9 areas of your business that could use creativity - Part 1

Imagine you are being interviewed by a reporter for an article about creativity and innovation in your workplace. You are asked: “Where could you use more creativity in your organisation?”

What’s the first thing that springs to mind? Product innovation? Installing a funky ‘thinking room’?

We tend to narrow down the scope of creativity at work to a few areas, typically involving R&D, an innovation team, marketing and/or creative touches to the office.

This narrowing down of the power of creativity is done at our peril. Every employee has the capacity to think creatively and to develop creative solutions to problems. Every area of the business can benefit from creative thinking.

In this two-part blog, I will use the Business Model Canvas to highlight nine areas of your business where you could apply creative thinking for innovation. We'll start with the customer-facing part of the business this week and cover your internal operations next week. 

Creativity at work has been on the decline.

Creativity has suffered greatly in the industrial era. Some of the reasons for this include:

  • The persistence of outmoded business practices such as a zero tolerance for failure;
  • The stifling of mission-critical qualities like passion, risk taking and vocation; and,
  • Education’s debasement of art and creative disciplines in favour of finance and technology.

Nevertheless, a revolution is emerging, and you can be part of it. Research into creativity, especially as it pertains to neuroscience, is on the rise, as is the prominence of creativity as a necessary skill (if not, THE necessary skill) for the workforce of the future.

How do I ‘apply creativity’?

Before we get into each area, let me explain what I mean by ‘applying creativity.’ Approach each area with curiosity and a learner’s mindset. In addition to the prompts and questions provided per area, you can also ask yourself questions along these lines:

  • What if we did things differently in this area?
  • What are we missing?
  • How might we deliver more value?
  • Who could help us with a fresh perspective here?

Reading the Business Model Canvas

The Business Model Canvas designed by Alexander Osterwalder is a helpful tool for getting a bird’s eye view of your business. At Creativity Wake-Up, we find this a useful model to share with our clients to spark ideas for applying creative thinking.

To read the canvas, start in the centre. Your Value Proposition is the most important element of your business (actually your customers are, but I find the Value Proposition in relation to your customers a good place to start.) The right-hand side of the canvas represents your ‘stage.’ This is where you interact with the world. This is the customer-facing part your business. The left-hand side represents the ‘backstage’ or internal operations of your business.

There are nine simple building blocks in the Business Model Canvas that can be applied to any business. Use these areas to provoke new and creative thinking about your business. Here are the building blocks along with some real-life stories to inspire you.



1.     Value Proposition

Your Value Proposition constitutes the fundamental exchange of value between your business and your customers. Typically, your customers pay you for solving a problem, satisfying a need or relieving a pain of theirs.

Get creative and ask:

  • What is the problem we are solving?
  • What is the job that we get done or make easier for our customer?
  • Are we offering customers what they really want or what we think they want?
  • Are there related or different problems we should be solving for our customers?

Slack's original Value Proposition is not what you think


The creators of the Software as a Service (SaaS) communication tool, Slack, originally set out to create a video game. Stewart Butterfield and his team at Tiny Speck were developing a new and original game for the massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) market. The game was called Glitch and was launched in 2011 but by 2012 it was clear that the game failed to attract an audience large enough to sustain itself. In addition, the game was built using Adobe Flash, which began to fall out of favour in 2012. Flash couldn’t keep up with smartphone technology and by 2015 the plug-in was being disabled or blocked by browsers. Glitch was not working. The value proposition that the business owners intended to provide was not valued by the MMORPG community.

This is where many business owners would have forged ahead with their original strategy or possibly given up. So much time and money had been sunk into the Glitch product. However, Butterfield and his team decided to pivot. They applied creative thinking to their situation and noticed a new value proposition that they could offer the world.

During development of the game, the team at Tiny Speck built a tool to enable communication between their dispersed team members. They had been using Internet Relay Chat (IRC) but they soon outgrew its functionality. Their tool, originally called Linefeed, was developed over two years on an ad-hoc basis, with the developers adding new features as the need arose for them.  Although they lost their beloved game, they had invested their gaming skills into their communications tool. The tool which was later launched as ‘Slack" shot to success because its creators had managed to make work-based communication fun and engaging.

Slack was released as a ‘preview’ in May 2013 and launched publicly in February 2014. Slack reached a valuation of $1B after just eight months with no traditional advertising spend and became the fastest-growing startup in history. Today around 12 million people use Slack every day.

If you are struggling with your value proposition, ask yourself: How much of what you’ve learned could be applied to another venture?

2.     Customer Segments

You use Customer Segmentation to divide your customers into groups that are similar in specific ways, such as age, interests, spending habits or gender.

Get creative and ask:

  • Who are we solving the problem for? Could we extend this group? For example, if you are solving a problem for people, could you solve it for businesses as well?
  • Could we split up our customers in a different way to serve them better?
  • Which segments provide the most revenue? Are we giving this segment enough attention?
  • Are we lumping customers together who should be in different segments?

How Malaysian Correctional Services achieved stunning results through clever Customer Segmentation  


An example of creative customer segmentation comes from the prison system in Malaysia. Countries around the world are facing rising crime, overcrowded prisons and high reoffending rates.  The state of California alone spends $9 billion every year on prisons and has built 22 new prisons since 1980.  Despite the expense and all the new prisons built, the prisons are still overcrowded.  Petty criminals get mixed with hardened criminals and prisons become a breeding ground for crime.  Californian prisoners have a reoffending rate of 65%. This rate is even even higher in other parts of the world.

