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The new deficit

The pace in innovation and technology during the last two decades, especially since the launch of the iPhone in 2007, has created a new scarcity in the economy. It has always existed, but it is more visible now. We have all the tools we need to communicate with customers and make work more efficient, but we lack in creativity.

Creativity has become the new scarcity in modern business, the thing that differentiates one company from another, one person from someone else. And even if we for some inscrutable reason believe creativity is free, and in some meaning that may be correct, the reality teaches us a very different story.

Creativity and innovation has always been the hallmark of great economic progress. Creativity isn’t the same as innovation, as creativity is more of an individual quality, while innovation takes the resources of a whole organization to deliver. Yves Saint Laurent wanted to be a painter, but his real mission was to build the fashion house YSL with his friend Pierre Bergé. Yves saw himself jokingly as a failed painter, but the first half at YSL was filled with joy. Only later did he become the person who wanted to run away from his creation.

John Hegarty also wanted to be a painter, but found his true mission as one of the most successful executives in advertising. In 1982 he founded BBH after having worked in several successful advertising agencies. Hegarty talks about the need of having a creative philosophy, his own being irreverence, and the importance of having a go-to-market strategy. A creative philosophy can be whatever one wants, but it must be founded in the values that drive us. And our go-to-market strategy may ultimately decide the faith of our product.

There is a creative deficit in business, and there is plenty of evidence to support it. Big Pharma has for a long time ignored IT as an instrument in improving healthcare. Little has happened in education and retail since the early 20th century. Even when it comes to technology companies, there is much to wish for. The creativity found in most software engineers isn’t the kind that gets noticed or that inspires to new ideas. Companies are simply not setup to be creative. Organizations are filled with classically designed control mechanisms, but they seldom contain drivers that produce creativity. People are not promoted on creativity and seldom is the subject brought up in performance reviews. For some reason, creativity has become a matter of culture; a culture that is either creative or not, but nobody can say why or how to create one.

Creativity requires empathy, and because of that it’s very easy to wreck; it takes only a few words or actions; and a single person can kill the creativity of a whole team. It’s very strange and commands respect and consideration, but it’s the scarcity that will drive economic progress for a long time ahead.