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March 7, 2024

When connecting disparate dots is good for business

kwpx’s Sam Davies spends his day thinking outside the box. Now, the new 40 Under 40 judge is urging businesses to do the same.

  • Main image: kwpx

kwpx executive director of brand and digital Sam Davies wants more South Australian businesses to find time for creative thinking.

But he admits it’s hard for many of them – including creative advertising agencies like kwpx – to “create a space to play in, space to dream and think” while also working with tight deadlines or finite resources.


The 40 Under 40 awards celebrate South Australia’s young business leaders and entrepreneurs
See past winners and nominate for 2024 at the website

Sam has joined the judging panel for this year’s 40 Under 40 awards.

He mentions an old study putting forward the view that, as we get older, we unlearn the ability to think creatively.

“Innately, we’re good at being creative, but modern education and our culture makes us [lose the ability]. We almost have to relearn how to disconnect from a set view of the world and start connecting disparate dots.”

Sam says while some people associate creative thinking with the arts or companies like his that trade in creativity, it’s about non-linear thinking and being able to connect separate and different ideas. And is not the domain of one person.

“Taking a creative lens to business [allows] other people in to get external points of view and for you to look at your own business through a different lens. But I think that’s actually quite hard to do.

“What we’re trying to do at kwpx is break down the silos and barriers so that, while we still have traditional ‘creatives’, anyone [in any department] can be creative and take some leaps to think differently about a problem.”

The payoff for workers taking part can be greater job satisfaction, which has flow on benefits for business.

“Creativity is scary though, because you have to put yourself out there,” Sam says, noting we’ve come a long way in the last decade regarding what it means to be an employee, with work-life balance, hybrid working and a focus on psychological safety in the workplace.

He thinks, in the future, a lot of creativity in business will come from looking at these internal workings, delivering dividends because “any business that does a great job internally ends up having a really good product”.

It’s been shown that having permission to think creatively can make workers happier, but Sam acknowledges not everyone is comfortable with it. “A lot of people quite like process and rigour.”

Last year’s winner of the 40 Under 40 Creative Thinker Award was Derik Lynch, who, in addition to being an award-winning documentary maker, is a performer and visual artist, health practitioner, interpreter and educator.

Derik is an exemplar for regularly exercising the creative muscle, something Sam says is good for all businesses.

“It doesn’t have to be a creative business – you could be in an accounting firm – finding new, efficient ways of solving problems.”

He believes that, generally, small and medium South Australian businesses are ahead of the curve in applying creative thinking, but that established ones are lagging. Partly, because it’s often harder for the cultural shift to take place across bigger employers, but also because change needs to come from the top.

There’s also the likelihood that creative thinking is widely in play, but not labelled as such. Even before joining the 40 Under 40 judging panel, he’s seen “a lot of really amazing people doing amazing things”, with many of them flying under the radar, as is the tendency locally.

However, he says there’s still a real space for people in any industry in Adelaide to start a new business and disrupt that industry. He cites US canned water company Liquid Death as a classic example.

“It’s a category sell – everyone’s saying ‘we’re from the mountain spring’ or pretty much doing the same thing. Liquid Death steals the playbook from punk rock and heavy metal with a wildly different aesthetic and they’re essentially able to build a new space for themselves.

“It’s that creative business approach, yet they’re just selling water at the end of the day.”

Mecca is another company he points to as leading the way, understanding its purpose and resonating with customers at every touchpoint.

“It’s interesting, as advertising agencies have to become business consultants to a certain degree. Because when you start talking about customer experience, you end up back in internal operations talking about ‘how are you living your brand values?’”

Sam has made a career from thinking creatively. After a stint working in London, he returned to Adelaide in 2011 and founded Digital Noir, which merged in 2022 to form kwpx. The foundations of creative thinking, he says, are an open mind and a lack of rigidity.

While he uses design thinking – a non-linear, iterative, person-centred process – he believes some business processes and frameworks tend to deliver rigid thinking and hamper growth and opportunity.

“Some of the formulaic long-term strategic work, actually hurts more than it helps. These frameworks become a religion … and people forget about the output and just focus on the process.

“You’re better off just getting out there and trying, as long as you have the capacity and a bit of a safety net there. The mistakes and learnings are where all the good stuff comes from – that’s where all the jewels are.”

The 40 Under 40 Awards program is helping to bring attention to a new, younger generation of entrepreneurs and business leaders in the state. Nominations are open until Sunday, 24 March 2024.

Nominate someone or self-nominate now.

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