Malaysia was facing similar problems.  They decided to think creatively and try a new approach. They invited other ministries to collaborate with Correctional Services to solve the problem.  This isn’t what usually happens; however it was the creative collaboration that enabled a breakthrough innovation.

Working across ministries, they realised that their military bases had a lot of highly secure, under-utilised land.  They decided to use these secure bases to build prisons for petty criminals.  These prisons were 85% cheaper to build and 58% cheaper to run than conventional prisons. The land didn’t need to be purchased and security was already in place.  They worked with the Ministries of Agriculture and Higher Education to train the prisoners.  They developed real operating businesses on the prison grounds.  Prisoners learn to manufacture clothing, to weave, to make furniture and manufacture food products, they even cultivate fish and grow crops.  Since these are all productive business ventures, prisoners can even earn an income to support their families and to save for when they have finished their sentence.  In this new system family visits are encouraged to keep social connection and support. When they leave prison they have savings and skills, as well as hope and dignity, in order to restart their lives. 

The result has been a 90% drop in reoffending rate.  Crime rates have steadily decreased since initiating the project.

A problem that had been hiding in plain sight was that petty criminals needed to be separated from hardened criminals. These groups had different mindsets, needs, risks and goals.

Are there segments of your customer base that you need to segment?

3.     Customer Relationships

Customer Relationships can be defined as they way that you interact with your customers. This could be in-person, through third parties, at events, using apps or online for example. Journey maps help with illustrating the points of engagement between you and your customers.

Get creative and explore:

  • How do we acquire, keep and grow customers?
  • What could we do differently to draw customers to us?
  • How could we make our customers more loyal?
  • What if we got our customers to increase the business they give to us?

What happened when Coke got personal with their customers 

Coca-cola got creative with their customer relationships in their ‘Share a Coke’ campaign. First launched in Australia in 2011, the campaign involved changing their product packaging include a wide variety of first names. The bottles and cans said: “Share a Coke with…” and a popular first name. China also printed nicknames on their bottles. The purpose of the campaign was to create a more personal relationship with consumers and inspire shared moments of happiness.

The idea was the brainchild of ad agency Ogilvy and despite initial nervousness about the scale of approvals needed for such an operation, the team at Coke loved the idea and decided to go ahead. Jeremy Rudge (Creative Excellence lead) says:

“The real creativity kicked in when we had to bring the idea to life and problem-solve the “how.” Originally, the idea was conceived with the names printed in the traditional “Coca-Cola” Spencerian script. We couldn’t do that due to trademark issues, so we created a brand-new typeface inspired by the “Coke” logo. We call it the “You” font because it’s about you, the consumer, not Coca-Cola. That typeface really made the campaign and has since been used across the world in different ways including for a global Coca-Cola Christmas campaign.”

The 'Share a Coke' campaign is credited for increasing the company's US soft drink sales by 0.4 percent year-over-year, according to data reported in The Wall Street Journal. The campaign continued to expand with more creative thinking applied to the concept. Coca-Cola opened an e-commerce shop where customers could order personalised bottles and cans. Then, song lyrics were added to packaging so that fans could share music in addition to names. In 2017, a feature was added to enable customers listen to a short jingle with their name in it. In 2018, Coca-Cola  turned the iconic name labels into removable stickers so that could be stuck onto clothing, cell phones, notebooks, and other items.

The lesson here: as you get creative with your customer relationships, don't stop with the first great idea that works. Keep applying creativity. Keep thinking. Keep innovating. 

4.     Revenue

Your Revenue Streams are the way in which you convert your value into financial gain. These streams could entail pay per product, service fees, subscriptions, equity gain, dividends, referral fees, membership fees, royalties and so on.

Get creative and be curious:

  • What if we added a new revenue stream?
  • Is there an area of the business that we have neglected to monetise?
  • What are our top revenue streams?

 A Revenue Stream that reaped dividends for Amazon

A great example of this is Amazon Prime Shipping. In 2005, Amazon launched a the membership service, Amazon Prime. For $79 per year, members got free two-day delivery on an unlimited number of items. Over the years, Amazon has added many more benefits to Amazon Prime including delivery benefits (such as free same-day delivery on select items), streaming and digital benefits (such as free movies and TV shows with Prime Video), shopping benefits (such as Prime Exclusive Deals) and reading benefits (such as unlimited access to thousands of books on Prime Reading.)

According to an estimate by the Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP), Amazon now has around 126 million members. This revenue stream is a powerful one, since 64% of consumers who sign up for a trial convert to paid membership. The membership is the top reason that consumers shop on Amazon. The retailer’s subscription revenue, largely made up of Prime membership fees, totalled $19.21 billion in 2019, a 35.2% jump year over year.

 Get creative using your business model

So there are four places that you can get started with your creative thinking. Here are some tips for you as you analyse your business using this model and the prompting questions I've provided: 

  • Adopt a creative mindset and be curious as you examine your business. Don't stop with the first few questions; keep asking more questions. Try the famous five why practice; ask 'why' five times.
  • Practice the creative skill of flexibility, which is the ability to look at a problem from a variety of perspectives and generate ideas that are different from one another. Try to think like a beginner - what could you be missing as a result of knowing your business so well?
  • Get others to think with you. Bring in a variety of perspectives from functions, disciplines, age-groups and even industries that are different from yours.
  • Be brave. Don't let the fear of failure keep you from trying new things. Fortune favours the bold. Think about the opportunity cost of not innovating. Where necessary, find small, less-risky steps that you can take to experiment, test your ideas and build confidence. 

We would love to partner with you on your journey to developing a more creative culture and driving innovation in your business. 

Get in touch with us at [email protected]


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