March 25, 2018

By Syed Ibrahim Saajid

One of the things that make human species unique is our inherent creativity. Creativity is the ability to challenge assumptions, break boundaries, recognise patterns, see in new ways, make new connections, take risks, and seize upon chance when dealing with a problem. From the cave paintings of Altamira to the subway graffiti of New York, humans have left their mark of creativity on the face of earth. However, modern history has witnessed the application of creativity for more commercialized outputs. Other than arts and crafts, the field of knowledge most commonly associated with creativity is marketing. The prevalent notion is that one has to have a certain creative facet in order to become a successful marketer. This article attempts to objectively probe into this thought in light of the modern practices of marketing and business world as a whole.

The burning question of our age is how we can factor in creativity in ensuring the best-in-class experience for the customers. This introduces the notion of strategic creativity. Strategic planning in the creative journey is an implicit phenomenon. The domain of creativity rely predominantly on the right feelings and spirit when finding their direction. Strategy is often seen as a rigid discipline associated with warfare and based on long-term plans, thus preventing the organization from being creative and spontaneous. However, creative journeys are full of implicit strategies when it comes to creative processes in a profit-oriented business organization. The following are few basic characteristics of strategic creativity practices within an organization:

Creativity suffers when strategic goals are too loose, and when creators are too tightly constrained in how they accomplish those goals. People need to know what problem they’re trying to solve, and why it matters. Employees wouldn’t be intrinsically motivated unless their work has meaning. That requires clear strategic direction toward a worthy purpose — whether it’s curing a disease or providing a new form of entertainment that will enhance consumers’ lives. But intrinsic motivation and creativity wither when people are told exactly what to do and how to do it; they need the autonomy to apply their own specific skills and talents. Hence, clear direction on the strategic goal while allowing lots of leeway in how to achieve it is the way to go about managing creativity.

Strategic environments characterized by high levels of competitiveness and uncertainty are more receptive to creative choices. This means employees are pushed to become more creative in a situation where they are thrown a curve ball of controlled uncertainty. Similarly, encouraging healthy competition within the organization also motivates people to push their creative facets. Such situation of apparent chaos can be ultimately beneficial for the organization if administered with necessary caution and monitoring.

The optimum environment for creativity is observed when a great deal of frequent, work-focused, informative, and constructive evaluation and feedback is provided. These evaluations should involve peers as well as supervisors openly discussing the work. In order to perform at their creative zenith, people need to know that every idea will be respected enough to merit thoughtful consideration. Rather than being overly critical when ideas didn’t pan out, supervisors need to accept the failures as a necessary part of doing creative work and help employees search for lessons and opportunities in those failures.

Having the positive pressure of an optimally challenging assignment can supercharge intrinsic motivation and creativity. For example, being given an important problem to solve that no one else has been able to crack. Optimally challenging means that the deliverable is tough, but the employee’s skills are up to the task. Feeling like s/he is on a mission to create something that’s urgently needed can be a real high. But pressure that does not contribute to the mission can only distract from getting problems solved.

Empowerment refers to allowing employees decision making abilities regarding their specific responsibilities. This also means that the accountability of those decisions lies specifically on them. This approach motivates people to be more creative when solving a problem. However, it also ensures that each employee knows and respects the potential impact that his/her decision can have on the organization overall. This balance is very important when giving people the creative license with their job.

When creative people feel that material rewards are being dangled in front of them like carrots on a stick, they feel externally controlled — a primary damper of intrinsic motivation. Creativity flourishes when employees know that rewards and recognition will follow from good, creative efforts; instead of being constantly reminded about exactly which rewards will follow from which actions. It is also important that the rewards paint a clear picture about employees’ competence and the value of their work, and/or enable them to do something that they really wanted to do. Some of the most valued rewards are not monetary. For example, having access to supervisor increases internal motivation; and so managers should be available on an informal basis.

Creativity cannot be created, nor can it be controlled. However, strategic practices within an organisation can nudge the employees towards a more creative approach. This is particularly important in the domain of marketing where creativity has been regarded as the holy grail of success. This article simply suggest that the path to success is more strategic than the prevalent notion of a Eureka moment.


1. Amabile, T. and Kramer, S. (2012). What Doesn’t Motivate Creativity Can Kill It. Harvard Business Review, (04).
2. Ford, C., Sharfman, M. and Dean, J. (2008). Factors Associated with Creative Strategic Decisions. Creativity and Innovation Management, 17(3), pp.171-185.
3. Hussey, D. (2001). Creative strategic thinking and the analytical process: critical factors for strategic success. Strategic Change, 10(4), pp.201-213.
4. Poettschacher, E. (2005). Strategic Creativity. The International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, 6(3), pp.177-183.

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