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Here are three stories that illustrate the connection between creativity and what we do in business. Jacks’ Retail Story, talks about the expansion of retail business; Jill’s Colour Book Story highlights a hugely pervasive tendency, even in these times; and, Martyn’s Summer Story argues that there is a strategic time and place for some things.

Jack’s Retail Story

Old Jack Filibuster was getting no younger, and was looking forward to leaving the family business to his seven sons and daughters. But, being concerned about the future happiness of his siblings he reasons that the inheritance would not last them a lifetime. So, he decides to grow his business, and to pile the inheritance cake a little higher.

So, Jack calls up a couple of the top management consulting companies to advise him on how to grow operations and increase the perceived value of the business.

Jack is in the retail business, with 30 stores across the region.

What did the management consultants advise Jack to do?

Right, 101 PowerPoint slides to suggest ‘Think Wal-Mart’, ‘Trade like Amazon’ and, ‘be more dog’.

Jack calls together his senior staff and trusted advisers, and they analyse the recommendations and suggestions from the management consultants.

Jack summarises the discussion:

“According to the best advice that money can buy we have capacity to double the number of our retail outlets every financial year for at least five years. Meaning that by the time I retire to my beach hut in Malibu, we should have over a thousand retail outlets. How does that idea grab you?”

Angie, Jack’s CFO steps up to the plate “Jack, who is going to guide us on this journey“

“Never fear, Angie, we will have the full support of the management consulting team”

“But, Jack!” Here’s Bob, the CIO talking, “now we know what the strategy is, in terms of logistics and all that jazz, I think we can take on the task of growing the business and the retail network ourselves, after all, if Wal-Mart can do it, it must be a piece of cake, right?”

To cut a long story short, Jack decides to take the advice of Bob, and goes for a DIY solution modelled on a few cute sounding bullet points picked out from PowerPoint slide deck.

To boil things down even further, this is what happened next. The approach they take is one of: seniority equals experience and knowledge; this is a democracy and what I say goes; any vehicle can transport; any route leads to the customer; any retail property of a certain size is good enough for warehousing; time and place utility is for ‘wuzzes’; each supplier contract is bespoke; each new retail store is independent; and, each store head reports directly to me.

Jack’s business failed.

Jill’s Colour Book Story 

Jill is the newly appointed Creative Director of the massively successful ‘Come in Pink’ business empire, the hybrid PR, marketing and advertising company to the famous, vainest and inane.

Her first task at Pink is to get up to speed with all the latest ongoing projects.

She arranges for a succession of briefs

Over the next few days Jill is treated to a string of amazing, colourful and delightful campaign portfolios, each exquisitely presented as if they were some species of preciously rare orchid.

The final presentation isn’t a client project, but a hush-hush internal project sponsored by Chas Hasitall the head of Finance, and brought to fruition by the previous Creative Director, Andy Pandy. It turns out that Come in Pink are in the process of creating their very own method for cataloguing and matching colours.

At their next meeting, Jill discretely asks Chas, the Finance director, why he had decided to sponsor the colour book project. He replies that this will give Come in Pink a seriously strategic market advantage and will knock spots off the competition.

On hearing this, Jill, guesses that her next question may well be a tactical error.

“Interesting. Was there any reason for not using the Pantone systems?”

“Pantone! Pantone? Never heard of them… what of it?” He replies.

Jill is unsure, but nonetheless adds “Oh, nothing, it’s just that they are doing something quite similar… colour books, matching systems, and so on”.

“Well, that may be the case, young woman, but you can be absolutely sure that their system is absolutely no match for ours”.

Over the next month Jill ponders her next career move. But then things take a turn for the better and the decision is taken out of her hands.

Whilst double parked in the City waiting for an escort, a big lorry pulls up alongside, and for some inexplicable reason its load of Radiant Orchid paint falls off sideways right on top of the brand spanking new white Porsche convertible, in which Chas is sitting.

Although Chas escapes serious injury, later that week he decides to take early retirement. The following month ‘Come in Pink’ revert to using the Pantone systems, and the colours come streaming back into Jill’s world.

Martyn’s Summer Story

When I first moved to Spain many moons ago in the summer of 1986, Spain had a bit of a reputation – partly undeserved – for taking electrical goods (washing machines, vacuums, toasters, etc.) and then ‘improving them’.

Trouble was, by improving on the standard issue models they introduced more points of potential failure, and indeed in the field the appliances failed far more often than those appliances that were not ‘improved’.

Is that being unfair to Spain? No, you have to remember that this was a long time ago and things have radically changed.

But let me also put those years in perspective.

Whilst in Spain people were taking standard products from the USA and elsewhere and trying to improve them, a lot of production in the UK was carried out using technology that started to go out of date in the 19th century, which is one of the reasons why quality products were few and far between, unless of course the quality criteria was a) must be difficult to use b) must be aesthetically horrible, c) parts should not fit together snugly, and d) must break often.

This is what precisely happens when you try and build a car with the technological equivalent of a spinning jenny and Arkwright’s water frame.

So, what has all this to do with creativity you may well ask? Well, the take away is this: Creativity has to be relative to the possibilities and the challenge.

Read that again.

Creativity has to be relative to the possibilities and the challenge.

A creative imagination can create the idea of a great product, but that same creative imagination isn’t typically applied to other disciplines such as engineering, where there are laws of physics and mechanics and a whole load of other things to consider.

In a business setting engineers need to engineer, managers need to manage, and truly creative people need to connect with what people want, to define what products and services need creating, to see that those products and services are designed and made to the right quality, spec and price, and to create significant demand.

Everyone can have ideas and there should always be avenues for those ideas to always surface, and in the interconnected social networked world of course everyone has an opinion about everything. But seriously, when it comes to certain things, we should leave professional creativity to the creative professionals.

So, there is no need to be more dog, just be more Jobs.

Yours strategically, Martyn

5th October 2014