I’m an engineer by training, and so is Mitch. We tend to have left-brained approaches — at least initially — to problems. While we like to think that we can be reasonably creative (everything’s relative), we definitely appreciate and encourage creativity, most importantly: the positive effect it can have on the bottom line when applied with discipline (that it not an oxymoron). Mitch even teaches several courses on innovation that focus on harnessing your people’s creativity.
I was reading the March (2012) issue of Fast Company today and an example of a creative, out-of-the-box profitable solution to a problem really struck home. The founders of Airbnb (the leading company in the “rent your house while you’re gone” market) had a problem. Some listers’ apartments weren’t renting, mostly because the listers were posting lousy (as in cell phone quality) pictures of their digs with their listing. Of course their apartments looked lousy as a result, and no one wanted to rent them. A straightforward approach to solving the problem would have been to encourage listers to take better photos, and even offer them short on-line lessons in so doing. That, frankly, is probably what I would have tried; it’s a low-investment and potentially high payoff approach.
But the Airbnb guys, who came from a design (as in RISD), not a business background, were more creative than that. (I would hope that RISD only accepts students more creative than me!) They hired local freelance photographers with really expensive professional equipment to take stunning photos of the houses and apartments for rent. The results were dramatic, and more than paid for the expense. There were secondary benefits too, such as the ability for Airbnb to do address verification on the listings.
The lesson for everyone: There is a fine line between creative and impractical. But truly creative, out-of-the-box thinkers with a bottom-line orientation exist. They are gold.
I can guarantee that every organization has some. I can also guarantee that most organizations are suppressing them (“the nail that sticks up gets hammered down”, as the Japanese say).
Don’t do that.