‘As soon as you have an innovation department you’re buggered’

Creative England’s boss says brands have got to stop thinking about technology and creativity as two separate entities in order to fuel innovation.

lightbulb innovation

Innovation will not come from installing a team dedicated to “being innovative” as that only encourages businesses to think of creativity and technology as two separate things, says Creative England’s CEO Caroline Norbury.

Technology, creativity, innovation and data are “all bound together” in reality, so any attempt to split them out and treat them independently will be detrimental to a business.

“As soon as you have an innovations department you’re buggered because absolutely everyone should be involved in innovation,” Norbury tells Marketing Week. “Innovation is about how you think. You don’t turn up and think ‘I’m going to be innovative today’. Innovation is a muscle you have to keep flexing.”

As marketing processes become increasingly automated there is a fear that creativity will be sidelined. HSBC’s former head of marketing in EMEA Philip Mehl has argued that marketing is now seen as a data challenge rather than a creativity one, while Unilever’s creative excellence director Dan Izbicki has called marketing creativity “terrible”.

If you make sure you’ve got purpose at the heart of your business that automatically creates a culture of creativity.

Caroline Norbury, Creative England

“I really want to encourage people to stop seeing creativity and technology as two different things,” adds Norbury. “People shouldn’t try to constantly distinguish between them. Obviously there are different skillsets to certain aspects of it but the reason why lots of great products and brands break through is because they combine creativity and technology.

“Look at Apple. It’s tech is probably not that much better than other technology but it just looks better.”

Creative England looks to champion emerging brands that show how creativity and technology can work in harmony as part of its CE50 initiative. Each year, the organisation selects 50 innovative startups from across the country to help fuel business growth in the creative industries.

When it comes to hiring the right team Norbury says recruiting a diverse workforce that “mixes people up” will help companies to think differently and improve creativity. “That’s what helps companies be intellectually and artistically curious.”

Having a real purpose is also critical to fuelling creativity, she adds.

“If you look at the brands that have survived, they weren’t set up just to make money, they were set up for a purpose, to solve a challenge or because their founder had a visionary idea. If you make sure you’ve got purpose at the heart of your business that automatically creates a culture of creativity.”

READ MORE: 60% of content created by brands is ‘just clutter’

Using data to improve creativity

While data is important it can’t be used in isolation. If harnessed correctly it can fuel creativity, but Norbury doesn’t think it should ever lead it.

She explains: “You might have lots of data and you might have lots of evidence but you’ve always got to have the bandwidth and flexibility to be able to respond. That’s why creativity is so important. Creative leaders can’t be replaced by robots.

“We live in an era where marketing processes are automated and so much is driven by data but we have to keep looking up at the stars and thinking about what our job is. Our job is to entertain and bring something new and fresh and you’re not going to get that by simply looking at the numbers.”

She therefore advises marketers to look at technology as an enabler for creativity rather than a separate entity. “If you don’t fill it up with interesting ideas then it’s useless.”

Hide Comments2 Show Comments
  • Pete Austin 3 Mar 2017 at 11:26 am

    “As soon as you have an innovations department you’re buggered because absolutely everyone should be involved in innovation,” Norbury tells Marketing Week.

    Unfortunately for the CEO of “Creative England”, it follows that any country with a “Creative {country}”organization is similarly buggered.

  • Tim Mace 3 Mar 2017 at 2:07 pm

    An Innovations Team is a great idea, providing the company is wiling to try new things. They can focus on the future (no routine sales forecast meetings etc) and should tap into every element of the company in search of fresh thinking to avoid becoming isolated. I’m available for short and longer-tern assignments!

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