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Creative managers and managing creativity: a hermeneutic exploration

Elad Granot
Nance College of Business Administration, Cleveland State University, Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to explore how executives assimilate creativity in business-to-business (B2B) services. Design/methodology/approach The author employed an inductive, qualitative research approach to elicit and explore the denition and interpretation and individual meaning of the creative process by top-level advertising agency executives. Findings The ndings show that an understanding of creative cultures and processes can enable their application in other business functions. Research limitations/implications In-depth interviews may involve interview effects that inuence the information elicited, despite adequate measures to conduct interviews in situ at the workplace and in a detached, impartial manner. Practical implications The results suggest that creativity in B2B services incorporates a complex set of results-driven interactive components. These components simultaneously affect and are affected by the interaction of artistic and aesthetic elements, as well as business strategy. Originality/value Creativity is critical to developing and implementing business strategies. However, creativity in advertising as a B2B service has scarcely been examined. Keywords United States of America, Advertising agencies, Senior management, Creativity, Advertising executives, B2B services, Hermeneutics Paper type Research paper

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Introduction Creativity is essential for commercial success in the twenty-rst century as it plays a signicant role in the successful resolution of challenging organizational and social problems (Rosa et al., 2008). Moreover, as production becomes increasingly efcient across segments and geographies, and as distribution is increasingly regulates and automated, creativity is emerging as the single most important differentiating business element, directly related to innovation, entrepreneurship, and competitiveness. It is surprising, then, that managers who mange creativity as a core product have not been studied in an effort to extract managerial insights and best practices. This study offers interviews with executives whose very core responsibility is to not only manage, but create and nurture, and ultimately produce creativity. Not surprisingly, such managers are rare in the commercial landscape. However, there is one business-to-business (B2B) service that focuses solely on producing creativity advertising agencies. Within these agencies, the top creative and executive managers are concerned with creativity in a continuing basis, making them an ideal participant pool for our examination. Broadly stated, creativity is dened as the recombination of existing knowledge into novel congurations that is reected in the meaningful novelty of some output

American Journal of Business Vol. 26 No. 2, 2011 pp. 161-182 q Emerald Group Publishing Limited 1935-5181 DOI 10.1108/19355181111174534

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(Amabile, 1996; Davila et al., 2006; Rosa et al., 2008). As creative processes and outputs are critical for organizations to outperform competitors, creativity is often regarded as a source of competitive advantage (Amabile, 1988, 1996; Devanna and Tichy, 1990; Shalley, 1995). Although creativity is valued in almost all industries and business processes, it is considered indispensable to the very existence of advertising agencies (Zinkhan, 1993). Indeed, creative advertising strategy inuences clients integrated marketing communication strategy and overall marketing strategy (Frazer, 1986) and, often, the service performance of an agency is judged by its creativity (Blasko and Mokwa, 1986). As Kalasunas and Thompson (1985, p. 6) state, Basically, what clients want from agencies is creative, is advertising itself, the advertising product [. . .] The other services an agency offers [. . .] are clearly secondary. Not surprisingly, some advertising executives maintain that creativity is a prerequisite for the operational effectiveness of advertising agencies (White and Smith, 2001). Mirroring the importance afforded to creativity in advertising and business, scholarly research has advanced in various domains related to creativity, its antecedents, facilitators, and external inuences. For instance, some studies have explored personal characteristics (e.g. creative ability, skills, and motivation) and organizational factors (e.g. task complexity and management approach) (Johar et al., 2001; Oldham and Cummings, 1996) as important drivers of creative output. Others have focused on conceptualizing creativity (El-Murad and West, 2004), creative products (White and Smith, 2001), and creative processes (Dasgupta, 1994; Finke et al., 1992), among other related topics. Furthermore, within the realm of advertising research, valuable insights on creativity have been assimilated by analyzing the perspectives of copywriters, art directors, clients, agencies, consumers, advertising students, academicians, and practitioners. Despite these advancements, relatively few studies have focused on top management executives who are either designated as creatives or manage other creative personnel in their organization (Reid et al., 1998). As Reid et al. (1998, p. 2) point out, studying the perspective of top-level agency personnel could unveil an interesting dimension of creativity as these individuals are insiders who have spent their professional lives doing creative work and more than any other segment of the advertising business, have lived and experienced creativity. Prior researchers have investigated how agency personnel view and interpret creativity. Reid et al. (1998) surveyed top-level advertising agency creatives about the relative creativity of modern advertising. Hill and Johnson (2004) explored, from the perspective of senior advertising executives, the processes involved in the commissioning and evaluation of creative output from advertising agencies. Hackley and Kover (2007) interviewed senior-level creatives to explore their management of personal and professional identities in the advertising agency workplace. However, no study thus far has examined the evolution and continued valuations of creativity in top-level agency executives. Given the sparseness of theory-building research in this area and challenges in accessing adequate subjects from a population of agency executives, this study utilizes a qualitative research methodology to examine how top-level agency executives make meaning of creativity and the characteristics underlying creative processes in the context of advertising. The choice of a qualitative method of inquiry is consistent with attempts by past researchers who have successfully utilized similar methods to explore creativity in advertising (Johar et al., 2001; Kover, 1995). Importantly, as Reid et al. (1998, p. 14) recommend, qualitative approaches

