The Innovative Director

in H.R. & Talent Development

Steve Jobs – “Marketing Manager”? No. “Strategic Planner”? Hardly. “Creative Director”? Not quite.

Steve Jobs – Brilliant marketer, strategist, and creative all rolled into one? Yes.

When considering his talents and asking ‘What was he?’, the answer is simple – Steve Jobs was an Innovative Director.

As is becoming increasingly apparent, if you can either add some data analysis savvy, genuine insight, business passion, or knowledge of human science and psychology to a “creative” you get something all the more relevant, powerful, and uber-creative. Especially if you can add each and every one of them!

The reality is that for a long time we’ve celebrated and worshipped the word of siloed “one-off” individually “creative” people, when really we can achieve more in naturally-constructed groups with all members gifted in and able contribute across all domains of creative, strategy, planning, and business direction.

You can choose to build it in to your structure or  not, but either way the Gen Ys will do it eventually of their own accord.

Divergent thinking now usurps old conventional “creative” thinking in terms of the needs of our environment – the same way that engaging education and engaging marketing  trumps age-old rote learning and lowest common denominator junk advertising respectively.

Steve Jobs was a new, hybrid producer of imaginative ideation, hard core product development and management, brand marketing, and the collation of concepts and people gathered in the name of assembling the best final deliverable – you could also go so far as to dub him a stand-alone “agency-on-legs” when it comes to fostering in results-driven marketing.

Steve was amazing, that’s for sure, but what is also amazing is how few others could do what he did, and how very little companies understand about how talent like Steve Jobs can be identified, secured, and unleashed. Sad.

And even more sad that most often people need to disengage from academia altogether in order to keep sacred their talents and nurture their divergent thinking capabilities.

But perhaps this is soon to be remedied by employers?

The most exciting thing is that right now, in kindergartens and schools all throughout the world there are millions of little Steves waiting to be unearthed – and they will be much quicker off to market than anyone from our generation, as we are already seeing in the uber-speedy tech sector.

But also let’s not forget some boomers and Gen Xs with the potential and/or time up their sleeves to rise up to at least some of the challenges people like Steve managed to conquer.

Many people have both left and right brain combination type strengths, in fact most of us do as pre-schoolers.

We also have the ability from a very young age to assimilate complex information and concepts together with imaginative ideas, and in many there is a powerful memory and recall of accommodated ideas,  good-old ball-blasting creativity, the capacity for newness when forming strategies from insights (ie the ability to ‘look out the windscreen’ as opposed to the archival/historic ‘rear-view mirror’), as well as ‘bottom-up’ skills of more technical analysis.

For the more technical or mentally ‘sapping’ skills that challenge the left brain, it’s critical that people are engaged for the right practical reasons when they are young.

By our own fault in creating an economic and industrial centred education system – and more importantly letting it drag on unchanged into and beyond irrelevance – we are lacking the type of people described above, and sorely lacking their presence in marketing.

The individuals with the above grey matter assets who have not been destroyed by a one-dimensional, free-of-charge, lowest common denominator education system are the people with the brightest future in Advertising, Marketing and PR.

When it comes to assembling and running with this modern imaginative and collaborative style of generalist team in agencies and in-house marketing departments, it’s not necessarily the case of these Innovatives using all these skills simultaneously, in fact it’s most likely that some will focus on creativity, some on strategy, some on implementation as an overwhelming majority of their efforts.

However it’s key that they be in possession of all these domains of thought generation, and that they be full-brained in their approach, in order to ensure the best work results across and throughout the team.

And indeed if they can focus on one sub-domain from project to project or quarter to quarter it will ensure their role/focus can be varied as and when they believe the are bored and ‘need a change’.

Identifying this new talent and/or training in this style to current industry exponents who show signs of potential is surely the biggest challenge for the marketing industry, as it is equally for businesses in an overall sense, especially as marketing continues to become every more critical when it comes to forward momentum and the increasing of profits.

Defining “creative” realistically
Now when we use the word ‘creative’ let’s be honest we’re not really spot on. In fact we’re a bit out-to-lunch using the term.

There is no real ‘creation’ that can be achieved in the true definition of the word nowadays, at least nowhere near as often as it used to be.

I can write songs, but I didn’t invent the guitar, I didn’t invent the idea of tuning the strings, I most certainly didn’t invent words and language, and I am very much influenced by countless ground-breaking artists of times gone by (even if I don’t want to admit it!) all of which makes me less ‘original’ and less ‘creative’ the more time goes on. Nowadays when I write a song, what am I “creating”? When I propose a marketing strategy or imaginative idea or image for consumer engagement, what am I “creating”?  Answer – nothing.

