pepsi and creativity

Pepsi, Brand-Businesses And The Case For Creativity

Once upon a time there was a durable goods company with a large staff of engineers. Management felt that the company would benefit from more creativity. Instead of hiring creative minds, the company decided to invest in transforming all of its engineers into creative, creator minds. It was a year of magical thinking.

Sadly, this is not a fairy tale. Piles of money were spent. Many hours were consumed. There were multiple, organization-wide creative activities, taking people away from important business at hand. The “creative” consultancy tasked with the transformation promised that its approach would morph the organization into a creative, innovative powerhouse. 

After much time, effort and money, the result was a non-starter. The proof of the “creative” transformation was to “create” an innovative toaster. After the cheerless presentations on the toaster, the audience gave a standing ovation to a speech by the new head of procurement. He provided his strategy for cost-cutting. No one became more creative.

The enterprise went back to “business-as-usual.” The status quo won. And, worse yet, the organization did not become more conducive to creativity. The analytic engineers had the same disdain for “messy, unbridled, sometimes mysterious, creative ideas born from synthesis rather than analysis.” The engineers had statistics, physics and all sorts of databases. So, not only did the program not make everyone a creative genius, the organization was no closer to being open to creativity than before the program.

The enterprise goal should have been to create an environment where creativity is welcome; where creativity can flourish, not famish.  The goal should have been to create an atmosphere that feeds rather than impedes creativity. As one online Harvard Business Review points out, innovation, renovation and change “… require a mindset that embraces change and flexibility.” Organizations need to “create an environment that promotes breakthrough thinking.”

As another online Harvard Business Review article recently noted, “…many businesses fail to create and encourage environments where creativity can flourish.” 

Why is it critical to have an organization that is conducive to creativity?

Because, according to the SVP and CMO of International Beverages at PepsiCo, Mark Kirkham, “Creativity isn’t just another bullet point in a marketer’s job description – it’s fundamental to the role (of CMO). Creativity can spark innovative ideas and ultimately make marketing organizations more effective.”

Brand-businesses need creativity. Creativity is not about ads. Creativity is not about digital. Advertising and digital are ways in which the brand-business is communicated. Creativity is about unique brand-business ideas that surprise and delight. Creativity expresses brand-business ideas that must be first, big and best; impactful, pioneering ideas executed in a superior manner. Creativity solves customer problems. Creativity synthesizes data turning information into genuine insights.

The same organization that dreamed of making everyone a creative thinker was uncomfortable with creativity, even when creativity was dropped at its feet. When a British inventor arrived with a proposal for this organization to buy his inventive bagless vacuum cleaner, the organization said no. There were reams of engineering data indicating that bagless vacuum cleaners had poor suction. Further, there is money to be made with vacuum cleaner bags. The organization did not want to lose that value stream. Further, there is money to be made with vacuum cleaner bags. The organization did not want to lose that value stream.

The inventor decided to manufacture and sell his bagless vacuum named after himself, (James) Dyson.

James Dyson was not just an inventor. He had a creator mind. Also, he was willing to look outside of standard engineering data. He considered customer problems. He saw that vacuum cleaner owners had a big problem with vacuum cleaner bags. People hated vacuum bags. Not only are these bags dirty and messy to change, with dust and unknown particles spewing everywhere, the particular bag needed for your vacuum was never available. In stores, there were a lot vacuum bags on hooks, but never your vacuum bag. And, before the rise of Amazon and online shopping, finding your particular vacuum bag was torture.

Dyson is now more than a success story. By the time the engineers at the organization came around to manufacturing a bagless vacuum, Dyson owned the market and had generated extraordinary loyalty and measurable brand power. Significant percentages of owners had more than one Dyson. Dyson became the benchmark to beat.

Creativity brings into being something that was not there before.  Creativity offers a new perception by rearranging and reordering familiar elements in unfamiliar ways.  

