10 Creativity Tips From J.Crew CEO Mickey Drexler

J.Crew CEO Mickey Drexler shares 10 rules for creative success.

"Every business could be creative."

I talk to so many people about the lack of creativity in companies in America. Part of creativity is contrarianism. Creativity battles common wisdom. Because if there's common wisdom, there's an opportunity. In my own experience, whatever was a good idea was a bad idea to most people.

"Companies are in the Stone Ages organizationally."

You can tell by the offices. "I'm going to see the king!" The king is on the top floor and there are 17 people in front of the king's office. There are layers of bureaucracy. It shouldn't be like that.

"Most companies should have a rule about how big they get."

Not necessarily assigning a billion-dollar value or a 10 billion-dollar value, but companies that become too ubiquitous go one way.

"America's companies are built to destroy creativity."

If you become the head of a big company today, you're not the youngest person in the world. You have a contract. You get a jet. You have a huge overpaid salary. You get bonuses. Do you think that CEO is going to screw around with fast, creative change? No. And the board of directors—the last thing they want is someone who's going to change things. Steve Jobs—he would bet the company, he wouldn't care. But there are very few people who run companies that way.

"You have to keep moving forward."

Everything has a trend to it; I don't care if it's appliances or engines. I always ask: What has a company done in the past five years that somebody's noticed?

"I'm a very proud micromanager."

If you don't care about the lapel or the buttons or the fit, then you are doing a disservice to the consumer. We're all inside the tunnel, speaking the language of business, but we need to speak the language of customers. How many companies actually talk about the product?

"You cannot copy high quality."

It takes a long time to get a reputation for quality. There are people in our industry, they're basically copiers. Look at the cars on the streets. They all look alike. But if you put quality into a product, then have it validated, you have huge credibility. It takes time to earn that.

"You can drown in data."

Data is very important, but you have to be good at reading the data in an emotional way. If you look at a selling report, there's an emotional trend to what's selling. What's a focus group? We ask, "What's going on in the stores?" You learn and then edit, edit, edit, because there's a lot of junk mail in your head.

"It's aggravating to be a public company."

People who own stocks could not care less about the long run. Everyone in the world has a quarterly report. Your owners and investors are looking for a result. [But] it takes five or 10 years to build a company.

"Simplicity is very difficult to achieve."

Try to ask someone to make a really good roast chicken.

[Photo by Yu Tsai]

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  • A) I make a roast chicken that will melt in your mouth...even the white meat. Simple, simple, simple... ;-) and... B) I offer that there is a world of nuanced difference between micromanagement and assiduous attention to detail. One creates perfection, one creates lynch mobs.