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August 27, 2011
Don't Let Fear Kill Creativity in Your Business
 
This morning, I was getting my hair cut at a chain barber shop. I can't remember exactly which — SlickClips, MegaDo's or Scissortown. I wish I could blame the economy for my visit, but I've been going to places like these since I realized that a haircut is not going to do much to improve my looks about 20 years ago. Plus, it's cheap and typically quick. The benefits of these places are pretty obvious, as is the core customer.
 
While in the chair, Nellie, the "stylist," who is also the manager, receptionist, and CMO for the shop, asked what I do for a living. When I told her I work in advertising, she got excited. Her sullen expression gave way to a bright smile. And why not? Who doesn't love ad people? She had a lot of questions, and a lot of ideas about how they could promote their store. She even had targeted messages to get out there.
 
Specifically, Nellie wanted to get people into the store on Sundays, when she said traffic was down, and increase color and dye customers on weekday evenings. Having experience developing local store marketing tactics for multi-unit operations, I suggested one or two simple ideas. And then Nellie took off.
 
She had easily two dozen ideas. I'd say about ten were feasible and worth trying. The stylist at the other chair had a few ideas as well. I could see them getting excited about the possibility of trying some new ideas and getting more people in the store.
 
Then it started.
 
What if customers redeemed an offer at another shop? They better put some language on there to direct them only to this one. What if Paula (whoever that is) saw the sign they planned to put up? She might not like the wording. What if, what if, what if.
 
Boo.
 
By the time my cut (or clip, or do) was done, they were deflated and back to their pre-conversation posture. On my way out, I wished them good luck and hoped it picked up. They both agreed that it wouldn't.
 
Especially now, but not exclusively in down times, we (not just marketers or small business owners) need to get out there with our message and promote what makes us special. The folks at SlickClips are doing nothing, and getting nothing back in return. Business is down, and morale is lower.
 
I was pretty bummed out, too. It's not that they don't have the ideas, or the willingness, or even the budget (the most common excuse these days). They are afraid they don't have the permission.
 
As an owner, or manager or director, it's more important than ever to empower the people around you. Let them know you are in this fight with them, and you expect them to help the company succeed. Reward them for bringing you ideas. I can't remember who I'm stealing this quote from, but I once read that the enemy of creativity is fear.
 
As a leader, if you're not encouraging creativity you are aiding its enemy. And right now, there's enough fear to go around already.

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Adam Pierno is creative director at Santy Integrated, working with diverse clients like Phoenix Children's Hospital and The Counter across all media. He splits his time between art direction and figuring out what makes people tick. He's also spent time at JWT NY and Hill, Holliday in Boston during his dozen years in this crazy business.
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