could yield native interpretations of creative processes and practices by enabling respondents to narrate their own experiences and observations. The following section presents a brief review of creativity research and elaborates on studies pertaining to top-level agency executives and creativity. Follows is a presentation of the qualitative data collection and analysis section, including a discussion of participants and procedures. The data consist of the participants verbal protocols and eld notes from a series of in-depth interviews. Lastly comes a presentation of results and implications, as well as limitations of the research and suggestions for future research. Background Creativity Various attempts have been made to understand creativity, creative individuals, creative processes, and creative strategy in advertising and business. Some researchers have conceptualized creativity on the basis of creating novel and synergistic combinations from seemingly unrelated entities. For instance, Burnett (1960, pp. 20-1) denes creativity as the art of establishing new and meaningful relationships between previously unrelated things in a manner that is relevant, believable and in good taste. Likewise, Koestler (1983, p. 68) denes creative acts as the combination of previously unrelated structures in such a way that you get more out of the emergent whole than you have put in. Other scholars have focused on how individuals generate creative output by breaking down cognitive and situational barriers. May (1975, pp. 135-69) opines that creativity is a struggle of human beings with and against that which limits them [. . .] it is the struggle against disintegration, the struggle to bring into existence new kinds of being that give harmony and integration. Correspondingly, Von Oech (1990, p. 18) portrays creativity as the minds power to transform one thing into another [. . .] to make the ordinary extraordinary and the unusual commonplace. He suggests that creativity is innate, but that it is bound and constrained by mental locks. Further, to Von Oech (1990), breaking out of the routines, conventions, and expectations that lock our minds generally accompanies, if not governs, creative breakthroughs and transformations. A multi-disciplinary review of creativity research by Higgins (1999) uncovered approximately 30 denitions of creativity with a dominant theme that true creativity must demonstrate radical newness. Researchers agree that creative outputs must possess originality, novelty, or newness, or other characteristics that set them apart from mundane alternatives (Mumford and Gustafson, 1988; Sternberg and Lubart, 1996). However, in addition to being different, creative outputs should also reect usefulness, problem solving ability, situational appropriateness, goal accomplishment ability and value (Mackinnon, 1965; Rothenberg and Hausman, 1976; Young, 1985). These perspectives have been coalesced under the originality-appropriateness framework for evaluating creative outputs (Runco and Charles, 1993). That is, to be adjudged creative, a solution or output must break down the boundaries of conventional thought, while accomplishing determined goals in an appropriate manner. For instance, an advertising agencys output can be considered a creative success when it achieves a clients communication objectives in a novel manner (Kover et al., 1997). That is, advertising creativity embraces both originality and innovation (Fletcher, 1990). Frazer (1986) denes creative strategy in advertising as a policy or guiding principle which species

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the general nature and character of messages to be designed. A winning creative idea that is unique and memorable, can impact sales, hiring and ring of advertising agencies, and agency remuneration (Blair, 1988; Rossiter and Percy, 1997; Wackman et al., 1986/1987). The eld of creativity research has been gaining widespread legitimacy from the time White (1972, p. 20) called the concept of creativity as the great imponderable in the study of communication and described it as X factor in advertising [as] it escapes the scientic probe of the researcher and the decision-maker (p. 32). More than a decade later, McCaskey (1986), while observing that creativity leaps, dances and surprises in ways that bafe and astound, delight and amaze the purely logical in us (p. 110), concludes that creativity could and should also be logical, comprehensible and manageable (p. 180). However, as Higgins (1999) laments, the call for businesses to be more creative has been common in the literature of business. Unfortunately, specic direction on how to accomplish this is rare. Creative processes Does creativity unfold as a process? How is creative thinking different? Is there a sequential series of steps to develop creative outputs? From a macro perspective, the creative design processes in advertising, product development, or even organizational domains are somewhat analogous. Design activities typically involve the creation of a complete set of specications that ensure the functional performance of an artifact whether a candy bar, a painting, or an advertisement (Johar et al., 2001, p. 2). Likewise, design problems are characterized by a task environment specifying functional requirements and objectives, constraints, or technology to be employed in design activity (Chandrasekaran, 1990). Therefore, an understanding of creative processes could yield far-reaching implications. In the extant literature, while there is widespread agreement that creativity is characterized by underlying processes, there are different perspectives on the nature of the creative process. To Blaskow and Mokwa (1986, p. 44), creativity is an important human process of imagination, expression and association. They explain that creative challenges (problems or opportunities) involve a paradox an encounter with apparent limits, anomalies or conict. This creative encounter is involving, in the sense that it encourages confronting limits or conict generates natural tension, emotion and even passion (Blaskow and Mokwa, 1986, p. 44). Subsequently, the creative experience involves an integrative resolution, and typically a harmonious transformation a breakthrough or breaking out to a new and exhilarating state of association and meaning (Blaskow and Mokwa, 1986, p. 44). Some researchers consider the creative process as qualitatively different from ordinary, day-to-day thinking, involving a leap of freedom or a ash of insight that cannot be reconstructed or analyzed (Guilford, 1950; Wallas, 1926). The difference is credited to the use of nonformulaic thinking (Campbell, 1960) in creative tasks versus ready-made formulas in ordinary ones. That is, in creative thought processes, relatively more innovative ideas are generated to extend the space of potential solutions, to move outside the box, or to develop an overall new space (Rosenman and Gero, 1993). In contrast, other researchers suggest that the creative process involves only ordinary mental functions (Dasgupta, 1994; Finke et al., 1992; Perkins, 1981; Weisberg, 1993), with creative thought more thorough than common thinking in staying within the lines.

Proponents of this view posit that novel idea generation occurs because (and not in spite) of the constraints forced by preformed mental categories. That is, creativity works within restrictions and only imaginative use of formulaic factors results in an elegant outcome. From an integrative perspective, Hofstadter (1985) claims that the essence of creativity is a balance between freedom and constraints. The process becomes unbalanced if there are too many restrictions or too much freedom (Finke et al., 1992). This is consistent with new product development schemes such as Taubers heuristic ideation technique, in which a person is given a structured framework for generating creative new product ideas and constrained idea generation often outperforms freeform association (Goldenberg et al., 1999a, b; Tauber, 1972). Despite these differences about the global nature of the creative process, some researchers focus on the identication and analysis of steps in the process (Taylor, 1959; Wallas, 1926). For instance, in the context of creativity in advertising, Young (1974, p. 81) offers a ve-step sequence: gather raw materials, organize them, drop the entire subject (incubation), wait for the idea to appear, and adapt the idea to practical use. While this sequence is a simplistic guideline, it positions the emergence of creative ideas as accidental and independent of human or situational inuences. Extending thought that creativity subsumes a process from idea generation through implementation, Amabile (1988) proposed a ve-step creative process: problem identication, immersion or preparation, idea generation, idea validation, and, lastly, application and outcome assessment. Further, Amabile (1988) noted that the ve-step process is inuenced by three major factors, intrinsic task motivation, task-relevant skills, and creative thinking skills. Top-level agency executives Top-level advertising agency executives are often credited with infusing creative cultures in advertising agency environments. For example, Keller (2006) notes that successful managers must foster creative output by possessing creative instinct, devising strategy that focuses creative teams on key issues, creating a conducive environment for all participants in the creative process, and selling the agencys work to the client. Not surprisingly, top-level executives have been the subjects in a few studies focusing on creativity. Responding to criticisms that creativity in contemporary advertising has diminished compared to the past, Reid et al. (1998) surveyed top-level agency executives about their opinion on whether creativity in advertising has improved, declined, or stagnated since they entered the eld. An overwhelming majority of their respondents indicated that advertising is at least as creative as or more creative than before. Hill and Johnson (2004) focused on agency-client relationships and presented an elaborate process of the delivery of creative products as reported by advertising executives. More recently, Hackley and Kover (2007) used depth interviews to explore senior-level creatives reconciliation of their personal and professional identities. While these studies have shed light on various important research objectives from the perspective of top-level agency executives, this study focuses on yet another relevant area of inquiry: how do top-level executives make meaning of the evolution, importance, and strategic roles of creativity? Method As with several streams of research within the marketing literature, research on creativity has predominantly relied on the deductive, hypotheses-testing method.

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However, as the preceding section summarizes, achieving consensus on topics of inquiry pertinent to creativity has proved to be complex and elusive. In such cases, typical social science research techniques that are in the context of justication are insufcient (Zinkhan, 1993), and qualitative research is necessary for conceptualization and contextualization (Gummesson, 2005). Therefore, this study employs an inductive, qualitative research approach to elicit and explore the denition and interpretation and individual meaning of the creative process by top-level agency executives. Echoing Reid et al. (1998), it is believed that such an intrapersonal approach is useful for two basic reasons: (1) it provides an intra-individual view of how top-level agency executives see creativity at different points in their careers; and (2) it represents a rst step in determining whether and how specic elements of advertising creativity have changed, providing a foundation on which other monitoring studies of advertising creativity can build. This study utilizes theoretical frameworks developed by cognitive anthropologists (Colby, 1996; DAndrade, 1981; Strauss and Quinn, 1997; Tyler, 1969). To comprehensively interpret, analyze, and synthesize gathered data, this study uses hermeneutic-phenomenology (Seymour, 2006; Van Manen, 1990). Accordingly, based on the work of Seidman (1998), in-depth interviewing was used as a motivating source of inquiry and curiosity, as well as a methodological guide for data collection and analysis. The purpose of in-depth interviewing is to explore the experience of others and the meaning they make of that experience (Seidman, 1998). Interviews are especially benecial when motivated to provide thick descriptions (Geertz, 1973; Sandey, 1979; Woodside and Wilson, 2000) and when the main objective is to achieve deep understanding of participants thought processes and decisions. Consistent with our research objectives, the in-depth interviews were conducted with experienced, top-level advertising executives. Accordingly, participants in the study included three CEOs from leading agencies, three chief creative directors, and two creative directors (Table I). Participants varied in age, educational background, and work experience in creative departments. The size of the participant pool typical of qualitative research in general (Thompson et al., 1989) and creative research in particular (Goel and Pirolli, 1992) satised the criteria of sufciency and saturation (Strauss and Corbin, 1990) and was a practical necessity stemming from the need to collect voluminous data from each participant. Interviews spanned approximately two hours for each participant and were conducted in participants agencies during and after working hours, providing a familiar environment for the participants.
Pseudonym Bill Tim Leah Geoff Barney Chuck Dominic Sam Title Chief creative director Creative director CEO Chief creative director CEO Creative director Chief creative director CEO

Table I. Proles of participants in the study

Data gathering This study employs Granot and Brashears (2010) revision of Seidmans (1998) Three Stage Interview Model. Seidman (1998) recommends three separate interviews with each respondent focusing on: . establishing the context of the participants experience; . reconstructing the details of the participants experience; and . extracting reections on the meaning that participants associate with the experience. However, in this study, due to accessibility and time constraints, this study follows Granot and Brashears (2010) recommendation to use a three-stage interview that achieves research objectives without compromising on understanding of context and meaning exploration. Not unlike Seidmans (1998) process, the rst stage of the interview placed the participants life in context by asking them how they reached their current position. Next, the second stage focused on specic details of the participants lived experience in the area under study. Finally, the third stage focused on extracting participants meaning of their experience. That is, top-level agency executives were asked to make meaning of how they reached a creative employment position, what it is like to be in that position, and what their position means to them personally and professionally. All data were collected via one-on-one communication, using informal, unstructured, and undirected conversations. Interviews were designed to yield two complementary types of information: (1) rst-person description of the participants history in context; and (2) contextual details concerning the participants lived experience (Seidman, 1998). Stories describing the genesis, evolution, and creativity in the participants professional repertoire were elicited. The interviews strive for elaboration based on participants own words (e.g. evaluative expressions describing various interactions) and ideas from the marketing and advertising literature. As expected, participants mentioned and discussed multiple issues, which led to further probing and elaboration. Data analysis Data analysis occurred both during data collection, to take advantage of emerging ideas, and afterward, to collate insights in view of the entire corpus of data. Transcripts were coded using a priori categories (e.g. originality, applicability, craft, and talent) and emergent categories, in order to generate thick interpretations of participants experiences. Thematic analysis was chosen as it has several advantages over conventional content or textual analysis. First, it provides a fast and convenient means of nding meaningful themes in large amounts of text. Second, the themes emerge from the data rather than being imposed by the researchers. Third, the techniques reveal the relative importance and interrelationships among themes. Of great importance at this stage was to capture the essence through thematic reection (Husserl, 1982; Van Manen, 1990) and focus on signicant themes relevant to the topic under investigation.

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Data were interpreted in two ways: (1) case by case by identifying the major themes related to creativity; and (2) across cases, by analyzing the critical experiences of the participants. The analytical approach followed Burawoys (1991) call for using qualitative data both to challenge existing theory and to develop new theory. In the spirit of grounded theory research, this study adhered to guidelines articulated by Strauss and Corbin (1990). An extensive process was used to identify and preserve key insights. The rst step in the data analysis was open coding, i.e. uncovering and identifying interesting and important passages, and 137 different ideas emerged from the data. Next followed process coding, where the multiple quotes from open coding were coded into audio le clippings (Crichton and Childs, 2005). The researcher searched for signaling threads and patterns among categories and for thematic connections (Seidman, 1998). While listening to the interview recordings and reading transcripts, the researcher marked passages as interesting and considered whether they could be labeled. The researcher then selected passages that connected to others, so that experiences already mentioned in other passages took on weight (Kvale, 1996). Two additional researchers served as peer reviewers and their coding found 82 categories that were unanimously agreed upon. The nal coding stage, axial coding, produced the thematic ideas of creativity in advertising anchored in perspective (i.e. leverage), while the individual background, education, agency and interactions served as central ltering prisms for understanding creativity in advertising. These initial categories were integrated into a further analytical procedure using domain analysis (Spradley, 1980), which is a graphic representation of the entire coding and analyses processes (Figure 1). Trustworthiness and interrater reliability Trustworthiness was maintained by adhering to the standard for competent and ethical practice (Seidman, 1998) and by respecting the participants privacy. Pseudonyms (Table I) and interview sites were condential and both internal and external audits were performed continuously. Member checks gauged the credibility of the authors interpretations against the view of those sharing their stories. Colleagues reviewed
Creative Cultures Art Vs. Craft Creative Managers "RAW" Categories Creativity's Meaning Creative Facilitators Creativity in Advertising Creativity in Business
Elusive subjective Original Personal Traits Professional Position Definitional Introspective


Advertising Agencies


Figure 1. Domain analysis


Creative Cultures Creative Mgmt B2B Competitive Advantage

interview transcripts and interpretive summaries in peer debriengs. To ensure objectivity and recognizability in interpretation, multiple stories provided by the same person in various interviews were triangulated when appropriate. For interrater reliability, this study adhered to two conditions proposed by Marques and McCall (2005). First, the data reviewed by the interraters were only a segment of the total amount, since data in qualitative studies are usually rather substantial and interraters usually have limited time. Second, the process accounted for possible different congurations in the packaging of the themes listed by the various interraters (Armstrong et al., 1997). Data synthesis and results The following section provides a detailed description of the main themes that emerged from synthesizing the data. These themes allow an understanding of the underlying elements of creativity and its role as described by participants within the context of their position in an advertising agency. Emergent categories and themes axial coding It is important to understand the inherent tension between participant voice (Seidman, 1998; Van Manen, 1990) and the researchers analysis. The interview transcript must breathe and speak for itself (Seidman, 1998) and, as excessive interpretation may mask and distort participants voice, transcripts are presented in their raw form, to maximize their voice and the studys trustworthiness (Granot and Brashear, 2010). A synthesis of the views and comments offered by participants on their meaning-making process, their perspective of creativity, and its role in advertising and business, produced four main thematic categories surfaced that help dene and structure the cognitive domain of content (Figure 2).

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Theme I Essence of Creativity

Theme IV Creativity's Centrality to Business

Creative Cultures

Theme II Reflections on Evolution of Creativity

Theme III Creativity's Centrality to Advertising

Figure 2. Creative cultures axial themes

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Essence of creativity Participants views on creativitys essence centered around three sub-thematic categories. The rst is a erce belief in its metaphysical and elusive nature. Top-level agency executives appreciate this elusiveness and seem committed to protecting it, as they reveal that assessments of creativity vary from person to person:
People have been trying desperately to assign a value to it. Its impossible. As long as an academic exploration of creativity makes no attempt whatsoever to quantify it [. . .] Im totally in support of it. If you were to license everyone, and have a DC; a doctorate in creativity, I think there would be no creativity anymore. You would have these dened ways of doing things, and everything looks the same. Creativity is just so subjective.


Despite this, the second sub-thematic category centers on the participants efforts to understand, or at least capture, the essence of creativity as they perceive it and make meaning of it. However, responses in this sub-category suggest that, to top-level executives, there is a distinction between originality and appropriateness and both freshness and insight are valued:
Its where ideas come from. Its creative because very few people would come up with an idea, perspective, or insight like that. It usually comes along with God, I wish I came up with that (laughs). That idea is so unexpected, it stuck with me, I havent seen it before. Its new, its fresh.

Finally, when trying to articulate how they believe creativity manifests itself in business in general and advertising in particular, participants manage a few prescriptive suggestions that emphasize the importance of originality in facilitating creative products:
Thats not someone else who copies, its the originator. It should be simple [. . .] its just the twist on it. Take the objective [. . .] and work a little magic into it. You need to back up, get fresh eyes on it, think about it much bigger, and then come back with ideas.

The three sub-thematic categories (creativitys elusive nature, and the aspiration, nonetheless, to understand it, in addition to the centrality of originality in creativity) provide a composite of participants conceptualization of creativity and its essence. This emergent theme allowed not only for insight into the participants meaning-making process, but provided the entry into the next theme that has emerged in the data synthesis process; the evolution of creativity in the participants lives. Reections on evolution of creativity After establishing the conceptual basis for the interviews, participants were interviewed on the discovery and evolution of creativity in their personal lives. Research on life stages

and personality development (Stewart and Healy, 1989) suggests that experiences in childhood and early adolescent stages affect individuals fundamental values, expectations, life choices, and identity formation, while experiences in middle adulthood and midlife affect behavior, opportunity seeking, and revision of identities. Therefore, participants chronological personal biographical experiences provided an introspective analysis of childhood tendencies, educational choices, job seeking, and other critical life events pertaining to creativity and careers in advertising. This part of the study also addresses personal descriptions of how top-level agency executives reached their current professional positions. While the rst sub-thematic category was anchored in participants childhood, early adulthood, and pre- and extra-professional manifestations of creativity, the second sub-thematic category was anchored in how the participants reached their professional positions and how they approach creativity and nd fulllment in their positions. Specically, they describe the genesis of creativity in their personal life, and trace it back to early childhood. Participants comments reveal the importance afforded to and the recall strength associated with signicant creative incidents:
When I was 10 years old I wrote the camp skits [. . .] I just had this ability to look at a situation and observe it in a productive way. I wanted to write plays in the rst grade, I used to put on puppet shows. I can remember as a kid playing commercials, making stuff up and acting them out. I was always the mastermind behind those sorts of things. Playing with dolls and having them be in commercials, the glamour of it all (laughs).

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In addition, participants describe a common experience of being slightly different as students. Interestingly, their responses parallel the opinions of some academicians and practitioners that creative personnel in advertising agencies behave differently and need distinct management styles as compared to noncreatives:
I was always, growing up, what teachers and parents have called a creative kid [. . .] I wasnt a prodigy at anything [. . .] but I have a modest amount of talent in a lot of different things [. . .] I could draw passively well, I could write and communicate passively well, even have a modest amount of musical and theatrical talent. None of it was world class in any one area, but I found enough satisfaction in all of those things. Creative kids dont necessarily respond to the way certain subjects or curricula are taught. Always good in English. Total right brain, my left brain skills are marginal at best.

Given the early acknowledgement of their creative potential, the college experiences of participants are unsurprisingly similar. Despite their top management positions in their respective agencies, the participants do not converge on business-related education. Instead, they seem to have attempted to follow their creative calling and seek advanced education in creative writing, arts, drawing, and other creative pursuits:
I went to (an Ivy League Business School), but I actually minored in creative writing. I got here accidentally. I went to a liberal arts college [. . .] with no direction, so I became a sociology major. When I entered college, actually intending to become a cartoonist [. . .] the college did not have that major (laughs), so I decided to take a journalism major with a ne arts minor.

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I wanted my college education to teach me how to think, so I became a liberal art major, an English major, the ultimate in unmerchandisable degrees (laughs).

Interestingly, upon graduation, participants seemed to almost stumble into creative positions in advertising. However, once in advertising, they describe an immense sense of self fulllment:


My gift has always been language and ow of writing and stating things differently and unusually. It comes from a need for attention and prove how smart I am. I always had to be the smart one, the sarcastic one. At this point in my life I really wasnt even really aware that advertising existed as a career [. . .] it never occurred to me that someone could make a living from it. The rst thing that came along was to be a copywriter for this little, tiny agency. I love writing and decided that if I could write radio commercials, why couldnt I write TV commercials, and print ads? [. . .] something began to click in my mind that this could be a really cool career for a creative person, because there is constant stimulation, you never work on the same things twice, you get to learn about everything, and you have an opportunity to put your creativity to work and make money at it [. . .] you are not going to be a starving artist.

Finally, deliberating on specic personality and information processing traits, most participants reveal that they faced challenges in terms of focusing on specic tasks and distractions. However, the general tone of the responses indicate that these issue were not perceived as challenges per se, but were seen as rapid transitions to new and emerging areas of interest. Further, the participants seem to indicate that relatively low attention span in creative personnel is not necessarily a detriment to creative output. Lastly, participants also reect on the signicance of being in an occupation requiring creative output:
My theory is that one of the things that are common to many people in advertising is a pretty healthy dose of ADD [. . .] I think we are all stimulated by change and difference. See, when I was growing up they hadnt invented ADD yet, and Im not, but I am easily distracted. Part of it is just interest in whatever else is going on. Most really good creative people have the attention span of hamsters. The thought that I had was oh, my God! You can be sarcastic for a living. Smartass [. . .] so many creative people are like that [. . .] talking about how they were secretly miserable [. . .] the bitterness showing up as humor. It is all about perspective, it is all about where you stand, it is all about how you see things differently [. . .] and more creatively. Its gets labeled that, but its just different. Its what people call it. Its as much a skill as it is a talent. There are things you learn to do.

This theme serves a dual purpose; rst, it allows the participants to go deeper into the meaning-making process they were a part of. Making a connection to the rst theme, and realizing how creativity has played a signicant part in their development

as human beings and professionals, has provided the foundation for moving on with the interview structure. Second, this theme served as a passageway to the next emergent theme, which, in accordance with the interview structure, has taken on a more professional signicance: the central role creativity plays in contemporary advertising practice. Creativitys centrality to advertising As stated earlier, there is little doubt among practitioners and academics about creativitys central role in advertising. In this section, the paper presents the responses of top-level agency executives as they interpret the creativitys centrality in their lives and in the advertising profession. A synthesis of participants narrative produced two sub-thematic categories that comprise this fundamental emergent theme of our work. The rst sub-thematic category is denitional in nature with participants reecting on creativitys role in advertising. Resonating research that elevates the importance of creativity in advertising, participants describe creativity as important for advertising success, competitive advantage, agency and business success, and professional fulllment. Importantly, participants also state the importance of satisfying and exceeding client expectations pertaining to creative standards:
Creativity is the most important element in advertising success. Creativity is total leverage. Its our motto, its our business motto. Fundamentally, you have to believe that you are here to be creative, and that your craft delivers results the more creative it is. And if you dont believe that, what a lonely crappy way to make a living. I mean how could someone in this business look at you and say its not really about creative? How could they do that? It means their soul is dark. Creativity is constantly redened. Its the holy grail, its core to running a business. To me, the things that are creative are the one that surprise. When clients say wow where did that come from?.

Managing creativity


The second sub-thematic category involves an introspective reection of creativity in the everyday lives of creative professionals. Participants indicate acceptance of the lack of ownership associated with their creative output, the requirement to customize their output to satisfy clients goals and expectations, and take great pride in their roles as producers of creative output:
We have accepted a role of anonymity, our work is not signed. But our creativity goes out under the clients name, and we accept that. Thats why we have the award shows, so we can say I did that. If you start giving the client everything that they want, they wake up one day and say all he does is what I want. They are saying that they are looking for different ways of solving their problems, and if you keep coming up with the same to solve the problems, why do they need you? Creative people in advertising dont really think they are capitalists. Of course we are, its by default. I guess we dont like to think that we are as whorish as a salesman who so obviously is doing that. The ability to be creative provides a shield against the reality of what we really do. Like a little umbrella. We do it; we want to sell a lot. But we are not sales guys. But we are.

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Its my job to polish information, I dont create it. I make it interesting and relevant. Creatively. Taking information and serving as a conduit to consumers is just as important a part of creativity than anything.


You cant take a message and break through the clutter without being creative, creativity is advertisings Unique Selling Proposition. We (creatives) get to dress this way, and look this way, and act this way because without us, the other guys (account executives) would not be here. Everything comes down to what we (the creatives) do, OK? They are executers of what we create. Everybody in this ofce has to be creative; its not just creative types. We all have brains and sit in rooms and talk about things. But really (creativity) is standing in a different place. Archimedes said Give me a place to stand and I could move the world, thats what we do for a living. We stand in a different place and we evaluate our clients products from a different place.

