When Apple announced that it was making changes to its Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) policy and giving users the choice of opting out of cross-app tracking, the effect from the viewpoint of digital marketers and advertisers was seismic. Further, iOS 15 will reportedly give users even more control over their data.
As a result, leaders have been scrambling to modify their existing marketing strategies. The panicked reactions are understandable, but there is a deeper lesson to be learned from this besides the need for quick action. Making superficial adjustments may temporarily douse the flames, but it still leaves organizations vulnerable to the next fire. And there will be more fires. What leaders should do instead is to instill the kinds of deep changes that would put them on steadier ground for whatever surprises the world may throw on their timeline.
Spoiler alert: It’s all about creativity.
Step One: Recognize the importance of creative IQ
Recently, a team of researchers released a test designed to measure creative thinking ability. It went nearly viral, underscoring the high demand for creativity in the business world. What this test is unable to do, though, is measure the total creative power of your organization.
Herein lies that deeper lesson. Short-term mitigation strategies such as redirecting marketing efforts towards Android devices or investing more in organic SEO are all well and good, but the most important takeaway from the iOS bombshell is that organizations need to be more nimble and agile. And while buzzwords such as “agility” and “nimbleness” get thrown around a lot, creativity is the deeper and more foundational skill that underlies them.
The long and short of it is that the only way to raise the collective creative power of your organization is to make creative thinking an integral part of your company’s DNA and ecosystem. Unfortunately, most organizations don’t realize this is something within their control. We’re conditioned to think of creativity as something exclusive to a select elite who churn out world-changing ideas from inside private think tanks shrouded in secrecy.
Step Two: Encourage “irresponsibility”
Recently, Jeremy Utley posted an article titled, “Be Irresponsible.” He is intentionally being provocative because, in business, it’s widely taken for granted that leaders must focus on productivity and efficiency if they are to be responsible, even to the exclusion of creativity. But what if creativity actually leads to productivity, and what if the reason we’re blind to this is that we have a limited and obsolete notion of what productivity is?
To be more disruption-proof, organizations need to foster environments for divergent thinking, the kind of thinking that makes new ideas possible. Divergent thinking is not actually irresponsible, not unless you subscribe to limited notions of productivity. Rather, divergent thinking is what makes it possible to stay ahead when Apple, Facebook, or whoever else drops the next bombshell. When used correctly, divergent thinking is, therefore, the responsible thing to do. The problem is that it is too often used incorrectly.
Gerard Puccio, professor and chair of the International Center for Studies in Creativity Studies at the State University of New York, Buffalo State, puts it this way: “One of the biggest flaws in creative thinking and, especially, brainstorming, is that people often mix divergent and convergent thinking. They might generate an idea and then immediately critique and evaluate it. In some cases, the idea is dismissed.”
In other words, people don’t truly get creative with divergent thinking because they are too conditioned to “be responsible,” so they interrupt their own creative thinking processes with convergent thinking. This is like trying to work and play at the same time. Both are needed, but if you play World of Warcraft during an important Zoom meeting, you’re not going to be very effective at either. This is a useful analogy because, at its heart, divergent thinking is an act of play.
Step Three: Create safe spaces
If divergent thinking is a form of play, and it is also the key to being agile, then there’s a problem because the fear that mixing play and work will get us in trouble is deeply embedded. Fear is therefore one of the biggest impediments to growth and innovation, and the task of forward-thinking leaders is to create safe environments. Create a culture in which employees not only have permission to “play” in designated times and spaces but are rewarded for doing so. In brainstorming sessions, for example, actively encourage people to be as “irresponsible” as possible and validate each and every idea that gets thrown out, no matter how seemingly absurd.
The challenge here is that people’s tendency to self-censor in real time runs deep, and it won’t change overnight. Something that can help facilitate the process is behavior modeling. Leaders should channel their inner Brené Brown. Be vulnerable. Admit the things you don’t know. Openly confess the fear of saying something ridiculous and then go ahead and say it anyway. How else do you expect your employees to share their “irresponsible” ideas unless it feels safe to do so?
Step Four: Converge
Once you have created safe spaces, it’s time to integrate divergent and convergent thinking. Remember, it’s not that divergent thinking is “better.” It’s that organizations try to do both at the same time or eliminate divergent thinking entirely. There is still a need to be pragmatic. Once you have a rich body of creative ideas, switch gears and separate the workable ideas from the unworkable ones. Don’t call any ideas “good” or “bad” as that will only reinforce fear. This is simply about holding up those fun and crazy ideas against the real world. Ask questions such as: Do any of these ideas actually solve our problem? Do they present viable paths forward? How can we test them?
Sadly, too many organizations try to do convergent thinking without any of the divergent thinking needed for ideas in the first place. Is it any wonder, then, that they are caught off guard and slack-jawed when disruptions occur? Next time, it might be Android who announce that they, too, will give users the choice to opt out of cross-app tracking. Don’t leave yourself so vulnerable. Recognize the safety that’s potentially hidden within “dangerous” and “irresponsible” ideas, and begin cultivating a more creative organization today.