The Creativity Gap

The cover story of Newsweek (July 19, 2010) reports on the state of Creativity in America. The findings, unfortunately, point to the first measurable decline in our collective creative abilities in our country's history. While we are still the beacon of imagination on the world stage, there is now a leak that could significantly damage our ability to maintain our standing in the global economy.

Why is our creativity declining? We're taught in schools to guess what the teacher knows, there's only one right answer, be obedient, and whatever you do ... don't make mistakes! Our kids sit in front of the Xbox, television, and Facebook while placing their imagination on hold. Art, music, and theater classes have largely been cut from public school curriculum, as education continues to devalue right-brain, creative thinking.

The disconnect, however, is that Creativity is the most important leadership skill for the next generation of business. According to an IBM study of 1500 CEOs' Creativity was ranked as the single most crucial factor for future success. So we have a situation where the demand for creativity in clearly on the rise, yet the supply is on the downturn. We are experiencing a large and increasing Creativity Gap.

Thankfully, there is hope. According to a joint study between Harvard and Insead, it turns out that creativity is 85% a learned skill. That means that all of us, even on our groggy days, have 85% the creative potential as Mozart, or Picasso, or Da Vinci. We simply need a process to tap into this valuable natural resource.

Creativity is like a muscle—we all have the capacity to build muscle mass if we exercise. If we fail to do so, our muscles atrophy. The same is true with creativity. By embracing and exercising our creativity muscles, we unleash a wellspring of insight. This innovation will drive success in both your company and your career. For dozens of exercises, links, resources, and best practices, click here.

It's time to make creativity a national priority and close the creativity gap. It's time to encourage risk taking and innovation over cost-cutting and obedience. It's time to embrace our imagination and build our creativity muscles to their full potential. It's time to celebrate new ideas and original thought in order to drive breakthrough results. Simply put, it's time to let our creativity come out to play.

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  • Frank B. Leibold, PhD.

    Creativity must start with satisfying your customer's or client's changing needs.

    1. You must first learn the skill of anticipation. Since the supply-chain takes time, even with a faster
    cycle time, you have to determine not only today’s consumers’ needs but tomorrow’s. You can do this by probing consumer preference trends. For example you know that personal time for oneself will become increasingly more valuable so how can your products or services provide the customer with more valuable time?

    2. Many times customers think they know what they want but their real need might be different. How
    many times have you gone into a store and left with a different product than the one originally
    envisioned? So you must continually probe to ascertain his/her real need. Focus group research can
    assist you in this process.

    3. Satisfaction comes from more than just the right product. Availability and how the product is promoted, priced, displayed and serviced all impact satisfaction. Your interactions with a customer also impact their satisfaction; are you pleasant, responsive and does the customer leave feeling that your priority is to satisfy them? These are all important. The marketing profession has defined five key attributes that determine satisfaction—the five P’s—Product, Promotion, Place, Price and recently Process.

    4. It is also essential to know the positive and negative aspects of competing products in order to
    provide the best comparative value. You must have a grasp of your comparative strengths and
    weaknesses, how you can convey them in a positive light and how they satisfy a customer’s changing needs.

    5. To ensure satisfaction one should have an automatic system to garner customer feedback and make
    sure their needs and expectations are met and correct for any shortfalls. Customer loyalty is the
    desired goal today—acquisition costs are normally very high. Track how many customers return for
    other products and services. Send the loyal ones a letter from the CEO to thank them for trust in your

    6. How can you make your product more valuable to your customers’ needs? Just like FedEx did by
    extending the value-chain by acquiring Kinko’s—they provided customers with more value and saved
    them additional time as discussed above. Your increased value could be in any of the five P’s or a
    combination of a number of them.

    7. Your attitude and willingness to help the customer can influence their satisfaction. Are your dealings
    with a customer perceived as pleasant and rewarding experiences? Start with a smile—it helps!
    Get to know your customers on a personal basis--this may differentiate you from many of your
    competitors. Corning used to take back any broken Corning Ware product with no questions asked. Today warranties can play a very important role. And...

    In a response time that adds comparative value

    1. You must first determine the customer’s expectations in terms of service speed without obviously
    sacrificing quality. This involves the entire supply chain and must be a coordinated team effort. You
    must also benchmark competitors so you know what your goals should be.

    2. You must consistently exceed this expectation to develop the Raving Customers Blanchard refers
    to and who continue to return. The marketing profession has developed mechanisms to measure customer satisfaction in this area. Use them.

    3. How can technology improve this process is a question that must continuously be asked. For
    example will automatic check-out enhance a customer’s loyalty by using automated scanning and
    payment systems resulting in faster check-outs and a more efficient process? What is the role of e-
    commerce in your organization’s overall strategy? How will it be implemented?

    4. What additional steps can add to your responsiveness? We have grown accustomed to restaurant
    managers walking around to test clients for satisfaction. But you also have to effectively satisfy any
    complaints in a manner that the customer perceives as fair and equitable. Three and six-month surveys
    on how your product or service has performed can be useful.

    5. Responsiveness cycle-time includes the time it takes to place, enter an order, make your product,
    inventory it and distribute it. So again the value-chain must be a coordinated total team effort that ends in complete customer satisfaction.