In recent years, business has been given a bad rap. Global warming, war, environmental destruction, refugee displacement, and erosion of human and worker rights, and child hunger and starvation can all be traced back to the behavior of business driven by the profit motive. However, for every business who falls into this category there are, literally thousands of others whose activities make a significant contribution to the well-being of their staff, communities, ecologies and planet.
The common thread between these businesses is not always immediately obvious. They come in many different shapes and sizes. They include large corporations, family businesses, local cooperatives and collectives, cottage industries, not-for-profit organizations, and simply those individuals with an idea whose time has come. These businesses are also diverse in their focus, vision and activity ranging from carpet manufacturing, to cosmetic sales, accounting services, community art, software developers and news services.
Rather than purpose or structure, the common thread between these organizations is that, together, they are redefining the concept of creativity in business. Traditionally, creativity has been seen as something to do with innovating new products and services. These businesses however, reflect a much more thoughtful uptake of creativity and are driven by creativity as a set of principles. These businesses engage ten principles of creativity not as something to be exploited in pursuit of the next big profit, but conversely as the purpose for which we ultimately seek to make our profits.
Principle 1 – Consciousness & The Body Shop
Creativity starts with consciousness – a willingness to be present and aware of this moment in all of its glory and all of its horror. There is perhaps no greater example of a business who applied the principle of consciousness than the Body Shop.
When the first Body Shop opened in Brighton (UK) during the 1970’s, the global cosmetics industry was based on a chain of supply that depended on the exploitation of people, land and animals on an unimaginable scale. The willingness of the Body Shop not only made cosmetics its business, but also made it their business to be completely conscious of the source of its ingredients. This was, at the time, almost unheard of and critics forecast that seeking to base a business on consciousness would never survive.
Over 40 years later the Body Shop is continues to be one of the most significant players in the cosmetics industry, and still retains its focus on supply consciousness and public awareness. The Body Shop pioneered what it means to be fully present and acknowledge the sometimes harsh reality of current business practices – rather than covering it up with glossy brochures. The consciousness of the Body Shop established an imperative for creating new possibilities so strong that innovation and change was inevitable. Businesses who are willing to acknowledge the genuine reality of current circumstances establish fertile ground for creating change.
Principle 2 – Courage & Greenpeace
When we think of courage in business we typically revere the Donald Trumps of the world who take risks with big money that mostly seem to “pay off”. However, courage in creative businesses has a different meaning.
Perhaps there is no more obvious example of genuine courage in business than Greenpeace. This work of this not-for-profit business focuses on peaceful action that gives voice to, and protects, those living in our world who do not have a voice of their own.
Greenpeace upholds the type of courage that gives rise to genuine creativity. Creative businesses such as Greenpeace are not willing to stand by and say “that’s not my problem, that has nothing to do with me”. Courage is not about only about taking risks, but is reflected in the sorts of risks that businesses are willing to take.
Like Greenpeace, businesses who are creative have the courage to take full ownership of their own part in humanity, of their desires, their fears, their passions, their responsibilities and their possibilities. Creative businesses have the courage to do their work that does not come at the cost of their connection to the communities that they belong to.
Principle 3 – Connection & SimpleSavings
Businesses with the courage to take ownership of their own thread in the fabric of humanity, open up possibilities for connecting themselves to people and communities on a level that matters. This connection creates a wholeness that is not possible otherwise, providing the basis for creativity that has meaning, relevance and integrity.
SimpleSavings is a small web-based business run by a stay-at-home mum. This business provides a platform for a community of individuals sharing ways of saving money and reducing consumerism in real terms. This business now has over 40, 000 customers and over 8.500 unique saving and spending strategies in their ever-growing “vault”.
SimpleSavings is an example that when one business has the courage to take ownership of the issues that matter, they generate a deep and profound connection with people. This connection provides an essential element for creativity in business because genuine creativity is a collaborative process that is enriched through diversity and participation.
Principle 4: Conscience & Australia Zoo.
A business that is made up of people who form an authentic connection to the world around them establish the basis of business conscience.
One of the most inspirational examples of a business with conscience is Australia Zoo, founded by the parents of the late Steve Irwin. As well as being a fully commercial tourist attraction, the conscience of this business sparked probably an immeasurable impact on changing the world. Profits from this business are funneled back into wilderness rehabilitation and the establishment of sanctuary. Importantly, this business has also been a pioneer in conservation education, and it is likely that the full impact of Steve Irwin’s legacy is yet to be fully felt.
When business conscience is based on guilt, it creates a drain on both the finances and energy of businesses. Australia Zoo demonstrates that instead of guilt, the conscience of a truly creative business is based on passion. Conscience in this context provides the spark and energy required to reveal the creative possibilities beyond the every-day.
