Seven Critical Marketing Skills: #6 Creative Development and Innovation

Abstract 
Sycamore and Company has identified the Seven Critical Skills which separate successful marketing executives from the rest of the pack. This post focuses on critical skill #6 - Creative Development and Innovation

About Our Seven Critical Marketing Skills Series

#6 - Creative Development and Innovation

The lifeblood of any business is the creation of new ideas.  They don't have to necessarily translate into new products or new advertising campaigns, although they often do.  They can translate into better manufacturing processes or better training or better receivables collection.  The senior marketing executive needs to have the ability to recognize and nurture ideas, even if he does not come up with them himself.

“...creative ideas are the keys to growth...New product innovation.  Great advertising.  Great promotion... brilliant marketers are creative.  You can’t separate those two things.”

"I just think that great creative in advertising and great innovation in product are so critical to success in an organization that this skill has to be toward the top.  I also think it's relatively rare."

“...it’s easy to do the same old thing.  It’s easy to do what was done in other companies or what was done in the same company in previous years... the thing that really creates a step change in an organization and makes an organization successful is when they can innovate... I think that the drive to innovate in products and marketing programs is what really sets apart...a good marketing organization from a mediocre one.”

But beyond the actual creation of products and ads, we are talking about a way of thinking.

"You've got to be creative.  You've got to take the mental leaps beyond what the average one plus one yields.  (And if you don't) you lose. You won't build your business and somebody else will be doing just that."

As we've already noted, it is as important to be able to recognize the great ideas of others as it is to create them yourself.  In fact, it could be argued that it is more important to be able to recognize and constructively build on other people's ideas in order to leverage the value of the entire organization.  It takes skill and training to effectively evaluate the creative product of another person; to build on the idea without changing it so much that the creator no longer feels ownership and stops innovating in the future.

“I think top executives need to appreciate creativity, but not necessarily have it themselves at all.” 

“...there’s a big focus on being able to recognize great creative when we see it...that intuitive sense of understanding your brand well enough to know when a good idea is placed in front of you, we think, is probably one of our biggest challenges.  And, there’s a trust factor with the agency, but there’s also a real passionate, deep understanding of the brand that let’s you do that.” 

“...evaluating and developing strategies for both your own internal staff and for the agency is critical.  And you should be able to give constructive direction to creative people at agencies.  It’s something that not everybody is great at.” 

“...while you have to steward the brand image of your company...what you don’t want to do is crush out that spark of what could be that magical idea with a thoughtless (offhand comment).” 

Can you train creativity or innovation? - Again, the issue is if these skills are so important to the success of the individual and the company, how can you ensure that you have these skills available to your firm when you need them?  Not surprisingly, the sense of the executives was that you could not generally train either innovation or creativity, although you could help to develop innate skills and reinforce the importance of these traits.

“You can’t train creativity, creative ability.  There are people who have it.  There are people who get it.  There are people who can bring the best ideas out of other people.  The ability to recognize a great idea.  Both of these things are all about ideas.  And, that’s the high ground.  That’s the highest thing you can have.”

“I think there are people to whom it comes so innately, that they’re at the top of the bell curve.  But, I really do think that the vast number of folks is in the middle... so if you’ve got the guy with three left feet, no matter how many times you send them to Arthur Murray, he ain’t going to be able to Cha-cha. ” 

The idea is to find the talent and then help it to grow.

“...the skills I look for are the skills that can’t be taught... I can teach you everything you need to know about the (specific) business.  But, I can’t teach somebody to be a risk taker, to think outside the box.  Those are skills you bring to the party that aren’t skills that are taught.” 

But, companies need to be conscious of the building blocks to creativity.  Creative people need to continuously refresh their input about the market and the consumer and the products and the competition.  If they don't, then their creativity is wasted.

“(It) very much frustrates me to hear the lack of creative judgment from people who have the experience to know better, but because they live in a Ridgewood paneled office, in a home on the other side of the train, and aren’t exposed to what’s going on in the world... they lose their creative ability to communicate.” 

Obviously no position is held by 100% of the executives.  Some do believe that there are aspects of innovation and creativity that can be trained.

“I think over time either a person is or is not curious.  I think that if they are curious and they are analytical, they can be reasonably innovative..."

"I think to a certain degree it's an issue of ...immersion.  That to be great at creative you have to a certain degree immerse yourself in it."