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Scaling Creativity: 5 Tips For Bringing Your Ideas To Life Within A Big Company

Johann Wrede

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Creativity within big companies is one part vision and two parts sales.

This is what makes working within a large enterprise very different compared to working for a small, nimble startup. There is a perception that the bureaucracy and red tape within big companies stifles creativity—but as someone who has spent almost twenty years working for large companies, I can tell you that the creative process is alive and well, it just works differently. Big companies are like an organism, changing and growing over time. And so the difference between success and failure rests on knowing how to move things through that system.

Learning where, when, and how to present your ideas and to whom is a key skill.

The trick with creativity in large enterprises is mastering the art of pitching your ideas to all the different stakeholders, so they see themselves and their department or priorities as being the focus of your idea. Because the truth is, you will oftentimes be navigating competing agendas, conflicting points of view, or budget constraints. So how you “sell” your idea becomes just as important as the idea itself.

Here’s how.

1. Don’t have a ‘standard pitch.’ Be personalized and flexible.

As soon as you begin down the creative process, it’s important to remember you are going to need to bring your idea to multiple stakeholders.

Let’s say you’re building an advertising campaign, and you’re going to have to go to multiple product areas to get them to support your overarching program or plan. The best way to navigate potentially competing agendas is to know your audience and speak their language.  They need to feel like you had them in mind when you came up with the campaign. They also need to hear that nothing is decided yet and that you will work with them to gather their input.

This way, when all is said and done, you can go back to each stakeholder and be able to say, “We heard you. We took your early feedback into consideration. And here’s how we would apply this plan specifically to your department.”

2. Stay open to other people’s creative input.

Within big companies, there are many cooks in the kitchen.

The key is to be confident in your ideas and advocate for them—while at the same time, remaining vulnerable enough to accept critical feedback. Because if you put forward a creative idea, not everyone is going to love it. You have to be willing to hear somebody call your baby ugly, and not feel deterred from moving forward productively and enthusiastically.

Moments when I have witnessed the greatest “creative challenges” within large-scale organizations have been when one person (or a team of people) have been so determined to be “right,” that they lost sight of the bigger picture. Especially when you’re dealing with a company as large as SAP, very rarely is there going to be one right answer to a problem and you will often have an incomplete view of the picture. 

Sometimes you have to fight hard to see your vision fulfilled, but for the most part, success is found in deeply listening to criticism, shifting your perspective, and incorporating the wisdom found in dissent. 

3. Make sure all stakeholders feel heard.

At the end of the day, people want to feel heard.

Projects experience the most backlash when decisions are made unilaterally and without cross-organization collaboration. Now, this doesn’t mean every single person’s vote should be taken into account for every single decision. However, for ideas, programs, or changes that involve multiple stakeholders or departments, it is important to make those people (whom your ideas will impact) feel like they have a voice in the process.

When this is done with compassion, respect, and a willingness to listen and learn, creative projects can move seamlessly within the largest of organizations. People are also far more willing to accept compromise when they feel that their needs have been heard.

When this is skipped over, rushed, or ignored, the red tape comes out.

4. Always consider the people outside of the four walls of your company.

For a brand like SAP, we have to always be thinking beyond our own four walls.

We have a very large ecosystem of partners who co-market products with us. If we have the idea to make changes to our visual identity system, for example, we need to consider the fact that these partners are entitled to use assets that may appear in their marketing. When we make changes, it costs them money and time that they didn’t plan for (because we’d be asking them to update their marketing material with the new branding).

This is one of the most overlooked aspects of operating in a large company: like a pebble in a pond, even small ideas can have large, rippling consequences.

In a large company, you need to have the vision to see all of the implications of your ideas before you implement them, not just the obvious ones. You also need to heed the recommendations of those who can help broaden that vision.  

5. Always remember that creativity can come from surprising places in large enterprises.

Oftentimes, people are in jobs not because it’s the best job for them, but because it just happens to be the job they’re in (or what the company needs) at that moment in time.

All throughout my career, I have seen creative ideas come from places I didn’t expect. For example, a few years ago, I held an all-digital event for our customers—a first for this audience. Since this was an experiment, we ran on a shoestring budget—which encouraged people to get creative. I was blown away when I saw the work some of the employees created for the event. Two product managers, who by day almost exclusively used their left brain, prioritizing development hours and keeping projects organized, got together and created a podcast-style session having a very unique and compelling conversation. These two were not the ones I expected to create one of the best assets to come out of that event, and yet, what they created was terrific.

The best thing you can do for the creativity of an organization is to allow—or better yet, encourage—people to participate. Not every idea needs to be adopted. Not every person needs to be involved in decision-making. But allowing people the opportunity to be heard, and be part of the larger creative process, is uplifting. Done right, it creates a company culture that is open to new ideas from anyone and everyone, and it reminds people that they are free to do more than just what their day-to-day job responsibilities require.

I’ve discovered that creativity scales great culture in big companies, and in the end, that’s not a hard sell at all.

I am a marketing executive with a technical background and broad experience in corporate marketing, product marketing, business development and pre-sales. I currently lead Brand, Media and Advertising for SAP.

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