Creativity involves risk-taking and courage.  Reporting on 3M, once an innovation powerhouse, indicates that over the past decades, 3M has become risk averse. As one ex-3M researcher stated after pointing out that 3M has not had an innovative idea since Post-it Notes, “If you start forcing people to eliminate risk, then all you end up doing is what has been done before or what everyone else is doing.” 

Creativity involves tension.  The creative process lives off what the late Jerry Hirschberg, the founding director of Nissan Design International, called “creative abrasion.”  It is comfort and uncomfortable at the same time.  It is having pairs of divergent thinkers arguing and agreeing all at the same time. Creativity allows dissenting viewpoints to be discussed while harnessing that generative energy and friction.  Pepsico’s Mr. Kirkham knows this as well. And, he, too, believes that this tension is essential for innovative ideas and for the organization at large.

Creativity needs time, energy and routine while at the same time it needs unbridled desire and liberty. In other words, creativity needs discipline and freedom. During the creative process, discipline and freedom tug at each other … the more tugging the better.

The brand-business environment must be willing to have this sort of energy in its midst.

One reason that organizations have difficulty with creativity is that creativity is not a product. Creativity is a continuing, never-ending flow of imaginative ideas.  There is no process for creativity. Creativity is not a “Skunk works” like IBM’s ThinkPad was when the ThinkPad team moved to Boca Raton to be away from the “stifling conformity’ of corporate IBM. Creativity should not be isolated from the organization but integrated into the organization

To make an organizational environment conducive to creativity is to have creative minds among the linear thinkers. Creative thinkers offer different perspectives on problems. However, this can be a vicious circle. If the brand-business is not amenable to creative minds, then creative minds feel stifled. When creative minds provide ideas, linear thinkers tend to dismiss this creativity as non-productive. Creative minds are more willing to resist the “quick solution” preferring to keep all avenues open for more innovative solutions.

Or, as the CMO Kirkham of PepsiCo told Deloitte, the global services group, it is extremely important “…to have creative teams interact with – and influence – different functions across the company.” Brand-businesses must harness the creator minds and “… allow their creativity to spread throughout the organization.”

A survey from PwC (née PriceWaterhouseCoopers) indicates that “… 77% of CEOs struggle to find employees with creative and innovate skills.” Another survey via LinkedIn reported that “creativity” is the most “in-demand skill.” The authors of The Harvard Business Review online article state that “… creative thinking is a higher order skill. In practical terms, this means that analyzing an idea is easier than synthesizing a new one from multiple sources.”

 As incentive to become a brand-business conducive to creativity, this same HBR article points out that “companies with an innovation-focused culture are three times more profitable.”

The Gap, Inc. hopes that hiring fashion icon Zac Posen will resuscitate its Gap and Old Navy brand-businesses. Richard Dickson, President and CEO of Gap Inc., told reporters, “I’m thrilled to welcome Zac Posen, one of America’s most celebrated designers, at the onset of an exciting new chapter for Gap Inc. His technical expertise and cultural clarity have consistently evolved American fashion, making him a great fit for the company as we ignite a new culture of creativity across the portfolio and reinvigorate our storied brands.” Gap Inc.’s previous management teams fell victim to analytics and databases over undulating emotions of fashion and style.

Gap Inc.’s Mr. Dickson is correct. A brand-business must begin by hiring creative thinkers.  There is no formula for creativity. Creativity is people. And those people need to operate and ideate in what the great South African writer Nadine Gorman called, “…an Eden of creativity.” 

As Harvard’s Dr. Howard Gardner, the author of Five Minds For the Future (2005) stated, 

“People who are creative are those who come up with new things, which eventually get accepted.  The only way that creativity can be judged is, if over the long run, the creator’s works change how people think and believe. That is the only criterion for creativity.”

Or, as the British advertising executive, Trevor Beattie once said when remembering the hassle of lugging luggage through airports, “Creativity is the wheel on your suitcase.”