CMO Impact
Achieving Personal & Career Success

Cultivate a Creative Culture

September 14, 2014


Synopsis: How do you cultivate an environment that allows creativity to thrive? It’s an important skill for CMO’s to master in order to create breakthrough, epic results that are valued by CEO’s. There are clear patterns the catalyze creative cultures; use this article as the first seeds of “how-to” do so and exponentially expand your marketing potential.

After interviewing leading marketers, five behavior patterns were identified as the underpinnings of marketing genius. This article details Pattern #3: Cultivate a Creative Culture in a quick why, what, how format to provide actionable ideas to help enhance your own marketing genius.

This article is part of a series covering excerpts from “Unlocking The Five Patterns of Marketing Genius”

  1. Unlocking The Five Patterns Of Marketing Genius (Overview)
  2. Construct Customer-Centricity
  3. Gel Goals and Hone Focus
  4. Cultivate a Creative Culture
  5. Play Polite Politics
  6. Magnify Marketing Mindset


by Sandra Zoratti, inspired by Taryn Voget

Why.  Winning ideas come from anywhere. A marketing genius recognizes and embraces this by crafting an environment and culture where creativity will thrive.  Creativity is the basis for the next “black swan” breakthrough.  Epic results come from epic ideas that often start as wacky concepts.

“If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.”

Albert Einstein

Brainy CMO’s know that cultivating creativity is the key to breakthrough marketing results.

What.  Leading marketers know how to catalyze creativity.  Here are three key underpinnings for designing the perfect storm to incubate innovative ideas.

1. Create a place for creativity to thrive.  As Cammie Dunaway, CMO of KidZania says, “I have never had a great idea in my office – it’s always through interacting with people.”  Creativity thrives when people feel safe to interact, to share ideas and to when failure is an acceptable outcome.

2. Honor the creative process. Do your best ideas come to you in the shower? When you’re driving? When you’re working out? It’s a well-documented phenomenon that the best ideas happen when we’re relaxed and not over-thinking the situation.  The four-step creative process works like this.

Step 1. Preparation & Absorption. We focus on the problem, outline it and explore how to solve it. The seed of an idea has been planted.

Step 2. Incubation. Like a hen sitting on an egg, the subconscious mind noodles on the problem. The seed is growing even though we aren’t aware of it.

Step 3. Illumination. The Eureka! moment hits, and the idea explodes into our conscious awareness when we least expect it. The egg has hatched.

Step 4. Verification. We consciously process our genius idea and refine it, elaborate, and apply it. The little chick waddles, then grows into a big, juicy hen.

3. Decide where the growth – and the excitement — will come from.

Growth is the cornerstone goal of every business. Marketers know that big growth can come from three places:

    • New markets/customers for existing products
    • New products to existing markets/customers
    • New products to new markets/customers

You can’t win big on same-old thinking. To make a huge impact, you need to capture excitement and passion. You need radical insights.  Marketing genius focuses on breakthrough, bold and big and creates a Apple-like excitement to bring it to life.

How.  Follow these guidelines to craft a culture where creativity thrives.

A.  Assess your environment and yourself.

    • Is it safe to share ideas?  Is it safe/acceptable to fail?
    • Do I need to shift? Is my language inviting? Does it encourage people to push back? How can I help good ideas rise to the surface?


    • Ask your team for candid feedback on level of felt-safety
    • Allow new ideas to percolate before reacting or commenting
    • Watch videos of inspirational, innovative leaders – listen to their words

B.  Facilitate creativity through collaboration

To foster big ideas, bring together a diverse group of your best, most innovative people.  Facilitate the discussion to get ideas flowing.

    • Where will big growth come from?  Where will the excitement come from?
    • What is working in other industries or places that we can learn from?


    • Provide your team with criteria and have them look for examples where it has been done before (i.e. 60% response rate)
    • Discuss how you can learn from and apply those examples
    • Host a big idea session with creative thinkers in a safe, nurturing environment

C.  Embrace the creative process

    • Creativity needs space and time to sit, relax and blossom.  Allow for that.


    • Frame a specific challenge – and desired outcome – to your team. Spend time together brainstorming ideas. Then walk away. Let people relax. Create a process for people to come back and share the ideas, and have the entire team to build on those ideas.

EXAMPLE – KidZania: Get Out of the Office and Embrace Conflicting Viewpoints

KidZania is an indoor theme park, designed as a city for children, where kids participate in an educational environment that mimics the real world through role-play, dress up and the buying and selling of goods and services. Kids learn valuable skills they’ll need to succeed later in life as they engage in thoughtful entertainment that sparks creativity, independence, financial literacy, cooperation and respect.

The “characters” involved in role-play are critical elements of the KidZania brand. The challenge comes with branding on a global scale. Should the characters be the same in every country? Which are the right characters to have in each location? Which characters are most likely to remain relevant over time?

KidZania’s CMO, Cammie Dunaway, identified her target and got out into the market to talk to kids and test her theories. Cammie says, “I listened with my pen. I spent a lot of time after the meetings with kids talking to the researcher to ask what she thought. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t biased by my own viewpoint. It was a check and balance.” “I have never had a great idea in my office – it’s always through interacting with people.”

Dunaway adds, “My job is to create a safe place for people to present ideas and share conflicting opinions. I allow people to fail and make it totally acceptable.

I try not to respond immediately when I don’t agree with an idea. Sometimes I will even tell people, ‘I want you to tell me what you really think. Even if I don’t jump on board immediately, keep pushing because I am someone who will change my mind if there is a good reason.’”

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