Sporting encounters of a creative kind

There are quite a few organizations where the term ‘creative’ is associated with the output of the advertising agency. In these uncertain economic times, this is an extremely dangerous assumption.

With shrinking budgets on the one side, coupled with the reluctance of the consumer to experiment on the other, the only weapon that many companies may actually be able to unleash is the imagination of their employees. The call for tangible differentiation in product, process, delivery and image has probably never been more belligerent.

However this is easier said than done; as most corporate entities are equipped to create systems that religiously replicate the routine that has brought them past success.

How do brand and marketing teams then embark on what might always be uncharted territory?

The marketing world has always been comfortable looking elsewhere for inspiration, an imminently useful trait in itself in any endeavor to be creative.  Be it warfare, evolution, history or even mythology, marketing has been remarkably flexible in the incorporation of tenets that could bring smiles in the business world.

Since most of today’s organizational functioning is around the synergy of teams, perhaps it is time to seek inspiration from sport, with its focus on the group ethic and the pursuit of goals (pun intended). Hopefully this can lead to some very interesting insights that could be correlated to the creative process

Forget the tried and tested playing style

For a long time Indian hockey teams played in a certain manner, that was focused on short passing and dribbling. This resulted in eight gold medals at the Olympics. But around 30 years ago, the playing surface of the game changed to Astroturf, as did some of the rules. Yet the Indian hockey management took an extremely long time in realizing what worked once, was increasingly becoming obsolete, this has led to India’s disastrous decline in hockey.

Likewise, it is incredibly hard for most companies to think in ways different from those which have bred past success. However in today’s dynamic innovation demanding business environment, this might just be your Achilles heel. Innovation, as the term implies is the quest for the new, and that very often means one has to ready and willing to abandon the old.

Recruit team mates who don’t quite play the same game

Kaka, the now sadly injured superstar football player, adds quite a different dimension to his team when he dons the national yellow of Brazil. With his long striding prowess and tendency to release the ball more than carry it, he infuses a certain ‘European’ aspect to Brazil’s Latin American flair.

In much the same way, deviants are needed in any team undertaking a corporate challenge. Only when brand teams learn to engage people with skills and experiences radically diverse from those of their own, will there be a ‘conflict of ideas’, a churning phenomenon central to the creative process. With groups faced with the task of creating strong brand impressions in industries that have been set with traditional practices, sometimes only the uninhibited and unblinkered perspective of an outsider can lead to true innovation and breakthrough.

Interestingly even in evolutionary terms what is needed for eventual success of an ecosystem, is variance in the gene pool.

There are several tracks on the ideation treadmill

While football is a simple enough game, various interpretations have evolved in terms of how teams go about the business. From the freewheeling total football style employed by the Dutch and Germans to the reliance on defensive soundness coupled with rapid counter attacks by the Italians to the patient, skill based ball possession of the South Americans and now Spain- there is richness in diversity that has obstinately refused to become standardized.

Brainstorming, the technique usually employed when new concepts are needed in a hurry, is only a process which, if left at merely that, is simply scratching the surface. Within this overall business of brainstorming there are many conscious techniques that can be employed to incite creativity.

From the use of random stimuli to role playing to tracing the exact opposite of impending scenario’s, there are tools in abundance that not only keep the brainstorming process fresh and fertile but also result in a multifold increase in the productivity of any such initiative

If at first you don’t succeed, try failing again quickly

After a brief dalliance with the straddle and some other techniques, high jumper Dick Fosbury hit the bulls’ eye with the ‘Fosbury Flop’. What was intriguing about the whole process was his rapid and frequent experimentation culminating in the discovery of a new jumping paradigm, early enough to master in time for a Gold medal at the Olympics.

In sporting terms the ratio of the number of times one hits the target with an innovation in the creative process is perhaps about a hundred to one. The Creative journey is characterized with passing through repeated failure milestones to breast that ‘eureka’ moment finish line. It is hence important that teams realize that ‘failure is merely (to borrow from Henry Ford) the option to begin again, more intelligently’, and keep moving on from it while lucidly acknowledging the lessons in terms of what probably will not work.

Learn to live with uncertainty

Every time an Adam Gilchrist, Virender Sehwag, Sanath Jayasuriya or a Shahid Afridi flashes outside the off stump, their team mates might throw up their arms in anguish, but they know exactly what’s going on. Each of the teams they play for understands the mercurial nature of their talents and while they are prone to fail at times, their sides gamble on the possibility that they will click. Because when that happens inevitably it’s a case of game over for the opposition.

In businesses where certainty in terms of prediction is almost mandatory, the creative process presents a challenge in terms of an attitudinal shift. Organizations that embrace creativity as an integral part of the company DNA must understand the inherent ambiguity of the process and learn to live with and around the same. While an overall adherence to timelines needs to be on the radar, creativity is hardly an activity which makes for daily status updates and progress reports. It demands a certain amount of leeway.

To conclude, today more and more corporate enterprises are feeling the need to embrace creativity in order to improve their businesses. It keeping with the allusion to sports made above, this trend will entail a fine balancing act between work and play. Hopefully this should come as a welcome respite for all employees. Because after all, the creative process is an official license to turn back the clock, daydream and evoke the child within us all…

Article by Vinay Kanchan

Vinay Kanchan is a creative thinking trainer and an independent brand consultant. He is the author of the book, The Madness Starts at 9 and also the patron saint of a footballing movement called Juhu Beach United, that celebrates, the unfit, out of breath working professional of today. He blogs at can be contacted at

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