Creativity in crisis: how brands can embrace disruption to drive innovation

COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of digital technology to create innovative experiences. Suzanne Steele writes about the intersection of technology and creativity and the ways that they connect us.

Creativity is all about storytelling and human connection. Since the Stone Age, our uniquely human ability to create and tell stories has enabled people to use the power of the human collective to build societies, create economic and political systems and overcome challenges. While the world of the early 21st century is different to that of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, our innate desire to ‘connect’ remains.

Today the power of digital technology has given us tools to connect our own experiences and share this with the rest of the world. The ability to merge art and science, storytelling and software, enables us to create technology-powered experiences deeply connected to human culture. I am constantly amazed at how people and brands harness technology like mobile, AI and VR to create a collective experience, from astronauts portraying the wonders of outer space to students reimagining Shakespeare in modern day.

In a global pandemic, human connection takes on new importance. I really like this quote from Dr Darren Fisher, a lecturer of animation at Swinburne University. He says, “Universal, existential issues are only able to resonate when reflected on to us from a human-level perspective. We relate to the personal. We are emotionally numb to large numbers and abstract concepts. We are compelled to tell our own stories, in whatever way we can, to understand, to connect, to make sense of the world and our place within it.”

During lockdowns, quarantines and social distancing, we have been inspired to find incredibly imaginative ways to fulfil our human need for connections. We are using video calls to communicate and have meaningful interactions with co-workers and customers. We are creating new online communities for support and activities, from parenting groups for at-home learning to exercise classes in our living rooms.

The ensuing crisis is allowing us to explore the role of technology in human connection, while also enabling us to reimagine how we use technologies to meet human needs and create the world we want to live in.

The forced acceleration of the digital transformation agenda, as more customers and employees embrace digitally-enabled experiences, is helping brands to think, operate and connect with people in new ways.

The momentum behind digital-experience adoption is unlikely to reverse and as brands continue to plan for life beyond the crisis, the responsibility falls to leaders to embed creativity into ongoing business processes. For many CMOs and CEOs, it can be difficult to coach and cultivate creative skills at the speed of change we are seeing, particularly when only one in four believe they are living up to their creative potential.

As we move from the acknowledge-and-adapt phase to long-term planning for a new normal, leaders can sustain an environment that facilitates the generation and expression of creativity by focusing on five core areas:

Culture

By embedding creativity into behaviours, ideas and processes, leaders can tap into the creative potential of individuals and the collective intelligence of their teams. As a leader, part of my role is empowering others and giving them the reins to explore and take risks. We need to find ways to support people to step out of their comfort zones and challenge their assumptions to create new possibilities for creative insights.

Technology

Right now, businesses of all sizes across all industries, are reimagining how they use technology to meet real human needs, enable new ways of working and create new opportunities for human connection. New channels and mediums, such as voice, are helping companies innovate from a storytelling perspective, while technology like AI is accelerating productivity for individuals and teams. Leaders that embrace technology to free up people to focus on creativity and strategy will have a clear advantage moving forward.

Data

When human creativity is combined with the power of AI technology, we can push the frontiers of our understanding of the world around us. By merging humans with machine-driven data analysis, we can find new ways of approaching challenges, developing ideas and improving the customer experience. Having clear data strategies and highly integrated, cloud-based technology stacks is critical to achieving this.

Experience

Creative differences in the workplace is vital to innovation. Teams with higher levels of diversity, whether that be diverse backgrounds or life experiences, produce greater creative ideas, strategies and solutions to solve business problems. Processes that promote diversity enable teams to work creatively together.

Skills

More businesses are recognising the value of creativity as major assets to teams, across marketing and sales to operations, client relations and web development. It is essential for leaders to offering learning and professional development opportunities for all employees, to help them develop their creative muscle and give them the ability to exercise it by making the work environment more conducive to creativity.

Creativity is one of the most powerful tools to future-proof your organisation. Leaders that can lean into these five areas to understand and unlock their team and organisation’s creative potential will drive differentiation, innovation and customer success in the post COVID-19 marketplace.

Suzanne Steele is the managing director, ANZ, at Adobe.

Photo by NASA on Unsplash.