Principle 5: Compassion & Amnesty International
Finding genuine compassion is probably one of the greatest challenges for businesses in realizing their full creative potential. Sympathy for people or issues considered a “worthy cause” is easy pickings for businesses. However, genuine compassion emerges out of a willingness to do what it takes to be inclusive and encompassing. Genuine compassion requires more than a grants chequebook.
Amnesty International has made its business out of genuine compassion, This not-for-profit business responds to issues that are neither popular nor attractive by seeking an end political oppression and violence in all of its forms. These guys tackle the hard issues of human rights, including for people who society would prefer to forget. Amnesty International is often the only voice representing people who, for whatever reason, have been deemed unworthy by societies or governments. Amnesty International provides the same attention to women and children oppressed by gender-based violence, as they do to convicted murders on death row.
Amnesty International shows us that the true test of compassion is when business is asked to apply it to people who are “not worthy”. The finding of common ground with those we see as “the Other” is essential to businesses who are creating futures that are free from conflict and oppression based on race, gender, age, economic status or any other characteristic.
Principle 6: Commitment & Inclusion Press.
When genuine compassion is found (as opposed to “giving” sympathy to “worthy causes”) it can often be overwhelming for businesses. Commitment is the quality that allows businesses to set about creating their vision despite its enormity.
Inclusion Press is one business who demonstrates a humble commitment to creating their vision. This business develops and publishes resources, tools and workshops that support schools, families and teachers working to include all children, including those with “disabilities”. Their vision is for schools that are child-centered, rather than centered on curriculums and standards.
Like Inclusion Press, all creative businesses have a vision which seeks to address fundamental needs of humanity over the long term, rather than quick profits or quick fixes. This type of creativity therefore depends on a commitment to be in it for the long haul, even when the end is not always easily in sight.
Principle 7: Confidence & FotoKids
Confidence is a peaceful stance that invites – rather than coerces – others to join and participate in creating the vision for the business.
FotoKids is a fully functioning business that seeks to create new possibilities for children growing up in the city slums of Guatemala. This business is run by the children themselves (some as young as four years old), who undertake photography classes and produce documentaries and art works for galleries. Money generated by the sale of photographs, is used by the children to fund their education and family income.
Rather than seeking to “convince” others, or to limit the space available to competing voices, creative businesses have a focus on opening up and creating dialogue. The confidence of a creative business is reflected in its willingness to trust its own voice and the voice of the people who have a stake in the vision.
Principle 8: Contribution & the Creations out of the Blue Ltd.
Rather than an identity of entitlement, creative businesses see themselves as contributors whose role is to give something of themselves. For creative businesses the size of the potential impact is no deterrent to contribution.
Creations out of the Blue Ltd. is a small community cooperative nestled in an isolated area of NSW, Australia. Located in a community where rates of drug addition, domestic violence and unemployment are amongst the highest in the state, this business makes all the difference. Run by 12 local women, the business provides a place where the women can contribute their art and craft skills to others, and generate an income from the sale of their works.
Creative businesses are not limited by the notion that contribution has to be big and grand, or that it only happens in board rooms. Like Creations out of the Blue, a creative business actively sets out to identify and mobilize the strengths available to it. A creative business has the talent for recognizing potential and talents in situations that others see as “hopeless”. These businesses create real change in the world by recognizing the importance of their own contribution, and the contribution of the people who it is connected to.
Principle 9: Commune & Imajica.
The principle of communing expands from the principle of connection to others, and encompasses connection to whole environments and across time. Businesses who employ the principle of communing understand that creativity arises out of a sense of knowing where we came from and what our place is in the world today.
Imajica is a small sailing charter business operated by Jesse Martin, off a remote island to the north of the Papua New Guinea mainland. Jesse first came to attention when he became the youngest person to sail solo around the world. With Imajica Jesse continues to change the world by providing people with the opportunity to remove themselves from the distractions of modern life, and reconnect with their true nature.
Businesses like Imajica understand that creative potential emerges best when people have the space both to go within, and to connect beyond. The principle of communion challenges each business to reexamine its physical spaces and its relationships with the built and natural environments, in order to both generate creativity and to create change.
Principle 10: Celebration & Circus Ethiopia.
The ultimate reason that creative businesses work toward their vision is, presumably, to bring about a way of life that is worth living. The change that many creative businesses dream of may not come within one lifetime. The principle of celebration serves to remind us what we are working toward, and of the progress we have made so far.
The Ethiopian Circus is a shining example of a business who understand the role of celebration in creating change. In stark contrast to the environmental and political setting where they are located, the circus is a place of joy and excitement. Its cast is made up entirely of children, and the business started out by teaching its performers to juggle with stones.
Circus Ethiopia is a wonderful reminder that it is joy that gives meaning our lives and purpose to our work. In turn, it is joy and meaning that are the staples sustaining our creative potential, our courage, and our commitment to change for the long-haul.