October 3, 2005
Excerpts: The Source of Success - Part II
The workhorse of the twenty-first century will be creativity, and management has to create an environment where people can be ready for—and working toward—the breakthrough idea. The question is how to foster the productive creativity needed to differentiate a brand in a surplus economy. America and the rest of the developed world must take note: creativity is the force without which our children won’t enjoy a standard of living even remotely resembling ours. In the world of excess supply, natural resources, capital, and knowledge may let you make the cut into a global economic game—they won’t enable you to win it. As I argued earlier, all these strengths will become commonplace, and where creativity doesn’t drive a company’s strategic vision, most often the lowest price will be the winning formula. Success, abundance, a rising standard of living—for individuals, companies, communities, nations—will depend on a capacity to create, invent, and innovate.
It comes down to an ability to differentiate your product or service in a relevant way. This leads inevitably to increased margins and profits. Without differentiation, we lapse back into a world of commodities. Outsourcing is a symptom of the new economic reality, a way of cutting costs in the face of brutal competition— inevitable if you are producing undifferentiated products and services and struggling against tighter margins. Your job, if it exists at all during the next decade, could be headed for India. Then it may move to Ghana. Start now. Differentiate yourself and your products. Get excited about what you’re doing and add so much creativity and passion to what you do that nothing else compares with it. If you don’t, nobody will care. Your job will evaporate.
I’m not talking about playtime. I’m talking about a work environment managed specifically to become a breeding ground for the prepared mind: a mind that seeks and finds creative solutions. Creativity doesn’t mean entertainment, nor art. Unfettered creativity isn’t the silver bullet. Applied, productive creativity with strategic value is the key—and that arises from immersion in the realities of challenges in the market. Before you can even think of doing something new, you need a comprehensive understanding of your busi- nesses, products, and services as they exist today, a thorough understanding of how your organization is wired. Only with that as a foundation can a focused, productive creative energy lift an organization to the next level of practical, functional, and useful differentiation. You have not only to be good at the standard now, you have to understand the principles that have enabled you to succeed up to the present. Only then can you build on that foundation. Applied creativity needs to be fueled by knowledge of what is in order to get to what might be.
All this, again, only gets you onto the playing field. Once we qualify as competitors, we have to awaken and harness the creative power of everyone who contributes to an organized purpose. We need creativity aimed at a clearly defined target: the customer’s heart. Learn creativity, teach it, and adapt it to every aspect of your waking life, because it isn’t a “soft” subject anymore. It’s the hardest core competency a business needs to develop.
The good news is, creativity is an inexhaustible, universal resource. It’s as necessary as the air we breathe—and, luckily, it’s almost as plentiful.
This is an excerpt from The Source of Success: Five Enduring Principles at the Heart of Leadership by Peter Georgescu and David Dorsey
About Dylan Schleicher
Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.