Pat Langton: Hi, I'm Creativity

Creativity (2).jpgBy Pat Langton, creative director/partner
Magnum Opus Partners, Melbourne

The good old Oxford Dictionary defines Creativity as "The use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness."

Now, by looking at that, anyone with an imagination is creative. Right?

I can't count the amount of times I've heard someone say to me 'But you're creative, you do that easy: I could never do that.'

Honestly, this makes my blood boil. There are so many different ways of being 'creative' and it's not just painting, making music - or in my case working in advertising.
There's a great story I read that shows the use of creativity in business, so good, in fact, that I hear they're about to make it into a Hollywood movie.

In 1946 Earl Silas Tupper began selling his plastic containers with spill-proof, airtight lids to department stores and hardware stores. They even had the idea of including them as giveaways with cigarettes. But despite winning awards for design, sales were bad, due to the reputation of plastic. The value of these plastic containers needed to be demonstrated.

Sales turned around with a simple creative business idea called Tupperware parties. They were the brainchild of a sales executive called Brownie Wise. Tupperware parties took off all around America and Mr Tupper eventually sold that company for $16 million - a fortune in those days - and the rest is history. Indeed, it started a whole new industry - "Party Plan" - which provided much needed independence and  nancial security for many thousands of women.

Unfortunately for Brownie Wise she fell out with the company owner who was jealous of her growing celebrity, and she was written out of the company history, but her creative concept lives on even today not just with Tupperware but a huge variety of products. Her creativity had a dramatic worldwide effect.

Her idea was not a beautifully written song, amazing painting or a great creative TV commercial it was simply a great use of creativity to solve a problem that tapped into the target market for that product. This type of creativity is within us all, and often it's more about recognising it than trying to force it to happen. People do creative things every day and don't even know it. Whether it's a creative business plan or a poem you've written, the two are one and the same.

Often, this creativity is found most obviously in the people who are on your business's front line. For example: a toothpaste factory had a problem. They sometimes shipped empty toothpaste boxes without the tube inside. They decided to hire an external engineering company to solve their problem. By using a high-tech precision scale it would sound a bell and flash lights whenever a toothpaste box weighed less than it should. The line would stop, someone would walk over, remove the defective box, and then press another button to re-start the line. As a result of the new package monitoring process, no empty boxes would be shipped out of the factory.

So they installed the gear, and with no more customer complaints about empty boxes the CEO felt the $8 million the equipment had cost was well spent. He then reviewed the line statistics report and discovered the number of empty boxes picked up by the scale in the first week was consistent with projections. Yay! But then in the next three weeks the stoppages were zero! Was the expensive new equipment faulty?

Puzzled, the CEO traveled down to the factory.

Just ahead of the new $8 million dollar solution sat a $20 desk fan blowing any empty boxes off the belt and into a bin. "Oh, that," the supervisor commented: "Bert, the kid from maintenance, put it there because he was tired of walking over to restart the line every time that bloody bell rang."

If only someone had asked the kid from maintenance before they spent eight million, eh?

Now I'm absolutely not trying to devalue creativity - quite the opposite - I'm trying to empower people to embrace it and recognise it. Knowing when something or someone is truly creative is an art in itself.

As Bill Bernbach said 'creativity is the last unfair advantage we're legally allowed to take over our competitors'. And that applies to any industry you work in. Creativity is your edge.

And it's easy. Just listen to your people, and value their imagination.

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