ideas into the marketplace is innovation. It emerges from both technological and non-technological knowledge and impacts on all activities of a company. Innovation is creativity in business.


Economic growth

Leveraging creativity in business is at the heart of a robust economic growth and productivity. According to the World Economic Forum, ‘around 85 per cent of productivity gains are related to investments in innovation. Innovation is now as important as infrastructure, skills and markets. 

In light of the current economic slowdown, companies must resist the pressure to cut back on innovation spending, as it is critical to the future growth’ (WEF’s ‘Global Competitiveness’ report, 2017 ). Creativity is essential to long-term business success.


Economic factors

The surge of innovation is fuelled by the two main economic factors: the rate of new technological inventions and high demand for customised products and services. In the 21st century, the rate of technological inventions ‘will be 1,000 times more than in the 20th century’ (Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity Is Near, 2005 ). Companies have to continuously adapt to satisfy consumers with better goods, quality and prices.



Profits are the goal of innovation. Renewal of products and services, operation models and marketing methods — all affect shareholder value.



The essence of creativity in business is to bring change, whether radical or incremental. Radical innovations — those that transform the way we live and work — lead to a long-term competitive edge. Gradual modifications drive short-term sales. Companies should target the innovation strategy that suits them best. 

If a company is on a tight budget or a problem surfaces late in a project, a moderate approach is more fitting. If a company needs to solve a recurring problem, a more radical approach should be considered. Not all change is innovation. Change for the sake of change should be avoided.



Creativity in business always has consumers in mind. Successful companies understand their customers’ ‘unmet needs’ often better than the customers themselves.


Drivers of innovation

While creativity is a natural human activity, in the context of business, it needs to be planned and managed. Yet, companies are often at a loss about the innovation know-how. According to leading business surveys, more than 50 per cent of chief executives are only ‘moderately successful’ at planning and managing innovation and 40 per cent ‘are not good’ at it at all. It is not surprising that most innovation efforts fail, disengaging employees and costing money (‘Business Council CEOs survey’ and ‘Making Innovation Work’ of Conference Board, 2004 and 2006, ‘Innovation’ and ‘Measuring Innovation’ of Boston Consulting Group, 2006 ).

Learning how to manage innovation is key to making the innovation process more timely and dependable, less risky and unpredictable. A step-by-step approach includes stating problems in ways that encourage creative problem-solving, targeting the innovation tactics that are suitable to a company, building creative teams to generate ideas, and evaluating the ideas to produce best results.

As well as the innovation managing skills, harnessing companies’ success through creativity and innovationdemands other critical elements: creative leaders, creative workforce, innovation culture and effective governmental policies.

Creative leaders drive innovation: they are the champions of change to whom companies look for creative solutions. Leaders who lack creativity fail their organisations and deliver them to competitors.

Creative workforce is the number one organisational practice of successful innovation: companies must know how to train, recruit and retain creative employees.

Innovation culture is the work environment that motivates and inspires generating and implementing new ideas.

And finally, the governmental policies that stimulate institutional research and creativity of the future workforce ensure the effectiveness and sustainability of innovation.


Alla Tkachuk is the founder of the Kenyan creative thinking school MASK, [email protected]

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