Linkner: Restoring Creativity in The New Retail World

Instead of looking back at the past, focus on unleashing your creativity today.

That was the message from Josh Linkner, CEO/managing partner of Detroit Venture Capital and chairman/founder of ePrize in his keynote, “Welcome to the New Retail Reality,” on Tuesday at the MCM Live conference in New York.

“If you knew a hurricane was coming a week before, what would you do?” Linkner asked attendees.

There was an economic hurricane three years ago, he said, whereby “safety gave way to uncertainty, and comfort gave way to fear.” As a result, a new set of skills has emerged which keeps merchants on alert. “Today, it’s always a week before the hurricane,” he said.

Innovating and adapting to challenges of the day is critical for any company to have a chance at growth, Linkner said. “What do you see when your head’s down? It’s better to be head’s up. These companies will win.”

One big problem: Our creativity isn’t rising to the challenges of the day.

Studies show that creativity took a dip 15 year ago. Why? “We’re taught in school to follow the rules,” Linkner explained. “But if you’re doing that in the real world, it’s a path to mediocrity. We have a systemic problem.”

Instead of growing into creativity, “we’re growing out,” Linkner continued. “School and society take creativity out of us, and we become grumpy adults. Society is failing to nurture what we need most – creativity.”

A 2008 Harvard study revealed that creativity is 85% learned behavior. So what holds us back? Fear, Linkner said. “We’ve talked ourselves out of creativity.”

So how can we foster creativity? A great way to warm up a meeting, Linkner said, is to use a visual. Grab a picture and have the team ask questions—who, why? what if? why not?

Linkner, who is also a New York Times best-selling author and accomplished jazz guitarist, shared how his company uses a tactic called role storming. Employees play characters from a movie or a show (they‘ve used AMC’s “Mad Men” as a theme, for instance,) and begin brainstorming ideas.

Constantly asking “why?” and questioning everything “gets you to the heart of an issue,” Linker explained. “We need a ‘Where’s Waldo’ level of awareness.”

Traditions are great when it comes to Thanksgiving, but they are deadly in the business world, he said. A “that’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality “is the beginning of the end to creativity.”

Challenge everything, Linkner advised, and be obsessed with finding a better way in this new era of business. “You can’t let imaginary barriers hold you back.”

The world doesn’t need another commodity, Linkner said. “Don’t let creativity get filtered down by fear.”