Business creativity, culture and branding – an interview with Kirkbright founder Greg Orme

What makes a great brand and how do you foster innovation and creativity within it so that it will sustain itself and grow? A great brand not only looks good, it will be consistently applied and it will endure because everyone in the organisation feels connected to it and takes care of it. To achieve this requires the development of the right culture within the organisation. In this interview Greg Orme explains the importance of creativity and its reliance on culture. Culture, which Greg explains as ‘how things get done around here” relies on living the values of the brand.

Greg works with creative organisations helping them to achieve transformational results. He helps businesses to implement clear commercial strategies, develop inspiring leadership and manage organisational change. He has worked with corporate clients such as Sky, Virgin Media, Ogilvy & Mather and the International Olympic Committee as well as entrepreneurial businesses through his own consultancy Kirkbright. He founded Kirkbright in 2008 to deliver strategy and leadership support to creative business leaders. Previously he had been CEO of the Centre for Creative Business at London Business School.

Greg started his career as a journalist working his way to the top of the UK’s TV news industry. In 2002, he gained an MBA from London Business School.
As well as his client work, Greg has been invited to speak at business schools, international conferences and has written for The Financial Times on creative business, strategy and leadership.


Video transcript

Why is it important for businesses to be creative? 

Creativity in business is important for a simple reason: companies that can produce a stream of new ideas – and are able to innovate upon those ideas – make more money. Business leaders know this. Eight of ten leaders said that their company considered creativity and innovation vital to reap the benefits of the economic recovery. Seven out of 10 said that developing  more innovation in their company was one of their top three priorities. But there’s a problem. Innovation is not the start of the story, it’s the end. Your business needs a creative culture before innovation can happen. It facilitates the weather conditions in which lightning can strike. One of the most common questions I’m asked is: “what do we need to do to have a more creative culture?”

Are there other benefits for a business if it becomes more creative?

A creative culture turns cash – investment in your staff – into ideas. Innovation turns those ideas into back into cash – more revenue. But running a business that values creativity has other benefits. Let’s face it the only constant these days is change. Being creative isn’t just about new products it’s about the way you do things. It helps you to adapt quickly to the way technology and society is constantly shifting. It makes it possible to take new opportunities quickly. Secondly, it helps you to win the war for talent – to attract, retain, engage and develop good people. Creative businesses have to be inspiring, transparent and fun places to work. That’s just the sort of environment being demanded by the Facebook generation: younger employees who expect information to be shared with them. They expect to be empowered.

How difficult is it to lead creativity in a business? 

As the economy recovers creativity and innovation are back on the agenda. But leading creativity is the most difficult and mysterious management challenge out there. It needn’t be this way. Creative leaders need to display a high degree self awareness, judgement and bravery. How people are motivated to be creative is counterintuitive – because creativity comes from inside; it can’t be bought with the standard carrots and sticks of management. Leaders need to be able to cope with the demands of talented people with high expectations of work – who aren’t necessarily only in it for the money. One of the key aspects of creative business leadership is the need to be comfortable with nuance and uncertainty. Paradox is one of the defining features – I call it the Yin and Yang of creative business. A creative leader needs to be able to balance: Commercial Success vs Creative Quality, Freedom vs Focus, Being supportive with being challenging, Time to experiment vs delivery to a deadline. He or she needs to be able to understand and explain these tensions. To explain that they’re part of a creative culture. It goes with the territory.

Why is culture so important to creativity in business?

Culture is important because you can’t manage creativity; you can only manage for creativity. Just as you need the right weather conditions for lightning to strike; only a healthy creative culture drives innovation. So, the most important to thing to get right is the environment in which sparks can be created and kindled into ideas. And that’s what culture is – the environment: “The way things get done around here”. Culture is important because it drives people’s beliefs, engagement with the business and most importantly their behaviours. How your people behave with each other and customers is where creativity and performance happens, or doesn’t happen. How people share information, respond to setbacks, collaborate with each other – these are the attitudes that are influenced by culture. And culture is not just important inside your business. In many ways, you can argue your culture IS your brand. That’s why taking measures to look after your culture is such a powerful ways to drive long term performance.

How do you influence culture?

To help clients influence culture and performance I take them through a structured process to systematically address – and answer – the big strategic questions. We begin with: What’s the purpose of your business? Why does it exist beyond just making money? Your purpose is the philosophical reason for why the business exists. For example, Virgin talk about Business as a force for good… Disney say they are here to make people happy, the BBC exists to inform, educate and entertain. A purpose should hold meaning for consumers and staff. We also look at: What are your values? What do you believe in? Values appeal to the creative, emotional side of the brain. They give your business a point of view, a personality that people can engage with and become inspired by. But it’s important to balance this with focus and rational analysis. That’s strategy: How does your business compete in the marketplace? What’s its unique proposition? Finally I challenge clients to look into the future and get very clear about their objectives and vision for what the business will look like down the road. As is it says in Alice in Wonderland: If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there. After these big questions have been settled the more tactical decisions around structure, rewards, and products lines are little easier to deal with.

What are the habits you’ve seen in good creative businesses?

There’s no set formula for running a creative business. By their very nature creative businesses tend to be unique in their approach and pretty non conformist. BUT there are clear habits which all creative businesses tend to practice. They have a strong philosophy around purpose, values and culture. They balance focus and freedom. The leaders point to a particular mountain to climb but then offer people enormous freedom in HOW they climb it. They’re great and finding, developing and retaining talented people: and they understand the art of motivating those people to want to be creative. They take risks, accept failure as a starting point, not an end point. And they embrace change. Finally, they encourage the collision of people and ideas through collaboration. They share information and remove barriers like hierarchy and team silos to make those serendipitous creative conversations much more likely.

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