May 16, 2019
In 1968, the deputy director for NASA came to George Land with a problem. Land was a general systems scientist who founded a research and consulting institute to study the enhancement of creative performance. The deputy director told Land that they had a lot of smart people working for them, but they needed a way to root out the most creative ones. These were the people NASA wanted to put on teams to face its toughest challenges. Land and his team came up with such a test, applied it and the results turned out great.
Along the way the point came up that people don’t know where, exactly, creativity comes from. Is it something a person is born with? Do they learn it? Land decided to develop a test for creativity that was so simple even children could take it.
With a sample of 1,600 five-year-olds, Land dug into the ability of these kids to look at a problem and come up with new, different and innovative ideas. Then he retested them when they were 10 and again at age 15. The results were astounding. Here’s what he found out happened between the age of five and 15 with respect to the number of children who delivered ideas at the “Genius Level” of creativity, and then compared to the one million adults that Land and his team tested over time:
Contribution or cost?
The challenge that NASA faced in the 1960s is one every business still faces today – how do we solve problems with more innovative thinking?
If companies expect to create a brighter, customer-centered future, relying on only 2 percent of the workforce to deliver the best ideas isn’t feasible. Especially if we look at the likelihood that this micro-group of people will be able to sustain idea-generation and problem-solving at scale over the decades of their careers. The road will be cluttered with creative and innovative burnouts.
You can shrug it off and say it’s no big deal. Your company may be the steady eddy type, and you have plenty of work on your plate. You’ve got your eye on efficiency and growing revenue as a strategy to climb the corporate ladder. But that old-style thinking won’t work in the world of business transformation.
Management consultant Peter Drucker said:
“The purpose of the business is to create and keep the customer. Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two – and only two – basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs.”
Drucker clearly lays out the situation. Every employee in an organization is one of three types:
Knowing this, let’s unpack Drucker’s quote a little more.
While Peter Drucker was not a major contributor to the academic marketing literature, his contribution to the discipline is great. He said that, “Marketing is so basic that it is not just enough to have a strong sales department and to entrust marketing to it. Marketing is not only much broader than selling; it is not a specialized activity at all. It encompasses the entire business. It is the whole business seen from the point of view of its final result, that is from the customer’s point of view. Concern and responsibility for marketing must therefore permeate all areas of the enterprise.”
In 2008, the Academy of Marketing Science published an article by Frederick E. Webster, Jr. titled Marketing IS Management: The Wisdom of Peter Drucker. In it, Webster makes two important points of which every person in business should take note:
- Marketing and business are one in the same. Drucker believed that marketing emerged as a recognized business practice when management principles were applied to distribution and sales. He credited Cyrus McCormick with defining the creation of a customer as the fundamental business goal and a specific job of management. “By stressing customer centricity, Drucker created the raison d’etre for marketing as the most vital part of management, as a fundamental value for the organization…”
- Creating value for customers trumps management tactics, no matter how scientific they are. Drucker was emphatic that when businesses care more about techniques, mechanics and tools than they do about the customer, they miss the premise behind the science of management. “’Scientific’ is not—as many management scientists naively seem to think—synonymous with quantification. If this were true, astrology would be the queen of the sciences.”
Webster points out that customer and market-oriented businesses deliver better business results in revenue and profit. Whether it’s in your job title or not, a “marketer” is someone who nurtures and sells new ideas to usher in internal change to make sure everyone’s continually focused on the customer. If you aren’t a marketer yet, it’s time you gained appreciation for, and developed, these skills. If you are a marketer, you need to make sure you’re not mired down with tactics and missing the bigger impact that you need to make.
The innovators are the critical thinkers who actively come up with new ideas and solve problems. Innovation comes from an entire company, not from one particular product or service. But the ability to keep up with the pace of change today is one of the top evolving skills, according to Gartner.
Business needs innovators infused throughout the company because, regardless of what size or type of business you’re in, nearly every company is looking to grow. In fact, 94 percent of senior executives in a PwC survey said that growth is a top priority for their company. And 30 percent said it was more important than anything else.
Contrast that with the other responses of these same executives: More than 60 percent said they aren’t completely confident their company will meet its growth targets; 70 percent believe it’s harder now than before to generate profitable growth; and 66 percent said knowing which growth path they should travel down is harder now than it was 10 years ago.
The ability to meet these growth goals is directly dependent on how well employees solve problems in order to deliver value to the business and to customers. However, recruiting this talent is a pressure point for HR executives. In its State of the American Workplace report, Gallup reports that innovating for success is one of the top five goals for HR executives in 2019 so the organization can “find ways to differentiate itself in a flooded market…”
And once the time and energy have been invested to get it right, innovation still needs marketing. (If you don’t believe me, ask the Google Glass team.)
If you aren’t actively marketing or innovating, you’re a cost to the business. This means you’re overhead, and you detract from the progress and success of the business. When managers make decisions about where to cut the fat, you’ll either receive the pink slip right away or you’ll be “managed out” of a job.
Old-style management focuses on outdated competencies, forced KPIs and cost cutting. In order to build a cadre of marketing-focused employees and problem-solving innovators, leaders need to rethink the company’s platform for business and how to serve customers.
Adapt or snap
What Land learned from his studies is that children are taught to unlearn their natural problem-solving abilities so they can ring in structure, productivity and efficiency in the ‘real’ world. Drucker showed us who we must become in order to create value for customers and move back toward the innovators we are all born to be naturally. To find the common ground we start with the behavior that will create value for customers: Marketing and innovation.
Every employee in an organization has two choices: They can choose to be a contribution or they can choose to be a cost. The balance between these two is what determines a company’s ability to adapt to changing customer needs or snap under the pressure of them. But when the employee population is actively looking for ways to create customers (through marketing) and better serve them (through innovation), the organization is more likely to adjust to change and remain flexible rather than stagnate.
About Carla Johnson
Carla Johnson is a world-renowned storyteller, an entertaining speaker, and a prolific author.
Over the last two decades, Carla has helped architects and actuaries, executives and volunteers, innovators and visionaries leverage the art of storytelling to inspire action. Her work with Fortune 500 brands has served as the foundation for many of her books.
In her latest project, Fast Forward Files, she contributes to a larger collection of thoughts by some of the world’s greatest minds - Shazam co-founder Dhiraj Mukherjee, activist and entrepreneur Heather Mills and behavioral designer, technologist and mental-health champion Peter Trainor. Consistently named one of the top influencers in B2B, digital and content marketing, Carla regularly challenges conventional thinking.
Today, she travels the world teaching anyone (and everyone) how to cultivate idea-driven teams that breed unstoppable creativity and game-changing innovation.