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Sir John Hegarty: Creativity is oxygen for business growth. So why are we holding our breath?


By John Hegarty | Founder

October 5, 2023 | 6 min read

Sir John Hegarty applauds attempts to upskill staff but wonders why creativity is so far down the educational pecking order these days.


Seismic shifts in culture are easier to spot when they get an acronym. A new one that’s been doing the rounds lately is about our prospects at work. ‘FOBO’ stands for the Fear of Being Obsolete, and it’s becoming a more significant concern for college-educated workers in the US, per Gallup. Anecdotally, FOBO appears to be everywhere. The sudden emergence of generative AI has many – from copywriters to coders – questioning whether they’ll have the skills to pay the bills for much longer.

It’s little wonder that the business world is so lit up about learning. Employee education schemes are on the rise, and it’s become seemly for corporations to tout their own upskilling efforts. PR notwithstanding, a competence boost is good for everyone. Investing in people improves company culture, keeps staff interested, and makes them more likely to stick around. It makes businesses work better, too. According to Deloitte, organizations with a strong learning culture are 92% more likely to develop novel products and processes.

All this self-improvement might help us feel like we’ve increased our lead on the bots. But there’s a blind spot. Companies prioritize skills like management, corporate strategy, and finance. But what about teaching teams about how to turn ideas into revenue? Or how to learn from art to make better campaigns?

The missing component in this mass re-education is creativity. Ignoring it is costing businesses.

Creativity deficit

Creativity’s absence in training (and in companies generally) should concern leaders more than it currently does. Businesses that don’t prioritize creativity are vanishing with alarming speed; those that do, flourish. Greg Hoffman, former chief marketing officer at Nike, attributes much of the sportswear giant’s success to its creative culture. He also reckons brands ought to be more worried when they notice a dearth of fresh ideas. “The absence of creativity is the downfall of countless companies every year,” he says. “Its absence leads to tired ideas, predictable branding, bored customers.”

Don’t believe him? Look at how the list of the world’s top ten most valuable companies has changed in the last decade. In 2012, the line-up consisted of names like Shell, IBM, Chevron and ExxonMobil. By last year, these brands had been replaced by the likes of Tesla, Tencent, Alphabet and Amazon. Only Apple and Microsoft – both consistent innovators – have managed to stay in this rarefied company long-term.

Everyone has it

As I said in the headline, creativity is oxygen for business growth. So why are we holding our breath? The answer to this lies in how we think about and understand it. For instance, a large proportion of organizations still build a wall around creativity, with the assumption that there are haves and have-nots. Companies feature creative departments that house people thought to operate on some alternate plane to everyone else (“Oh well, you’re creative, aren’t you?”).

This sort of thinking, where creativity is the remit of a chosen few, prevents organizations from using it more widely. In truth, all humans are creative. Creativity is a fundamental expression of self. Meanwhile, the nuance to grasp is this: creativity is a skill, not a characteristic. And skills (unlike characteristics) can be developed, honed, and applied in new situations.

They can be taught too.

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That’s our mission at The Business of Creativity, a new course I’m leading designed to help people get more from their creativity. It’s an eight-week syllabus that features lectures, Q&As and reading on topics such as how to instill a creative culture in your organization, how to use storytelling to sell, and why the most powerful ideas are always the truest.

This year, companies will continue to throw weight behind generative AI and the technologies that help businesses do things faster and with fewer humans involved. With most of the market preoccupied with things like data, automation and stalking customers, the smartest move is to develop the business advantage that’s already sat in your building. Cultivating creativity is the most effective way to make enduring brands. It might help us fight the onset of FOBO, too.

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