Alien invasion – A view of creativity in Business

Have you noticed how the most imaginative ideas and thus their creators are treated in corporate meetings? Mocking grins, pleads for seriousness and points deducted from the unfortunate crazy person who has crossed the line! Thankfully, design thinking is really catching on and hopefully, in the near future it will be commonplace. Right now though, conditions are predominantly dull. And it is costing companies dearly as they would rather invest in sales and marketing of weak products that invest in remarkable innovative products. This way their investments are short lived in this accelerated global marketplace.

Professionals working in the field of applied arts however, are commissioned to put their imagination to practical use. If applied arts weren’t used, the internet would be an ocean of text and degrading graphics and the world around us would be grey and joyless.

The difference between applied arts and fine arts is their purpose. Applied arts overlap with other factors with the aim of producing deliberate results. The Collins English dictionary, defines applied arts as ‘arts that are put to practical use’. Applied arts professionals may be found in businesses of any size as employees, working together with professionals of other specialties or they can be freelancers, working as hired help for specific projects.

In Fine Arts, all contextual guidelines derive from subjective intentions. A painter or a sculptor define what they wish to work on, based on their own inspiration and artistic influence as well as their own direction and motivation.

Forget for a minute, that the role of applied arts is established in the promotion of business globally. I am also asking you to forget for a minute that in large corporations and companies, applied arts have been incorporated seamlessly into the everyday operations. I am not so much interested in the conditions that empower successful companies to become better but rather the conditions that are necessary for business ideas to become anything at all. What I find exciting is the role of applied arts in the very beginning. In the first steps and more specifically, in a phenomenon that has grasped my attention at the embryonic stage of business plans. When vague business ideas for services or products don’t even have a name.

What I’ve noticed is a particular kind of awkwardness when two individuals, where one is creative and the other isn’t, meet to discuss for a project. Requirements and limitations on one side, possibilities on the other, pull an outcome to various directions throughout the duration of the project and the end product always lands somewhere in between.

Why is this relationship important? While there is business in creativity and creativity in business, I am bound to approach the issue from the perspective of the creative professional whose business it is to support various industries. The nature of this relationship or its quality for lack of a better term may result in a disproportionate and possibly inappropriate outcome, either too liberated or too confined. Balance is key. This relationship is also important because it is established at the beginning of a project when the foundations are laid. Therefore it is my view that fist contact is also crucial. 

Let’s talk about first contacts. About the moment an alien spaceship lands on a distant field and an army of experts approaches cautiously for the two sides to ultimately side their fear of the unknown, trust each other and communicate. Mr. Brain tells me this example may have been too much. But the scaling down of such an imaginary scenario helps me and hopefully you, the reader, to understand the awkward instance when a ‘non creative professional’ comes in first contact with the ‘creative professional’.

Fearing the Alien.

What is it all about? It has to do with fear. A non creative professional with an idea of what they want to accomplish knows that to get where they want to go, they need the services of a creative professional (be it a logo, together with a body of branding guidelines, infographics, photographs, presentations, the design of a product, an app or anything else that constitutes the ‘how’ of things). It is natural for many entrepreneurs and business persons who rarely collaborate with creative professionals or have never briefed a creative professional, not to know what to expect or what is possible. What they know is what they see during their benchmarking activity. When they explore what their competition is doing and they decide to do ‘something like’ this or that. Creative professionals, usually have the knowledge and experience to ask for what they need. And not creative professional carrying out a briefing usually have an idea of what they are looking for but what they never know, is whether the person they ask to do a job, gets it. If the outcome will be within the acceptable framework. With fear comes suspicion and with suspicion, control!

Communicating with the Alien

Creative professionals speak a different language than that of non creative professionals. First contact requires a common effort in interpreting what the other person means and often, discussions go south when both parties fail to understand each other. For first contact to be successful, it is crucial for one party to have more experience in comparison to the other party so that at least one of the two sides, is prepared to rescue deviating discussions about the various issues. If earth is the first planet that aliens have ever landed on and their ship is the first ship that has ever landed on earth then the fear is shared and both parties will be awkward at first contact. At least one of the two parties should be more capable and more prepared to lead by asking the right questions or soon, the guns will come out.

Shooting the Alien.

You see it is very hard to validate the success of creative work before it has been paid for and exposed. Trust is definitely an issue. The creative professional will use their experience to study contextual issues and research all that is necessary concerning what the end consumer expects of the product or service as objectively as possible but what is very often the case, is that the client will even mistrust the research that supports the decisions made. They will often become judgmental, negative, bossy or even aggressive in an effort to regain control of the outcome and defend their expectations however inappropriate they may be. They form a subjective opinion on aesthetics and other criteria and stick with them to the bitter end. Non creative professionals rarely have a trustworthy point of reference about such matters. They will often ask of the opinion of people they trust, about creative proposals, regardless of whether their friend, relative, secretary or fellow business person is qualified to produce valuable critique.

Behind this turbulence lies another, deeper emotional obstacle, the perceptions around creativity. If you believe that you are not creative yourself (you know who you are), you will probably find it very hard to understand how creativity works. When I was teaching at the University, many colleagues of mine often referred to Industrial designers and graphic designers as ‘artists’ with an ironic and humiliating tone, implying that applied arts are inferior to engineering, math and material technology. The underlying narrative would be that such professionals are decorators of the true value of things. I have seen the same misconception played out at corporate environments where marketing managers, company owners and self proclaimed sales gurus often clash with creative professionals at the initial stages when a brief has to be composed to lead the development of a brand or a product. 

Avoiding the Alien

The value that a creative professional brings into the product, brand or service is rarely understood. Provided that the proposed vision of the creative professional has been conveyed clearly and methodically, and that its implementation has been followed through to the end, the result will be simple and effective. Sometimes a company will abuse a clearly specified proposal by tweaking it endlessly until it has been annihilated. The wise approach is to ask the creator about their opinion before a brand invests in producing the material that derives from those creative proposals. Has the tweaking weakened a concept? Is it what the creator had in mind? However, this is definitely not the norm. The creative professional will often be avoided at all costs so that there is no criticism or correction that may delay a possible launch date or a promised deadline. I have witnessed numerous projects failing because of this hesitance to go back to the source of a creation and evaluate the outcome.

Here are a few things to remember from this lengthy article:

Somehow, it is imperative to build trust and effective communication between a creative and non creative professional. One way to accomplish this is for a mediator to help in meetings. Possibly an art director, design manager or experienced marketing consultant. If a company has none then they can hire them as an external consultant. Alternatively, the responsibility falls in the hands of the creative professional. They would be wise to shorten the steps to the completion of creative proposals and ask for feedback regularly. Creative professionals should not take the clarity of their conclusions for granted. Some modesty and care is needed to confirm that the briefing of the client has been understood beyond any doubts. Do this by sharing minutes of a meeting. By rephrasing and by asking more questions. 

Exercise the art of listening and be patient. Accommodate disagreements and strive to reach common ground. Ultimately, the Aliens and the earthlings will have to learn to work together if they are to succeed.

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