Not All Types Of Startup Creativity Are Created Equally

Published on:

Business creativity comes in various shapes and sizes, using different approaches can help your startup to become more innovative and deal with a number of situations.

Ok, that’s me again talking about business creativity – or have you implied that I shared all secrets in my first post on that topic? But before we discover how much deeper the rabbit hole goes, I should take a moment to say many thanks to Juliand Digital, a Manchester-based tech startup, revolutionizing supply chain management for multinational giants, and its CEO Richard Milnes, who kindly agreed to partner for the project of bringing organizational creativity theories and techniques to practice. If not for him and his amazing team, there’s no way I could contribute to the topic at hand in any productive way.

Why Is Startup Creativity Different?

So as startups, you’re playing big and aim for rapid growth. With the stakes being so high and markets being so saturated it’s hard to be a (still) small fish in the pond. Several entrepreneurs I interviewed independently from each other underlined the hardness of not being taken seriously by bigger and older business partners and thus, not having enough market power. That also means, startups are almost unable to negotiate favourable conditions and prices with their suppliers, which raises barriers to resources acquisition. Moreover, competitors are alert as well, those who came into the market before you already have some leverage and aren’t afraid to use it.

No need to panic, the reality is harsh, and you know much better than me what it takes to be in a day-to-day struggle for survival and growth. So now it’s time to talk about how organizational creativity can help – or is already helping! – you in your performance. I should point out here that I’m talking about creative behaviour more typical for startups, which is different from established and mature firms. No surprise, volatile environment dictates more spontaneous and inventive reactions.

It Never Hurts To Add Some Jazz!

You’ve probably heard about improvisation. The term is mostly artistic and very often associated with jazz, but the scope of such activity spreads far beyond arts and it’s not that rare in business! Broadly, improvisation lies in every reaction of your startup, either immediate or very quick, to unexpected threats and opportunities, predominantly external. Each startup faces dozens of these daily, and in addressing the task at hand fast, in being resourceful and in using non-standard approach, – that’s where your creativity reveals itself. Improvisation is one of the simplest and most obvious forms of organizational creativity, as there’s down to zero time to think your actions through, the situation calls for immediate response and basically removes data gathering and analysis from the equation.

The good news is – you can actually learn to improvise. Sure, you can never predict the whole variety of situations your startup may find itself in, but as time goes by you will notice the obvious pattern of the most common ‘accidents’ and thus, develop the tool kit of quick reactions. For instance, I know a startup, which produces soft drinks, and the co-founders often take part in outdoor fairs and promotional events. Let’s say, normally they need two hours for preparations – and that’s what they are expecting. On a number of occasions, however, everything goes to hell, organizers screw up and the guys are left with twenty minutes to set their stall. For the first time they have to make something out of nothing, but when the situation repeats itself (and it certainly does!), they can apply the same actions as previously or change them slightly, and finally, the team has an optimized set of possible reactions should such disruptions arise again. The same goes for ‘good’ accidents, like becoming involved in a small random talk and acquiring a supplier of a customer, or meeting useful people during unrelated events. Just have your card ready and be able to explain how your company can save the world… and solve its problems!

There’s a fly in this ointment, though. Don’t become caught in a trap of constant improvisation. As I mentioned, the analytical and thinking through components are practically eliminated from the process and usually come later. If you start relying only on your wits in running everyday business, you wouldn’t be able to sew a quilt out of patches you’ve collected from reflecting on past situations. So try to improvise no more often than really necessary.

Making Something From Nothing Isn’t A Miracle!

Another creative technique, which less you might have heard of, somehow evolves from improvisation and is called ‘bricolage’. Levi-Strauss introduced the concept in 1967 as a ‘social metaphor’ of creating something from available resources to address the problem at hand. As with improvisation, the idea has since overcome the narrowness of social interpretation and now is used in a variety of disciplines, innovation theory included.

In a nutshell, bricolage is all about applying whatever diversity of means you possess at the moment to navigate in the aggressive market, where you ability to get necessary resources is severely limited. To illustrate, there are different ways to do that. Speaking of physical resources, you may recombine them, use cheaper ones or those, which others don’t even consider as a resource at all – doing first deliveries in your town-car or working from your co-founder’s kitchen are very common examples. In means of workforce, it’s in overall SME’s tendency to utilize employees’ skills far beyond their job description, as you can’t afford to hire the whole range of specialist right from the start. There’s also an institutional aspect to it, which is practically embedded in the very core of a startup – constantly testing the borders of allowance to break them and disrupt the whole industry. Finally, in counterparties relations bricolage means the actual impossibility of setting clear labels on people or firms you’re doing business with, as you family and friends can be your clients and/or suppliers, recent clients become friends or into suppliers or vice versa. Skilfully using this diffusion for your company’s advantage is the key.

However, with bricolage – although it has a serious part of discussion and analysis to it – you should be as cautious as with overusing improvisation. I promised I wouldn’t tire you with academic stuff but, please, do make an exception for this paper by Baker and Nelson (2005), which has many more examples of bricolage and some do’s and don’ts. In particular, they distinguish between ‘parallel’ bricolage, when the firm goes hard on it in every aspect of business, and ‘selective’, when it’s being used responsively in some of them, usually to save money and other resources for those spheres, in which you just can’t underinvest.

I hope this article was helpful to you. It’s important to know that you already are creative, especially being a fast-growing startup, but that the business creativity you apply or can apply to your daily struggle for staying afloat, has quite specific features. Feel free to use the tips provided here and in the paper but also keep in mind the limitations of these methods, so they don’t slow you down.



Sharing is caring so please share this post. Thank you!