This is not to say that Mozart and Picasso did not create anything or that they did not take us anywhere new, of course they did. It’s simply a very important consideration to note that we are defining things incorrectly sometimes, and as silly and pointless as it sounds we really need to update some words, terms, titles, and meanings to guide our behaviour in the right direction/s.

The person and role of what has been traditionally known as the “creative” is becoming a fallacy. Fact.

At the very least the word needs to be changed as we supplement the definition of what a “Creative Director” is, to ensure we avoid that tendency we have to keep doing things the same as they’ve always been done.

The big trend in the area of imagination nowadays is innovation. Business ideas, sales channel assistance, efficient and engaging campaigns ahead of the curve positioned for the approaching maturation of the collective customer.

If you only create things, as in actually create things, you’ll find it’s a long time between drinks.

More importantly, the culture of what it means to be a ‘creative’ needs to be scrapped in many senses, and new, more mainstream “semi-cool” people invited into the imagination arena of marketing. And this is not to water down creativity in any way, it is to ensure its survival as the brilliant sub-section of the marketing process that it is.

I have to say however that I do agree with the booting out of those digital guys who wear white socks. Ugh. 🙂

The fact is that word innovation better describes what great “creatives” do these days – at least, it better describes what needs to be done. Let’s be honest, Creative is an area of the industry overdue for a slight paradigm shift, at the same time as a defence of its territory.

This article, and the movement of the industry is not to assert that brilliant creative people are not wanted or aren’t around any more – it’s more a case that the ones who aren’t really that exceptional shouldn’t be in a position in which they control the direction of things. Unless they become truly great innovators as well, which takes as much hard work as it takes humility.

It needs to be correctly defined what the great marketers of our time actually do, and Steve Jobs was an Innovative, not a Creative. Further, the traditional creatives lacking in one or more areas of Innovation need to give those mental muscles a work-out as best they can, or become a dying breed.

The reality is that when approaching or going beyond your 40s, particularly if you are male, your brain can become more rigid or less ‘plastic’, which results in the preference for wanting to “do what you’ve always done well” at all costs. Bad strategy.

Much better is to jump outside previously built-up comfort zones, engage with some young ones, crack a wry smile, graciously allow yourself a semi-soft ‘check-up from the neck-up’ and come on in for the big win as you reinvent yourself!

An Innovative uses a combination of creative thinking, vision, imagination, passionate youth of spirit, human knowledge, hard science and supported psychological theory, as well as hard data and analysis, and ideally the predictive or intuitive kind of analysis so as to create business ideas, branding imperatives, marketing campaigns and associated tactics that lead to the natural occurrence of lasting commercial performance into an unknown future.

Marketing that leads the way as opposed to worshipping the past or over-glorifying any visual, motion picture or design piece.

Add the above pointers to your own arsenal of daily thought and brainstorming methods, and you too can become an Innovative Director of sorts!

The future ‘creative’ team?
Yes a team can have a Creative Strategist (even a communicative Digital Strategist if you like!), a Creative Director, some strategic Suits (or ‘client whisperers’ as I like to call them), and a Strategic Planner or two, and can indeed have an Innovative Director overseeing and participating in the work.


You could identify and train up those Strat Planners who are also imaginative, the best Creative Directors who also have an active interest in analysis and commercial outcomes, and the ambidextrous Suits of highest I.Q. with a history of creative or artistic pursuits outside work, and make the mightiest round-table multi-tasking marketing team on the block!


Most importantly you could start to identify this new kind of marketing prodigy as early as primary school by devising your own online testing/game tool which identifies potential strong-arms in this regard, then schedules a follow-up with them a decade down the track. Or even get them in for an internship during their studies – they’ll be back. The younger the Innovator the better to get hold of the new big ideas for the new century!

In sum, as a rule of thumb the following anagram can be used to PICK out potential talent – as long as there’s at least one of each pair, the person is a potential Jobsian:

P – passion and personality
I – imagination and insight
C – creativity and cleverness
K – knowledge and know-how
S – science and study

Many of the people termed as ‘creatives’ will come up short in the ‘I’ and the ‘S’ areas, particularly ‘insight’ (ie left-brained analysis/logic) and ‘science’ (ie cognitive, social, evolutionary psychological theory and principles).

Nowadays, those who beg/borrow/steal ideas and re-fashion things to pass them off as their own are on a great wicket moving forward. Sad, but a reality nonetheless.

They key is to capture the services of those who imagine the most ideas and can predict the most accurate subsequent iterations of ideas, in addition to being able to justify and sell what they think and do with facts, supported theory, and interpersonal persuasiveness. Not to mention a concentrated dose of some good old Jobsian chutzpah.

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