You CAN buy creativity

Lots of companies want to acquire (or regain) creativity. The trouble is that often, creativity and good business practices may be at odds with each other. In a blog at the Harvard Business Review, Professor Bruce Nussbaum points out the dilemma they find themselves in:

“Most corporations with decades of building a culture of efficiency can’t organically transform themselves into a den of creativity. They shouldn’t try. The odds of success are pretty low. IBM did it. P&G is still trying. GE may make it. But most others won’t. Established companies can, however, be a platform for creativity. They can learn to go outside their own walls to identify creativity they can leverage, buy and then scale.”

And Nussbaum concludes “Creative competence is like a sport. You can train for it and increase the capacities of yourself and your organization. If you get good at it, you can also transform it into real economic value on a massive scale.”

I agree that risk aversion and a corporate lack of commitment to innovation are significantly responsible for the absence of great creativity. Nussbaum is not wrong when he says that established companies “can learn to go outside their own walls to identify creativity they can leverage, buy and then scale.” But, to do so, they have to understand and value creativity in the first place. Many of the ones I have worked for do part of the work — they admire and acquire the innovators — but fail to apply the lessons of that creativity to the larger company.

In our broadcasting world, there are some sure-shot ways of acquiring creativity and injecting it into your organization. Go outside. Consider working with freelancers or independent producers. They bring fresh ideas and no corporate baggage to the table. They have the freedom to think without the limitations of the corporate culture. They bring at least two specific values to your organization:

1. Creative ideas and programming at a very reasonable price, on a contract basis without the need to hire them as staff.

2. They can help you model creative thinking and behavior that you can adopt inside your company.

In public broadcasting, there is an organization called AIR (Association of Independents in Radio) that has more than 1,000 radio producer members. They maintain a directory of their members along with their skill sets. Lots of useful information is on their web site at


Bruce Nussbaum is the author of Creative Intelligence: Harnessing the Power to Create, Connect and Inspire (Harper Business, 2013). A former assistant managing editor for Business Week, he is also a professor of innovation and design at Parsons The New School for Design.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *