This is a guest article by Brad Shorr who is Director of Content Strategy at Straight North, a Chicago SEO expert agency headquartered in the Chicago area. He has executive level experience in B2B sales, marketing and operations.
A lot of companies talk about being innovative, but how many really are? In the world of marketing, the word “innovative” is so overused it has lost almost all of its meaning. Because marketers know this, we make matters worse by gravitating to even more hyperbolic terms such as “thought leader” and “game changer” and “paradigm shift.”
True innovation comes from business leaders who think imaginatively. And true innovation is actually less common than marketers would have buyers believe. While the capacity to think imaginatively is unquestionably a powerful trait in a business leader, implementing imaginative decisions is not always a good idea.
Really great leaders not only think imaginatively, they also know when to act imaginatively.
Good and Bad Imaginative Thinking
Website design is an excellent area to consider the pros and cons of letting your imagination lead.
Bad imagination. Highly creative page layouts may look terrific in an art gallery, but will confuse and frustrate website visitors looking for information in a hurry. When imaginative solutions get in the way of clarity, when they make it harder rather than easier for customers to figure out what your business does and how you do it, then they are not good business solutions.
Good imagination. When imaginative thinking in website design helps rather than hinders customers, it becomes a very powerful tool. Organizations that identified the potential of mobile-friendly website design early on (five years ago) reaped tremendous benefits. Not only did they build their image as forward-thinking organizations, they had a five-year head start in perfecting their mobile site designs. As a result, they enjoy more website traffic and conversions than their less imaginative competitors.
General Thoughts About Imagination
Can we draw any general conclusions from these simple examples? I’ll try.
- When imaginative thinking anticipates what customers, employees and stakeholders want from a business in the future and lays the groundwork now, then it creates competitive advantage. Timing is everything. Implementing imaginative solutions too abruptly can easily cause widespread confusion among customers and inefficiencies within organizations.
- Imaginative thinking must have practical business objectives. As marketing legend David Ogilvy said, “If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.” This principle applies to more than just marketing. We could also say, “If it doesn’t improve throughput, it isn’t creative” or “If it doesn’t increase employee retention, it isn’t creative.”
Being imaginative for the sake of being imaginative can get in the way of business on an even more fundamental level. It should never be assumed that customers or employees value imaginative thinking. If I’m looking for a heart surgeon, I’m not necessarily looking for one with an imaginative, untested surgical technique — I’d prefer one with a 95 percent successful track record going back 10 years.
Ultimately, customers and employees want value in exchange for money (customers) or time (employees). If a business provides low prices, reliable service, a pleasant work environment, exciting career path and security, whether it does so imaginatively or unimaginatively is of little consequence.
Bottom line: By all means, think imaginatively whenever possible. Implement imaginative solutions judiciously.
Questions: How do you let your imagination lead? How important is imagination in your leadership position?