The combination of the hermeneutic nature of this theme with the applied, partial insights that the participants have reached, makes this theme fundamentally important in our effort to explore the connection between creative managers and how they manage creativity. It has also allowed our participants to make the connection that truly makes our ndings unique; the concepts of managing creativity and producing creative output common in advertising as a business service can possibly be harnessed and redirected to be applied in more general business concepts and disciplines. At this point, the next emergent theme (the possible application of creative management in business in general) began to surface. Creativitys centrality to business Given their roles as top-level agency executives, participants elaborated on the role of creativity in business. They offered several observations regarding the possibility of applying creativity in other business areas, especially management practices and innovation. The rst sub-thematic category included in this axial theme focuses on creativity as an essential business culture that supports innovation. Participants caution, however, that goal-directed creativity is more desirable than creativity for its own sake:
Its true, innovation comes directly from creativity. Ad agencies are creative cultures, but that could be replicated to other businesses. But there are companies that are built on command and control, and that isnt going to work for a creative culture. I mean, the essence of a creative culture is we as a business asking our employees when they come in every day, to take risks, throw themselves out over the edge, expose themselves. And if you are going to ask an employee to do that, you cannot then turn around and slap them if they dont follow a certain protocol, or if they dont do things the way you think they ought to be done, or if they dont show up when you think they ought to [. . .] you cant have it both ways. You cant say we want you to be risk takers for us and then say dont do this and that. Creativity is through the whole thing. One of the things that we believe strongly is that everyone has to be creative. The unfortunate term that has developed of the creative

department as the place where creativity happens, and releasing everybody else from responsibility. But we believe that the processes of creativity happen throughout the whole organization. We dont produce creativity for its own sake; we produce it for commerces sake.

Managing creativity

The second sub-thematic category focused on participants interpretations of the role of managers in fostering creativity and bridging the gap between creative output and client requirements. The responses indicate that creative management is not limited to the domain of advertising and can be applied to other business domains:
A managers job is to help gure out this incredibly interesting balance between how creative an idea is, or a concept is, versus the clients ability to see and accept such an idea. To be a good manager, I had to drop my view of the aesthetic purity of creativity. As creative managers, we are always aware that there are a number of ways to skin the cat, and that the number of solutions is not nite, its limited only by your own resolve. One of the things that set creative managers apart is their ability to see shades of gray, to make all kinds of connections among things that might not be connected.


The third and fourth sub-thematic categories address creativity in business-to-business (B2B) and competitive advantage contexts. Specically, the responses indicate the inherent tensions between rms and their clients when it comes to creativity in the provision of B2B market offerings, the importance of creativity for strategic problem solving, and creativity as a genesis of competitive advantages in the marketplace:
Sometimes there is some tension between creativity and its business application, but it really depends. There are clients, of course, who get it. All creative people divide the world, the people in the world, into two categories, and two categories only: those that get it, and those that dont. Those that get understand the importance of seeing things a different way, and that taking some risk is a good thing. There are people who understand that the only surere way for failure is to try and please everybody. Creativity is indeed the cornerstone of competitive advantage. [. . .] the point is your strategy, how do you solve a strategic problem using creativity? That is the point.

This nal theme has provided a depth to our synthesis that was not necessarily anticipated before undertaking this research project. While being curious about creativitys essence, its process, how it manifests itself in managers who are charged with producing it, and how these managers make meaning of it, the researcher found it especially illuminating to share our participants realization that creativity can be a managerial orientation. In recent decades, the managerial tool box has focused on analytical, linear, efcient skills. However, as manufacturing capacities and quality inch ever closer to perfection, and as distribution issues decrease and consolidate, it is not unreasonable to expect creative management and the management of creativity to provide rms with a competitive advantage. If that is to happen, an understanding of creative people who are also creative mangers who manage creativity should provide initial insight to make that possible.

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Discussion and implications of exploratory ndings The inputs from top-level executives who manage creative and noncreative personnel toward developing creative market offerings can prove critical to further research on advertising creativity. Therefore, our exploratory analysis consisted of in-depth interviews with top-level agency executives to better understand creativity from the perspectives of those who are either in high-ranking creative designations or oversee creative personnel in advertising agencies. The exploratory ndings supplement research on development of creativity, its conceptualization, and role in advertising and business. Indeed, drawing from personal experiences, respondents offer insight on recognition of creative instinct in childhood and early adolescent stages, how they selected a career in a eld where creativity matters, what their careers mean to them, and nally, how creativity is essential for all businesses. From a managerial standpoint, our study provides a number of implications that could guide top-level executives, managers, and creative personnel in managing creativity in their lives and professions. Specically, our paper offers insights into how different approaches may be needed with reference to hiring, managing, and developing creative vs noncreative employees and managing the process of developing creative, market offerings. Based on our exploratory study involving top-level agency executives, the following observations are advanced. First, with regard to the meaning of creativity, at the outset, it seems as though top-level agency executives do not favor rigorous conceptualization of and training in creativity. However, it is clear that they subscribe to the originality-appropriateness framework for assessing creative output. Importantly, they reveal that creative output need not necessarily possess radical newness, but can be incremental, yet original, improvements to existing ideas. Such enlightened understanding of creativity may be critical for: . facilitating creatives and noncreatives to work together in producing creative offerings; and . balancing the level of creativity (radical to incremental) with clients requirements. Second, mirroring developments in sociology research on critical events and life stages, our study indicates that top-level agency executives are able to trace the evolution of creativity in their lives. They recognize the early emergence of creative instincts, standing out from their peers, and subsequent impact of creativity on educational and professional choices. They also discuss early learning challenges and difculties in integrating with the mainstream. These ndings have some important implications. For one, it is possible to identify creativity in early life stages and nurture it through adolescence and maturity. In addition, top-level executives acknowledge that creative individuals possess different personality traits compared to others. Therefore, they are likely to be more empathetic to the unique needs of managerial and creative personnel. However, given their additional acknowledgement of the objectives of account executives and clients, it seems likely that top-level agency executives with creative instincts would better manage the tensions between creative personnel, account executives, and clients. Furthermore, extending the evolutionary notion of creativity in early life stages, our study presents opportunities for designing hiring policies and practices for creative.

