The havoc wreaked in the first half of 2020 has inspired new business models all around the world. In the early days of COVID-19, we saw remote work and curbside pickup quickly rise to the occasion, but we didn’t know how other businesses might fare. Yet, businesses of all types adapted, and we welcomed an influx of streaming everything: college classes, yoga, weddings, funerals, courtroom appearances, and live music. Responding to the COVID-19 chaos required a “find a way to make it happen” creativity, spurring companies to act as if their lives depended on it. In addition to my role as CEO, I’m a poet and writer, so I understand that creativity and strategy are perhaps two sides of the same coin. Still, I’m impressed. By responding creatively, businesses have forced the pandemic to loosen its grip a bit. Adapting to the chaos of 2020 exhibits perseverance for sure.
Barstool philosophers often claim that creative types — artists, musicians, dancers, and designers — have an inside track to chaos because of their extraordinary ability to connect and perceive. This would explain an actor’s motivation to go deep inside the human condition to portray someone other than themselves, or a songwriter’s persistence in wrestling with complex emotions to heal a broken heart, or a painter’s application of broad strokes of unexpected color to evoke a sense of exhilaration or uplift. Sure, creatives may be driven by the need or desire to continually connect with emotional live wires, or turn negatives into positives, but to claim creatives are built to thrive in chaos sells their talents — and skills — short. To come up with art, branding, videos, fashion, stories, or designs over and over requires an immense commitment, discipline, failure, time, and the ability to see and accept raw truths. Creatives are continually devising scenarios, troubleshooting problems, hitting dead ends, and starting over, reaching their potential anew each time. Although creatives produce work that meets their own standards, they are always thinking of their audience. Creativity isn’t chaos or magic — it’s carefully crafted knowledge work. Creatives are decidedly strategic.
Every professional taps into their creative side while working. Executives, techies, flight attendants, accountants, and doctors all harness their creativity to create or solve problems at some point. And almost anyone can develop creative skills. But there are some whose talents and abilities exceed the norm, almost as if they are hard-wired to ideate, reimagine, and produce something so beautiful we want to inhale it. Far too often, we dismiss their work as the result of a lucky lightbulb moment and even consider creatives as mysterious. Intensive work is required to evoke inspiration, sorrow, or determination within the confines of a logo or written passage. When writing a poem, I myself need vast amounts of structure, focus, and ritual. I often ease myself into the writing process by thinking, “This will be a simple writing session.” It is never quite so simple. In fact, the more effortless a passage reads, the more time it likely took to ideate, write, and rewrite – until I got it to perfection. Writing is always thrilling, though, and makes me feel productive and alive.
In business, we place a high value on analytics, numbers, and “plus” columns that measure our success or chase the latest trend in team building. We look for talent with an ideal balance of EQ and IQ but shockingly overlook the creative aspect. We don’t consider them as business strategists, yet give them a single problem, and you’ll get ten solutions. Creatives are more than resilient. They are resourceful, rarely running out of ideas, and always ready to spring into action. Creatives constantly strategize with the end result in mind — toss one into the mix to shore up business relationships or brainstorm new business offerings and see for yourself. But first, you must identify them. And by all means, do not overlook the dyspraxics, dyslexics, or other neurodiverse who may be extremely valuable to business strategy. Second, give creatives a stake in your fight. Offer them additional responsibilities or consulting roles that might go against conventional wisdom. For inspired and fresh thinking, bring on the creative strategists.
For better or worse, the year 2020 has forced us to reimagine business and rethink our go-to game plans. We’ve undergone reflection, self-reckoning, and the occasional acceptance of failure. Let us move forward into the second half of 2020 with a few lessons learned, not just experienced. Let’s adapt to today’s reality, keep an open mind, and remember that we get different answers when we ask different questions.