Brands Need Creativity And Cross-Functional Teams

Larry LightJanuary 27, 202278455 min

In a recent marketing report, Deloitte, the multinational professional services network, shared information from its Global Marketing Trends Executive Survey. At the core of the discussion – Building the Intelligent Creative Engine – How unconventional talent strategies connect marketing to the customer – is how to generate and integrate creativity while needing the analytic skills massive data require. The upshot was CMO’s should build collaborative teams of people with different skill sets. With the inundation of data, it is important to find those thinkers that can sift through and pluck out what is going to be useful.

Deloitte explained that with the availability of “big data and artificial intelligence … marketers aim to uncover the most nuanced insights about their customers….” To do this successfully, brands must have the expertise of people who think differently. Analysts are in great demand. But, so are lateral thinkers. And, unlike analysis, it is difficult to teach people how to think laterally and synthesize. Furthermore, creativity is still essential. But, again, you cannot go up to someone and ask if they are creative expecting to hear a good answer.

This is good advice. Yet, it is not new advice. The report supports the ideas that successful brands need both lateral and linear thinkers working together. The report adds even more credence to the previous insights of Dr. Howard Gardner and the use of cross-functional teams for the first Nissan turnaround – the NRP, Nissan Revival Plan – in 1999.

Fifteen years ago, Dr. Howard Gardner, Professor of Cognition and Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education, wrote a book titled Five Minds for the Future. Dr. Gardner looked at how businesses organized and identified the five types of lateral-thinking minds necessary for the successful management. He proposed that business look beyond analysis and analysts for management teams.

Non-Linear Thinking Cannot (Yet) Be Automated

Dr. Gardner stated that non-linear thinking was in its ascendancy. He said this is important because non-linear thinking cannot (yet) be automated. He believes that one of the aspects of non-linear thinkers is the ability to look across disciplines and draw conclusions from evidence… sometimes fragmentary evidence.

The five types of thinking Dr. Gardner identified are 1) the Disciplinary Mind (“mastery of major schools of thought including science, mathematics and history and of at least one professional craft”); 2) the Synthesizing Mind (“ability to integrate ideas from different disciplines or spheres into a coherent whole and to communicate that integration to others”); 3) the Creating Mind (“capacity to uncover and clarify new problems, questions and phenomena”); 4) the Respectful Mind (“awareness of and appreciation for differences among human beings and human groups”); and 5) the Ethical Mind (“fulfillment of one’s responsibilities as a worker and a citizen”).

These five types of minds reflect different understandings of what creativity is in the modern world. And, although, CMO’s and other C-suite executives think creativity is something that can be conjured up at a moment’s notice, in essence, creativity happens over time. Dr. Gardner has said that “People who are creative are those who come up with new things which eventually get accepted. The only way that creativity can be judged is, if over the long run, the creator’s works change how other people think and behave. That is the only criterion for creativity.”  Or, as the British advertising executive Trevor Beattie once said, “Creativity is the wheel on your suitcase.”

Second, the use of cross-functional teams has been on the business radar for some time. However, cross-functional teams are not always desired, especially in heavily siloed businesses.  As the Deloitte paper states the idea of teams is about “… convening data scientists, strategists, programmers and creative together to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts – which isn’t always the easiest or most straightforward endeavor.”

The Deloitte Study included the necessity for collaboration. Effective collaboration necessitates cross-functional teams. Cross-functional teams are an important way to achieve shared responsibility. Cross-functional teams break down silos and stimulate productive discussions and actions. Carlos Ghosn initiated cross-functional teams as a critical ingredient in the 1999 Nissan turnaround. Mr. Ghosn determined during his first year at Nissan that cross-functional teams provided a reservoir of creative ideas while serving to break down structural and hierarchical barriers.

Unfortunately for marketing, the Deloitte survey indicated that CMO’s were less likely than all of the other C-suite functions to identify collaboration as a necessary priority. The rating of collaboration was 17 percentage points higher for the Chief Financial Officer and 14 percentage points higher for the Chief Information Officer.

In today’s environment, creativity has many different generators. But, the definition of creativity remains the same.

Creativity is not a product; it is a continuing, never-ending flow of imaginative ideas. Creativity brings into being something that was not there before.  It offers a new perception by integrating, rearranging and reordering familiar elements in unfamiliar ways.

Creativity Involves Risk-Taking And Courage

Creativity involves tension. The creative process lives off what Jerry Hirschberg, the founding director of Nissan Design International, called creative abrasion. It is like comfort and uncomfortable at the same time. It is having pairs of divergent thinkers arguing and agreeing all at the same time. It is allowing dissenting viewpoints to be discussed while harnessing that friction.

Creativity needs time, energy and routine while at the same time it needs unbridled desire and liberty. In other words, creativity needs discipline and freedom.

With all of the new information available to marketers, brands need people who think differently working together to uncover the insights that will power connections to customers and prospective customers. This is why it is essential to create teams of people who think both laterally and linearly.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Larry Light, Author of The Paradox Planet: Creating Brand Experiences For The Age Of I

At The Blake Project we are helping clients from around the world, in all stages of development, redefine and articulate what makes them competitive at critical moments of change through our in-person or online strategy workshops. Please email us for more.

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