Business Gurus

Sir Martin Sorrell

Sir Martin Sorrell founded WPP, the world’s largest advertising corporation, in 1986. He argues that creative talent and business acumen have become mutually exclusive – and that this needs to change.

A self-confessed ‘money man’ Sorrell is just as fascinated by money itself as with how and why it is made. In his famous ‘Beans and Pearls’ lecture he describes John Kao’s idea that we are leaving the Information Age and entering a fourth era - the Creative Age. During this process, every company’s economic growth will rely on what the employees do with the information available to them and how they will use creativity to adapt information into something innovative that will appeal to the consumer – be it a service, product or system.

“It’s a curious phenomenon that the sector whose output has such a high public profile has been so little talked about as an economic force.”

In many companies, innovation and creativity play a minor role in comparison to more traditional scientific, businesslike and practical thought. As a result, Sorrell believes that  some business managers may struggle to acknowledge its importance and be wary of the impact of such a change on their established structures and traditions. But, he argues, as we enter the “Creative Age” companies will need to rely on creative skills and learn how to make these skills ‘actionable’ to ensure economic growth.

Space must be made for innovation and imagination within the business decision-making process as, Sorrell explains, we must use both sides of our brains in our business. In order to come up with fundamental game-changing ideas, we will need to flex our creative minds. Innovation and profit are inextricably linked and once this is recognised, it will inspire fresh talent and work to ensure that the UK stays competitive in the international business market.

“In a business world that is going to put a higher and higher value on integrated creativity, we are in danger of losing what should be our overwhelming advantage – by allowing something called creativity to be confined to the creative compound.”

Creativity has become limited, Sorrell explains, it has been focused in just the creative departments of a business and taken away from other crucial areas, such as investment and training. Creative talent and business acumen have become mutually exclusive – and this needs to change. Once companies understand their ability to flex their creative muscles and allow this creativity to run through their lifeblood, the potential for success is immense. Companies must learn to recognise how creative talents can be used for business advantages.It is not just the ‘product’ of a creative process that is valuable; the creative process itself involves discussion, brainstorming, analysis, thoughts and imagination and can prove just as significant.

“Our raw material is knowledge," says Sorrell – and this knowledge is what is valuable to clients. But it is the creative process in between that will ascertain just how successful the end product will be. Brands need spark, personality and an edge but the focus in the business market today has moved from the brand identity and refocused on the financial. Ambitious brands take a risk, try something new and test unchartered waters – for this, creativity is key.

“I believe we will survive and thrive in the new creative age only if we enlarge both our understanding and our delivery of creativity.”

Convention states that there are two types of people – numerate, business-type people and creative ones. As we move into the future and a new age, this sort of stereotypical thought must be broken down. And we must learn to broaden our scope and understanding of what creativity really means as the very notion goes against the controlled, managed ideal that so many business leaders strive for. As technology, information and the number of ways in which we can receive ideas are all developing at a lightning pace, so too must the way companies deliver their creativity – in order to keep ahead of the game.

As Sorrell says, “Without the pearls of creativity and innovation, you don’t get many beans to count.” Creativity is like a spectacle, and the clients need to be dazzled.

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