How the book trade can harness the age of creativity

How the book trade can harness the age of creativity

There has never been a better time to be a creative leader. New opportunities are abundant - from new platforms that bring creative concepts to life to technological breakthroughs that allow us more than ever to explore our own creative impulses. And never has it been more important that the leadership within the book industry changes its attitudes and ways of working to suit.

I spoke at the FutureBook conference last year, and was excited and inspired to see some of the creative solutions presented to the challenges faced by the industry. The realisation that you’re in the business of content, and the value placed on building more intimate relationships with both readers and other partners (from authors to startups) was very refreshing. But the ‘age of creativity’ demands more flexibility, more experimentation, more risk. More change - the kind that never stops.

I'm one of the editors of a new book, Creative Superpowers. Along with marketer Mark Earls, chief creative officer of Mr President, Laura Jordan Bambach, and the co-founder of Utopia, Daniele Fiandaca, we’ve collectively reviewed, observed and worked with some of the most creative businesses in the world. We’ve seen how they’ve taken some very traditional business models, customer approaches and marketing strategies and evolved them for this new age. The key takeaway? It’s no more about resting on laurels or trying to protect what you have. It’s about unlocking new potential, joining dots in new and interesting ways and expanding beyond what you see as ‘business as usual’.

The way these people are doing it is by harnessing four key capabilities - hacking, making, teaching and thieving - that can really help  transform from within.

Making is the art of creating solutions and turning them into real actions. They’re no use sitting in a document. How do you physically get things made and out into the market to test and learn what’s working and what’s not? This has been the MO for startups and action-oriented businesses. Creating internal teams that can action things at pace, creating simple hypotheses and getting them in front of consumers should be the focus for publishing businesses to get actions across the line quickly. Also, in this new age of creativity, there are businesses who specialise in adding thinking firepower to your creativity, helping you make things quicker, more robustly and tangible. By doing this, you’re able to turn ideas into reality at pace and start to impact your business quickly. Sometimes, it's impossible to change the way you do things fast enough with all the internal barriers and legacies still in place. Partnering with some outside energy, a contained unit of risk, can help.

Hacking requires you to break down your macro challenge into much smaller micro problems that can be easily tackled. How do you take the relationships you own with readers and turn them into new revenue streams? What is required to turn books into other content in order to maximise the scale of an author’s work? Simply by breaking your challenges down you can start to get to the nub of your real issues and make some dramatic changes to how you might go about solving them. This creates a series of new and interesting areas in readiness for phase 2.

Teaching is based on Alvin Toffler’s concept of learning, unlearning and relearning i.e. what are the behaviours or restrictions that are holding you back in the market and how do you unlearn them (stop doing what isn’t working for you) and relearn new ones that will move your business forward (start doing new things and play in a different way)? This allows you to think about and relearn from the vast amount of information or teaching that is out there and to re-educate your business on new ways of working. What are the assumptions you’re currently making about books, your industry, author relationships, contracts, business models that you could unlearn and relearn to create massive impact?

FInally, thieving isn’t simply plagiarism. It’s about looking at other sectors outside of your market and using the learnings they’ve made to supplement your own. What could publishing learn from the music industry’s transition or from how startups ruthlessly focus on consumer needs? By evaluating other markets, you can shortcut to effective solutions much quicker.

The 'culture hacker' Annicken R Day, who writes a chapter in the book, is a great thought leader for publishers to get to know. She assumes that in all businesses, one part is always broken, and gets right into the nitty gritty of how to shake it up. Check out her articles on Huffington Post, and some of her excellent videos.

To conclude, your industry is ripe capitalising on the age of creativity. By breaking down the old models, making use of new technologies and resources that previously weren’t available, you are able to futureproof an industry that has the power to constantly evolve. For example, exploring the power of audio, short bursts of content, exclusive relationships with authors and a captive, highly engaged audience of readers across a very broad spectrum of content, you can start to reimagine the future of the publishing world. But it's not going to happen without strong leadership and the courage to do differently.

Start now.