man looking at creative ideas

Why Strategy Directors must embrace creative thinking to secure their future

In this article, guest strategy expert Leigh Calton gives PermissionToPlay his perspective on the role of creative thinking in strategic planning.

Leigh Calton

“Creativity in a business environment is often seen as the preserve of functions such as marketing, communication or an innovation team. So when it comes to strategy and strategic planning very few organisations incorporate creative thinking as most decisions and strategic directions are decided by results, forecasts and spreadsheets.


“But in an increasingly competitive world where differentiation and margin management are hard to come by can creative thinking remain the property of the traditional creative functions? Should creative thinking not be at the heart of your strategic planning and a core skill of your strategy teams?

Should creative thinking not be at the heart of your strategic planning?

“By creative thinking I don’t mean creating adverts or customer engagement programmes but true creative thinking – that which links creativity to revenue and other commercial measures.


“For a strategist creative thinking should be centred around what the future might be like in order to help them understand trends of consumer behaviour, the economic environment or the way that we’ll all live our lives in the next 5 – 10 years (or longer). And by thinking about the future, creative thinking has an essential role to play in creating different future scenarios – alternatives as to how the world in which your company operates might change.

Driverless cars
"For a strategist, creative thinking should be centred around what the future might be like"

“Being creative in a scenario planning sense requires your teams to let go and forget about what they know will happen, and to embrace everything and build plans on all of the things that they’re really not sure about. Sounds counter intuitive? Not really, when you consider that if you know what’s going to happen in the future it’s relatively easy to plan for (and so do all of your competitors). But if you start to consider all of the more uncertain things that might rock your world then this is where you’ll find the opportunity for commercial advantage.

“Let’s take an example: You’re a grocery retailer and your strategic plan has already forecast the death of cash, micro delivery slots and less in-store customer footfall. All important factors that will influence your strategy. They’re also all pretty certain things (‘known known’s to quote a certain Mr D Rumsfeld) so all your competitors also have these items in their strategic plan too.


“But what about the less certain things (the known unknowns), like how consumers will react to AI predicting what they’ll put on their shopping list before they’ve even created it, or government regulation of delivery drones or another food quality scare? These are all things that might happen.

How might government regulate delivery drones?

“And if they did is your strategy flexible enough to react and create an advantage for you (because your strategy is based on creative thinking not just numbers) or would you stand and watch your competitors react instead?


“The future is uncertain but your ability to prepare is not. Making creative thinking a core skill set of your strategy teams can be a significant contributor to your long term success and competitive differentiation.”



Leigh Calton
Leigh Calton, strategist

The author, Leigh Calton, has worked in a number of senior roles in Digital, Marketing and Strategy across a broad spectrum of industries. He has an MBA and has often spoken at conferences about the need to plan creatively for the future.

The future is uncertain but your ability to prepare is not.