For years, I worked in the motion picture industry. During that time, I saw studio groups that hadn't changed their marketing people for 20 years. They were set in their ways of doing things.

Moreover, the marketing executives often felt the need to hover over the creative process. As the "experts" in the room, they considered themselves the keepers of all ideas.

Their ideas were simply the best.

And for a while, everybody bought into the idea that if they worked really hard and somehow made it to upper management, they, too, could one day become the keepers of ideas.

What nobody realized was that this cycle of thinking was actually crushing any semblance of creativity—not to mention disempowering young, excited employees.

The Problem With Creative Suffocation

Too often, the amount of time someone has been with the company is equated to how valuable their ideas are. Experience is valuable... but hanging your hat on tenure can create problems.

Back in the 1980s, a lot of companies abandoned breakthrough innovation in favor of efficiency. They adopted KPIs and other standard project-management techniques focused on cutting costs and streamlining development.

That approach deprived businesses of the agility required for innovation, and the problem has worsened. Bureaucracy has grown exponentially, leaving fledgling employees feeling like just more cogs in the machine, according to a study by The Boston Consulting Group.

Smothering creativity is especially detrimental in a marketing environment, where companies thrive on staying abreast of new trends.

Just look at social media marketing. Those 23-year-old employees may not have even been alive when the business first started, but they have more Twitter know-how than most of their older colleagues do.

With social media and smart technology practically coursing through their veins, these young employees are fluent in online content. Failing to use their perspectives could stall both your current social media marketing initiative and your business as a whole.

Signs of Creative Suffocation

Businesses that don't trust their youngest employees are already in creative suffocation mode. After all, those employees were hired for their potential. So, failing to nurture that potential is a waste of money. If they have proven their value after six months, they should be considered rising stars.

They know the company culture, they know the mission, and they know the materials. They probably have tons of ideas for improvement, so open your ears and listen. If those employees aren't even present in meetings, your team is already losing.

Change happens so fast today, and the old-school methods won't cut it.

If all the ideas being implemented are coming straight from the C-suite's, you're probably stifling creativity. If you aren't crowdsourcing ideas from across the entire organization, you are eschewing innovation and smothering your team.

I'm not saying to fire your board members, but creative people need to be empowered if they are going to make a difference. They need to be challenged. Unfortunately, only 28% of Millennials think their organizations are taking full advantage of what they have to offer. Be in that minority.

Breaking Creative Ground: A Case Study on IBM

For years, IBM was the picture of old-school business.

The company's message and marketing barely changed for 50 years, and it was probably the result of the same guy in the department stuck in his ways. I have to give him credit, however, because he evidently woke up.

IBM partnered with OgilvyOne Worldwide to run a spot focused on a computer named Watson. Watson may not have been the first computer to play chess, but it was the first to appear on Jeopardy, where it defeated two of the game show's greatest champions.

People were astonished! And just like that, IBM traded in its wizened public image for one that promoted progressive thinking.

Of course, Watson doesn't have anything to do with IBM's core business, but in the end, that didn't matter. Watson resonated with people, and because it was a computer, it became representative of IBM's product offerings as a whole.

Promoting a Creative Culture

Here are five tips regarding how to unleash creative thinking from your  team.

  1. Give people the tools to succeed. Marketing success comes from encouragement and support, along with the right tools. You won't find innovation hiding in a cubicle; it comes from a network of great minds.

    Instead of demanding five ideas by the end of the day, perhaps it's better to say, "Here's $50 for pizza, $200 to go to the zoo, and $500 for storyboarding ideas." That freedom gives people the chance to think, play, and look at things in a different way—without piling on the pressure.
  2. Focus on diversity of thought. The best teams embrace a range of specializations and experiences. Gather a group of people who are analytical and creative in equal measure and come from different backgrounds. Familiarity breeds boredom. When people fall into comfortable patterns of thought, those patterns quickly turn into ruts.
  3. Provide a safe space. The best teams are those where all members feel valued. Given a safe space to grow, think, and play, people will commit to success.
  4. Expand the network. Sometimes, answers can't be found within the confines of an office building. Access to a strong network brings valuable knowledge and support. Even in an idea-driven field like marketing, success is about knowing the right people.
  5. Look beyond a communications degree. Education is great, but it isn't the end-all, be-all of marketing. Experience with multidevice computing is just as important—as is intellectual curiosity. Firsthand experience with graphic design, video production, and Web analytics is a bonus.

A great marketing strategy should be about more than KPIs, and it can't come solely from one mind. There's no point employing a team only to waste the collective power of its members. With space to breathe freely, young upstarts can create fantastic work.

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image of Eddie Newquist

Eddie Newquist is chief creative officer at GES, a global, full-service provider for live events.

LinkedIn: Eddie Newquist