Third, reecting on creativity as a source of competitive advantage for advertising agencies, the respondents elaborate that the same advantages can accrue to other B2B rms and note that innovation has its origins in creativity. Furthermore, the respondents also illuminate on the role of creativity in strategic problem solving, a much neglected area of research. Overall, our paper offers four specic contributions to research on creativity. First, as no other study in the marketing and advertising literatures on creativity has chronicled the development of creativity in creatives, this paper offers initial insights on how creative personnel recognize their creative instincts early in their life stage. Second, as most of the empirical studies on advertising creativity have explored perceptions of customers, clients, or advertising personnel, this paper adds to the limited pool of studies exploring perceptions of top-level agency executives. Third, this paper responds to calls for qualitative methods of inquiry by utilizing in-depth interviews. Fourth, this study provides initial evidence that supports the viewpoints in the creativity literature pertaining to the conceptualization and development of creativity, the originality-appropriateness continuum, the importance of creativity in advertising, and the role of creativity in business in general. Limitations Our results are based on in-depth interviews of eight creative executives in advertising. This paper utilized qualitative methods to more closely explore relationships among creativity, life stages, professional and agency roles, and business. Specically, in-depth interviews may involve interview effects that inuence the information elicited, despite adequate measures to conduct interviews in situ at the workplace and in a detached, impartial manner. Conclusions and future research The intentions of this study are not to generalize the extent to which creative advertising personnel are collectively creative, or to pass judgment on the creativity of the participants in the study. Rather, our interest was in the context of discovery in exploring the meaning underlying creativity, creativity processes, and outcomes in the context of the participants life stories. In particular, this paper has examined and demonstrated how creative managers interpret their creativity and the role of creativity in their personal and professional lives. Major emergent themes offer a glimpse of the source of creativity in the studys participants. With the acknowledgement of the limitations and the benets of exploratory research in a particular area, this study shows that creativity can be traced back and mapped, as well as facilitated and maintained in advertising and business enterprises. The qualitative nature of this study has facilitated a thick description of creativity with considerable subtlety and nuance. Subsequent studies, both qualitative and quantitative in nature, could adopt and extend this elucidation of the creativity genesis process. Following Higgins (1999), an issue for future research is to explore how managers can promote creativity management principles into the marketing organization. Additional research on how ideas are created, maintained, and executed could also benet the marketing organization. Further research needs to examine the relationship between the consideration of alternative approaches to creativity in advertising and its impact on the creativity of resulting advertising products.

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Toward that end, future studies should include depth interviews with advertising creatives in various organizational levels concerning their approaches to creating advertising products and processes. Larger samples could include both creative individuals and teams. Clearly, in these and other ways, additional work is needed to build on the exploratory results reported here and facilitate a better understanding of the elusive processes leading to creativity in advertising. In addition, the results of our study also provide foundation for research at the intersection of creativity, lifecycle stages, and advertising. Within this context, researchers could investigate personality traits that make individuals thrive in creative jobs, different hiring and development practices concerning creative personnel, and what makes some creatives work well with noncreatives better than others. Furthermore, the results of our study also suggest that future research is warranted in investigating the role of creativity in strategic problem solving and management of creatives and noncreatives that work toward common goals. Such research could have far-reaching implications for creativity in contexts beyond advertising. In conclusion, our exploratory investigation represents a useful starting point for research investigating issues pertaining to and various relationships among creativity, life stages, management of creative and noncreative employees, creative problem solving, competitive advantage, and innovation in advertising as well as other business contexts.
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Further reading Gimmesson, E. (2006), Qualitative research in management: advertising complexity, context and persona, Management Decision, Vol. 44 No. 2, pp. 167-79. Kassarjian, H.H. (1977), Content analysis in consumer research, Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 4, pp. 8-18. Kover, A.J., Goldberg, S.M. and James, W.L. (1995), Creativity vs effectiveness? An integrative classication for advertising, Journal of Advertising Research, Vol. 35, pp. 29-38. Mellou, E. (1996), The two-conditions view of creativity, Journal of Creative Behavior, Vol. 30 No. 2, pp. 126-43.

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About the author Dr Elad Granots main research interests are qualitative methodologies, marketing strategy, entrepreneurship, luxury goods, branding, integrated marketing communications, retailing, shopper behavior, business and industrial marketing, sales management, and international marketing. He has spent many years as a Marketing Executive in large multinational corporations in the USA, Europe, Australia, and the Middle East. Using his trained expertise, he has spoken extensively and internationally to diverse groups of executives, companies, and industrial management groups on various marketing topics. Dr Granot received his PhD in Marketing from the University of Massachusetts (2006), his Masters in Management from Boston University (2000) and his BA from Tel Aviv University. He has advised numerous companies and non-prots on strategic marketing, branding strategies, qualitative marketing research, customer service, and competitive positioning. Over the last ve years, he has focused on understanding the marketing management implications of the major shifts in Western markets and the rise of mass afuence. Dr Granots doctoral research has been featured in the Journal of Business Research, Journal of Personal Sales and Sales Management, and the Journal of Business and Industrial Management as well as in newspapers and on NPR. Elad Granot can be contacted at:

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