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As we consider the value that Spring adds to clients’ businesses, it has naturally led to some good conversations about the rightful place of creativity within a business. Does it have a place on the board? What is its commercial value? (The design council estimates that for every £100 spent on design, businesses see turnover increase by £225.)

And if we agree that it does have measurable value, value to which we can apply targets, then how do we nurture it to meet these targets?

But first: what is creativity? It’s about new ideas, new markets and new products that meet fast-changing times. In fact, I believe that it’s fundamentally about empathy – walking a mile in another man’s skin, understanding motivations and creating something that meets and rewards them.

Creativity is bold. It requires risk.

Traditionally, chief executive and board roles are dominated by accountants. But it’s a sign of the times that the Chartered Global Management Accountants reports: “What we now need is a capability of [management accountants] to be agile and creative in how they look at the data, and understand how systems and things work.”

Why’s this?

Recent research has shown that technology becomes redundant, on average, after six months. Despite the cost of R&D, businesses have to be nimble and inventive. By the time one data set has been analysed, the ground has shifted.

The boom in digital communications, which has increased the channels from brands to consumers a hundredfold, has brought Big Data to businesses. It’s the analysis of this Big Data which produces micro-data – converting cold hard numbers into real information about real people.

In other words, dead cert routes to market.

These digital communications have also swung the balance of power from brands to their consumers. Where once brands could set a position and broadcast it, now consumer voices are heard across the globe via social media, and through them brands are held accountable. The mood of groups, people’s motivation and concerns, now impact more than ever on their choices as consumers: as whole swathes of populations.

It’s because of this transfer of ownership that the right brainers are increasingly important: adaptable thinking, strategic creativity, the ability to invent and reinvent is the survival pack of the modern business age.

We do need left brainers, of course. They have enormous value as guides, testing points for ideas, safety stops. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that everybody needs preparation in the basics of business finance, irrespective of their career path. Understanding P&L gives a vital grounding for employment. So what’s important is the balance: the deployment of both sets of skills.

Looking at one industry: at its core a creative industry, fashion is worth £21bn to the British economy. Vince Cable has acknowledged the scale of this by saying that “The next step is making entrepreneurs out of designers. Creativity is the key.”

This season Burberry pulled off brand management perfection, with their ‘English Rose’ collection launch at Fashion Week creating the perfect background to the launch, a week later, of their new Burberry Beauty line. Not withstanding that, that week Burberry’s share price plummeted and Apple’s grew by the same amount.



Because Angela Ahrendts – a marketer who joined Burberry in 2006, dumping the over-exposed tartan-drenched brand portfolio, taking Burberry back to being an elite brand, and in the process trebling its value – announced her intention to join Apple’s board. Ahrendts knows it’s about empathy. She’s bold. She takes risks. And she says of creativity: “Think of it like emotional electricity. It has a powerful way of uniting ordinary people, their connected spirit, to do extraordinary things.”

She’s not alone: of her time at Mulberry as Board level design director, Georgia Fendley says: “I was invited to join the management board at Mulberry in 2008 and left in 2012.  Over five years turnover tripled and the share price rose from £1.50 to a high of £26.00; that’s what designers can bring to a company at board level.”

Trebling an established business’s value is undoubtedly a pretty extraordinary thing: and we’d advocate that any brand which is determined to grow takes the potential brought by creative thinkers very seriously indeed.

This is distilled from a talk given by Erika to a group of Board Directors in late 2013




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