What stands in the way of creative capability?

Here we set out five areas that hinder creativity in organisations, and how teams can overcome them to sustain growth.
06 July 2021
Paint brushes
Simon Colthorpe

Organisation Performance Lead

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Never has the phrase ‘change is constant’ felt more pertinent. As businesses and as individuals we are in situations that require us to break out of the status quo, and to do so with a long-term vision – rather than simply out of short-term necessity.

Human creativity and a mindset of ‘possibility’ are essential to making this a reality, yet it feels that there isn’t sufficient rigour surrounding creative capabilities within businesses.

But what stands in the way of creative capability? The following are things that, in our experience, can act as limitations to creative improvement and a creative culture:

Invisible walls

According to Sir Martin Sorrell, the biggest barrier to creative thinking is siloes. To create a company-wide creative culture, we need to get rid of turf wars and align functions behind a unified vision. This doesn’t necessarily require a large-scale organisational upheaval, but it does require businesses to explore the success and long-term value of their current operating model. Is the business, for example, operating based on organisational ease, rather than on consumer needs?


To what extent does your business and its leaders role model a creative mindset and creative behaviours? Are challenges articulated as questions, rather than problems? How is language used within the business – do people crush ideas with a simple ‘but …’, or nurture them through ‘yes … and …’? Are businesses doing enough to create a psychologically safe environment, where self-expression can live and breathe, without the judgment of others? Are businesses equipping their teams to think in terms of ‘possibilities’, allowing them to use divergent thinking to go further than the first good idea? Creativity needs to be nurtured and taking the time to employ the right mindset at all levels is critical to creating a braver workforce.


How do we measure creativity? Or more importantly, how should businesses ensure that their metrics aren’t stifling creativity? A growth mindset has been common business and HR parlance since Carol Dweck first published her book of the same name in 2006. Yet, whilst many businesses include growth mindset as a required behaviour, it isn’t necessarily supported in business reality.

We need to ask ourselves how we should define success. Typically, this is through a traditional view of accomplishments – but what does that mean for the challenging and unconventional choices we might need our people to make? How can we define metrics that provide some degree of ‘safety net’ so that we can still try to walk the tightrope? How do we allow for failure and the learning that it provides? Businesses need to consider a dashboard that captures the journey as well as the destination.


Building creative capability requires businesses to seek true inspiration (that innate sense of knowing what is good for your target), not just insight. Our agencies are a critical route to this – and our relationships with them are crucial for mutual success. We need to be able to challenge and then trust the expertise of our agencies, through a shared sense of the possibility, which ultimately means allowing agencies to be co-architects of your brand. We know that there is no role for category clichés within creativity – your agency needs to believe it, and you believe it – from how you brief to how you assess.


It’s a myth that great ideas come to us in a flash. Even Kim Kardashian admits that, for every seemingly perfect picture she posts, 300 or so have proceeded it. We rush to succeed to our own detriment. As businesses and as individuals, we need to allow time to be creative. More businesses need to implement processes such as ‘design thinking’, and programmes such as ‘Google’s 20%’, to help create time for creativity. This may require businesses to rethink some of their approaches to more ‘admin’ focussed tasks, to free up time for employees to focus on higher value work. Creativity means allowing time to think beyond that first good idea, not giving up too soon and having the space to both ideate and iterate.

Establishing creative capability for sustained growth requires businesses to make a conscious decision to nurture creative aptitude and face up to all the challenges outlined above. Organisations must shift away from a pure process-based approach and toward a capability plan. In turn this will create and encourage talent and bravery through a balance of process, tools, structure, skills, and mindset. Furthermore, it will enable teams and individuals to walk away from apathy and business as usual and into an enterprise-wide mindset of possibility.

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