The link between creativity and effectiveness has been well documented, but how can a business enable creativity? Joe Public’s Gareth Leck outlines five principles required for creativity to thrive.

The best companies in the world also happen to be the most creative companies. In The Boston Consulting Group’s most recent annual survey, Apple, Alphabet, Amazon, Microsoft and Tesla were ranked as the five most innovative companies in the world. They are also ranked within the world’s top 10 most valuable companies (with a combined market capitalisation of over $9tn).

In life, you get what you give. For commitment to creativity to truly manifest within a business, I believe you have to commit to the following five principles. You have to give creativity what it wants.

So what does it want?

1. Creativity wants safety

Creativity dies where fear rules.

Dan Wieden and David Kennedy understood this better than anyone when they started their now iconic agency in 1982. One of their founding mantras was “Fail Harder”, based on the belief that if you want your people to produce the best creative output, they need to authentically feel safe enough to fail.

Creative processes that are fun, iterative, open and non-dismissive put creative people in the position to produce their best work. Behind a “bad” idea sometimes hides the best idea of your life. As such, failure has to be understood as the very condition and the building block of creative processes.

Dan Wieden and David Kennedy were visionaries with the kind of work they did (and the agency they founded continues to do) on Nike. But what was probably most revolutionary about the agency founders was their intuitive understanding that the best work will never happen in a space where fear rules.

2. Creativity wants diversity

Diversity is the cornerstone of creativity.

Creativity thrives on dynamic connections, on creating unexpected relationships between diverse ideas, different people and points of view. A system of thought closed in on itself is doomed to be stale. In that sense, diversity literally boosts creativity’s firepower.

Nancy Kline is recognised as one of the global authorities on how to create the most powerful thinking environments. One of her ten components of thinking environments is that for teams to do their best thinking, “the organisation needs to prioritise the diversity of group identities and understand their lived experience”.

In other words, if you want great creative thinking, it is only possible if you fully embrace diversity. This is a gift we have been inherently blessed with living and working in South Africa, and it should never be taken for granted. Rather, it must be enhanced and amplified in every way possible if we want our country to become a great creative force in the world.

3. Creativity wants courage

By definition, creativity is about going where no one has ever been.

That can be scary for our clients. Yet, braveness and creativity are joined at the hip, they live in a synergistic relationship. One cannot work without the other.

The example of Gut, a trailblazing agency that has grown from launching as a single start-up office in Miami in 2018 to currently having offices in Buenos Aires, São Paulo, Toronto, Amsterdam, Mexico City and Los Angeles and a staff complement of over 500, is one to follow.

As their name overtly proclaims, it takes great courage to produce great work. Gut was ranked as the 2023 Cannes Independent Agency Network of the Year.

4. Creativity wants excellence

What is excellence? It’s an obsession with producing the highest quality output, and it’s about the 1% rule, also known as the rule of marginal gains: the idea that big goals can be achieved by making minor iterative improvements.

As a runner, I have been in awe of Kipchoge’s achievement: to run a marathon for the first time in history under two hours. I was even more inspired by how he got there, through a manic obsession over details, to an unwavering commitment to excellence: the 1% improvement in the design of his shoes, in the way the road was planned and designed, in the way he could minimise wind resistance throughout the race.

I cannot help thinking that Apple’s success owes much to that approach. Steve Jobs was quoted as saying that Apple does not exist to make money, that it exists to make excellent products that consumers want. Everything about the brand oozes excellence, from the hardware design to the user experience. Insanely excellent is probably a more accurate description.

5. Creativity wants purpose

Purpose is the why that gives a company a reason to exist and a reason to perform beyond just profit.

But creativity is the single greatest driving force behind how you deliver on your why. Once you know why you are doing what you are doing, it’s creativity that gets you where you want to be.

In other words, I have come to think of a company’s ‘True North’ as not just clarity of purpose – which for Joe Public is the growth of our people, our clients, and our country – it’s also about clarity of your ‘how’, and in our case, that ‘how’ is undoubtedly through the power of creativity.

I believe that you can’t have one without the other if you want to achieve long-term sustainable success. That they are inextricably linked, feed off each other and create a powerful and virtuous circle of growth.

To conclude, if you believe in the power of creativity and want to become a great creative force, you need to be clear about what creativity wants in return: it wants safety, diversity, courage, excellence and purpose.

The truth is knowledge is not power; rather, applying that knowledge is, and that is the hardest part.

But having clarity about what it takes is a great start.