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Intentional Creativity: 3 Steps for CMOs

By Published on .

Larry Robertson, founder and president of Lighthouse Consulting.
Larry Robertson, founder and president of Lighthouse Consulting.  Credit: Lighthouse Consulting
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Marketing technology has done wonders for the practice of marketing. It has refined, streamlined and taken the guesswork out of some formerly nebulous areas of the industry. But martech and the need to support ideas with data have increasingly pitted marketing against its roots: the art of creativity.

The question today is, "Which side is the real driver of innovation?" If you ask Larry Robertson, founder and president of Lighthouse Consulting LLC and 8-time award winning author of "A Deliberate Pause," it's creativity, without a doubt.


"No innovation has ever come out a proven territory," Robertson says of using data to support decision-making. "If you demand a guarantee, if you demand proof up front, how on earth can you ever innovate? Data is absolutely important. But it's not what drives creativity or guides change."

So, if creativity is the essence of marketing innovation, then it must be the job of the CMO to be as creative as possible. Easier said than done, you might be thinking. Isn't creativity an inherent, individual trait, like height or eye color? According to Robertson, this is a common misperception. Creativity has three truths: it's new, it exists everywhere and -- most important -- anyone can do it.

Like learning a new language or improving your physical fitness, becoming creative is a practice. A CMO simply needs to cultivate the right habits to be able to think creatively and recognize creative breakthroughs when he or she sees them.

Practice noticing
The first habit Robertson recommends cultivating is the art of noticing. "It's tuning into what's going on around you, and when you feel that sense of fit, noticing why you feel that, what it's connected to, what it's saying about what you know or what you could know," he says. "It's that idea of just practicing looking around in a more questioning and purposeful way. It's actually fun, too."

On the way to a meeting or on a walk, Robertson would practice absorbing what before had been unremarkable details. And he soon began to see his environment in a new way.

"I started posting pictures of these things I was seeing and curating each with a little line -- a hint, another connection, a pun, a line from a song," he says. "The way people are coming back to me, I realize that I've spread noticing to them. Now they're noticing things too! It's a perfect example of the gradual and cumulative way a breakthrough comes about."

Pause to notice
Past simply understanding what it means to notice, Robertson says that creative leaders actually make time -- called "pausing" -- for the noticing to occur. "It's doing things in a purposeful way, even though you don't know exactly what you're going to see or what you're looking for. It's in the pause that you increase the odds of encountering a purposeful accident."

Pausing can take on any form, whether a quiet moment alone with your environment or a few minutes for open questioning in the middle of a meeting. "It's the deliberateness with which you take them," says Robertson, "and the noticing you do in them, and the questions you ponder, and the fit you sense when you pause, that all adds up to higher odds of a breakthrough idea occurring."

Create your own luck (seriously!)
Finally, Robertson says that creative breakthroughs are a product of self-made luck. Research on both luck and creativity demonstrates that a person can, in fact, create his or her own good luck by boosting the odds of encountering it. "It comes down to really simple habits, as simple as putting yourself out there at the edges of your world; in a sports analogy, taking more at-bats."

When a person expects to experience something good or interesting, research shows that the person is more to do so. "It's little things like this, combined, that cause you to see more breakthroughs," says Robertson. These patterns of self-made luck are pervasive in the work of MacArthur fellows, a highly creative group profiled in Robertson's new book, "The Language of Man: Learning to Speak Creativity."

In sum, CMOs looking to cultivate their creativity would do well to first tap into a defining characteristic of marketing leaders: their innate sense of curiosity. "The truth is, creativity is a gradual sorting; it happens through purposeful accidents," says Robertson. "You want to be purposeful, but you want to allow the room to have these wonderful accidental things happen that allow you to see and create something new."

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