Creative or Corporate? Have It Both Ways

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Remember that old Huey Lewis & the News song, “Hip to Be Square?” If you could get past the super-catchy hook and actually listen to the lyrics, you’d quickly realize that “Hip to Be Square” is a song about the secret joys of fitting in with the crowd — of conforming to a set of white-collar expectations familiar to anyone trying to make it in the world today.

The implied message of “Hip to Be Square,” of course, is that you need to go along to get along. You can’t stubbornly insist on trying to stick out when common sense — and economic self-interest — says you need to blend in and make prudent, long-term decisions about your life, career and money.

“It’s just not true that ‘corporate’ precludes ‘creative,’” says Lovell Communications president and CEO Rosemary Plorin with characteristic candor. “Perhaps it’s because we provide an outside perspective, but we increasingly find we’re able to ‘push the edges’ to do things differently and help our corporate clients generate greater results.”

Plorin isn’t the only successful executive who’s managed to blend an iconoclastic style with results that speak for themselves. Some of the most revered business people manage to thread the same needle. So why does the myth that we need to pick either creativity or corporate conformity persist?

“The status quo was the norm for a long time,” says Plorin. “But the norm is changing.”

It isn’t all bad news for entrepreneurs and executives who want to have their cake and eat it too. According to Plorin, these five industries have long rewarded innovative thinking. And, she notes, with a tsunami of millennials moving into the ranks of management, it’s likely the tides will turn in other sectors as well. Do you see an opportunity in any of these fields?

Public Relations

Plorin knows public relations better than the average bear for embracing creativity. She’s worked in communications for more than two decades, after all, and she knows firsthand how critical it is for PR professionals to think creatively.

“Some of our most productive relationships have blossomed when clients have given us the freedom to be creative and take a fresh perspective,” says Plorin. “Consumers are getting better at seeing through stale, overly conventional communications, putting those who continue to ‘play it safe’ at a real disadvantage.”

A lot has changed since Plorin got into the PR business, she adds. And she’s sure there’s more change on the way.

Architecture & Building Design

Architects have always been known as an against-the-grain bunch. Their work is all around us, after all, and it’s only natural that they’d want to make their mark on the built environment.

These days, architects need to be creative in ways that go beyond mere aesthetics. As building materials change and structural efficiency becomes a top priority for cost-conscious clients, the architecture and design business is taking a hard look at previously ironclad assumptions about the meaning of their work.

The result: every month brings the opening of a truly mind-bending architectural project somewhere around the world, whether it’s the latest supertall building in the Middle East (where superstrong new materials are getting a real workout) or an impossibly airy bridge spanning a broad river delta. Even conventional structures are getting a rethink: Most of the office buildings constructed in the next five years will use little to no net energy.

Food Service

Food service is no longer just about feeding mouths. It’s about exciting the senses. Even fast-casual chains like Chipotle and Panera Bread are laser-focused on creativity and quality, and the latest crop of high-end fast-casual concepts take this approach and run like the wind with it. If you’re going into the food service business, bring your creativity cap (and your hair net).

Media Production

It’s hard to believe that Americans once got their news from three virtually indistinguishable broadcast television networks. No longer. The media landscape is more fragmented than it’s ever been before, and that demands creativity (and humility) from everyone involved in production.


“Engineering” and “creativity” aren’t typically uttered in the same sentence. Is it really possible for people who crunch complex equations all day to let their hair down and show their offbeat sides?

Yes and no. Engineering firms’ corporate culture remains on the conservative side, and that’s fine. But the solutions many engineers work on these days are anything but conservative.

In fact, engineers are increasingly key to the disruption of established, old-line industries — industries that, as the saying goes, need to evolve or die. The now-urgent drive to wean our economy off fossil fuels won’t be successful without creative engineers capable of thinking outside the box, for instance. New modes of transportation, new agricultural innovations and more all rely on engineering creativity — and supporters willing to take a leap of faith.

What’s your thought on the value of creativity in today’s business culture? Is it still hip to be square, or have times changed?