3.4 The Role of Personal Creativity in Brand Management
Research into creativity has tried to isolate different factors and traits that could successfully predict people’s levels of creative output. One focus in this field has been on the cognitive system responsible for the production of divergent thoughts. After years of testing different factors, Torrance (1987 qtd. in Smith & Yang 2004, p. 39) isolated 14 determinants of divergence that are also used in the most widely used creativity test (Smith & Yang 2004, p.39) and are described in Table 3 below.
Table 3: Determinants of divergence (Smith & Yang 2004, p.38f)
Together, these factors determine the ability of a person to come up with a divergent solution to a known problem.
Adding to the discussion about creativity in business, Amabile (1998) argues that creativity consists of three different components. In addition to creative thinking skills, like the divergent thinking factors introduced just now, one has to consider expertise and motivation. Expertise and creative thinking skills are the raw material for a person’s creativity. Expertise, or knowledge of a domain, is “the intellectual spaces that she uses to explore and solve problems. The larger this space, the better”(Amabile 1998, p.78). It is interesting to note that what Amabile introduces here as an essential trait of every creative person is mirrored in the inspiration space of the before-described design thinking process. It is hard to doubt that the bigger the field of knowledge of an individual the more and therefore divergent combinations are possible. Other factors that have been identified before are the biographical context – which led Woodman et al (1993, p.301) to the conclusion that “[...] individual creativity is a function of antecedent conditions, cognitive styles and abilities, personality, motivational factors, and knowledge.”
While Brown (2008, p.4) challenges the myth of the “creative genius” that he perceives as resilient in business and suggests that the design thinking would lead to creative solutions he does list some traits that design thinkers usually show that closely relate to what Amabile (1998) defines as “creative thinking” (p.79). These skills are empathy – imagining “the world from multiple perspectives” (Brown 2008, p.3) and therefore coming up with insights that others don’t – integrative thinking – i.e. not purely relying on analytical processes – optimism, experimentalism and collaboration. The last point specifically challenges the view of a single person being the source of a creative solution:
This refutation of the supposed genius of the single creative mind is in line with a school of thought that instead of an individual view of creativity promotes a systems view that also acknowledges the social and cultural context of the creator:
In the context of e.g. advertising, the creators are largely the ‘creatives’ in advertising agencies, the field consists of the brand manager, account managers and planners and the domain is the culture as a whole. With different motivations, creative thinking abilities and styles and knowledge background colliding in the creation of brand advertising, it doesn’t surprise then, that creatives, managers and consumers regard different advertising as creative (Koslow et al. 2003; West et al. 2008). This different levels and perspectives on creativity speak, again, to the contextual nature of creativity.
What can be learned from all of these perspectives on individual creativity for brand management? First of all, while a process like design thinking allows for a more systematic approach towards innovative and creative solutions, the individual levels of creative thinking abilities still matter. It can be argued therefore, and in line with Nussbaum (2011), that everybody involved in the brand management process, and not only the so-called ‘creatives’ should regard creative thinking as a worthwhile skill to develop (Mauzy 2006). Having learned, however, that creative intelligence (or creative thinking skills, as in Amabile (1998)) is not the only component of individual creativity, one has to ask for the group context under which individual creativity is supposed to flourish. This question is going to be raised in the following chapter.
Secondly, Amabile’s (1998) definition of creativity as consisting of expertise, creative thinking and motivation, poses the question of where brand management’s expertise, or field of knowledge should lie in the first place. It is argued here that while certainly, a deep knowledge of the immediate domain (marketing, management, brands, the respective category) is inevitable, a deep knowledge of the culture as the wider domain the brand has to resonate with and selects and filters its meanings from, is of equally high importance when it comes to successfully leading a brand. This is convincingly argued by e.g. McCracken (1987, 2006, 2009), who maps the flow of meaning from culture to brands and argues for a Chief Culture Officer, Holt (2002, 2004b, 2006, 2010) and other proponents in the academic field of consumer culture (Arnould & Thompson 2005). As shown in the design process lined out in the chapter before, emphatic and deep knowledge of the cultures that surround the brand, the category and – even wider – the lives of consumers is the starting point to divergent and relevant brand innovations.
Lastly, there is the already mentioned argument that different people view different things as creative. “[A]n ad that is creative to one group (e.g. senior citizens) may not be considered to be creative by another group (e.g. teenagers)” (Smith & Yang 2004, p.32). While this is certainly supported both by research and common sense, there is a growing body of scholarly writing that supports the view of a more active and interpretative audience (Jenkins 2006). Driven by technology, new forms of storytelling, social networks and gaming have involved that give rise to the active participation of certain parts of the population in media. This is in addition to research that has long seen consumers as active participants in the reception of advertising and the subsequent creation of meaning (Mick & Buhl 1992; O’Donohoe 1994; Ritson & Elliott 1999; Mitchell et al. 2007).
The next chapter will analyse personal creativity and the process of creativity once it is put in an organisational setting.
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