Why business leaders need to be creative

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Q: Why is it important for business leaders to have a sense of creativity?

A: People usually associate creativity with the arts or a field like advertising, but creativity can be everywhere, and smart leaders recognize that and either have or develop a sense of creativity. Having a sense of creativity means you can recognize and appreciate creativity; successful business leaders do both and put creativity into action.

Every decision a leader makes is an opportunity for creative thinking. Defining what business you are in is an exercise in creativity as you weigh options.

Deciding how to organize the business is another opportunity for creative thinking because you not only have to plan for what’s happening in real time but also consider growth, leveraging resources, diversification and a myriad other variables. Hubert Joly of Best Buy is a leader with a sense of creativity in how he reorganized and refocused the organization to position it for success.

Staffing is an area where creative sensibility can have a significant impact. Leaders who populate the organization with diverse thinking and motivated employees will increase the potential for innovation and disruption.

Product and service development is another area where creative leaders can make a huge difference. For example, the traditional chain of product development flows with design, engineering, manufacturing, marketing and sales each handling its own area of expertise. Under Steve Jobs’ leadership, Apple put everyone in the same room from the beginning of the process and revolutionized an entire industry.

Marketing is one of the more obvious areas for creativity, and leaders with a strong sense in this segment recognize it in a variety of areas related to marketing — from package design and visual merchandising to external communications like advertising. But it doesn’t end there. With customers increasingly expecting organizations to be more active and transparent in addressing social issues, decisions about social policies and cause marketing become opportunities for creative leadership.

Effective leaders recognize the opportunity to be creative everywhere.

Glenn Karwoski is a member of the adjunct faculty at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.

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