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Creatively taking New Zealand business to the next level

Kiwis are a creative bunch. We invent, innovate and develop new products and services that have become part of our daily lives, both in New Zealand and internationally.  But these achievements are quietly happening behind the scenes and often go unrecognised.

gabby steyn massey university mba idealogOn a recent study tour of Europe, I had the opportunity to visit and gain insight into some very successful companies – international exporters of famous brands known around the globe including the likes of Stella Artois, IKEA, ECCO shoes, Lego, SKF, Husqvana and Bjorn Bjorg. From Belgium to the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden, I noticed one recurring theme – that successful European businesses encourage and value a high degree of creativity. In turn, this creativity stimulates innovation, motivates employees and allows these businesses to remain competitive. 

This is not the creativity employed in the creative industries, art, music, design or writing.  This is strategic creativity, a way of thinking, a mindset to create visions or dreams as in the case of AB InBev in Belgium. It has no mission or vision, only a dream “to be the best beer company in a better world”.  This dream sets the bar higher, raises expectations and opens the door for creativity to pave the way for innovation. 

CEO Carlos Brito explains that you can anchor things on that.  “A dream has to be big!  Why? Dreaming big and dreaming small take about the same amount of energy,” he stressed. “Dreams must be big, must be stretched and most definitely be credible.” It’s also how you get the best out of people and get them aligned to work towards the same dream.

Sir Ken Robinson, the author of Out of Minds: Learning to be Creative, has this to add on the necessity of creativity in innovation: “It’s about having to think very differently about how to run organisations.” Encouraging employees to be creative and innovative may seem simple, but fostering an environment and leveraging ideas needs to be structured and consistent.

A study carried out for the NZIM in 2012 by Auckland ICL Business School illustrates how Kiwi managers rank creativity as the least important personal attribute for management. According to Linda Naiman, a creativity and innovation expert, creativity is fostered in organisational cultures that value independent thinking, risk taking, and learning.

This is something that companies like Lego has done very well.  Together with seven top companies in Denmark, Lego created a learning academy to offer interdisciplinary education in concept making and radical innovation to employees and executives. It believes in people-driven innovation rather than technology-based innovation, merging people with different skills and thinking styles and teaching them to develop, design and execute new and innovative business concepts. 

Lego encourages creativity through internal collaboration via both technology and in-person encounters.  One of the best ways to ensure that people meet is to create environments that facilitate face-to-face run-ins.  During our visit to the Lego head-office in Denmark, we noticed the physical work space is designed to not only facilitate productivity, but also have fun. It’s a social business where employees reconstruct their own reality and that of the organisation, through a combination of individual skill-sets, expertise, and personal viewpoints - rewriting the handbook for how work gets done.

In order to drive creativity, New Zealand businesses need innovative approaches to rewards and recognition. Employees are motivated by the need for achievement, status and association.

But there have been successes in New Zealand.  One just has to look at the finalists in the New Zealand International Business Awards (or the 2012 New Zealand Innovators Awards!) to see that we are not running dry on creative business ideas and visionary managers.  From vodka to the movies, monk fruit to eco-bulbs, hamburgers to health supplements and the North Shore's own Deep Creek Breweries, it's clear there are innovative, brave leaders, taking New Zealand business to the next level. 

Now to dream big and be the best in the world.... 

Gabby Steyn is currently studying towards an Executive MBA through Massey University and has a background in marketing and events management