5 unexpectedly creative businesswomen


Think you’re not creative? Think again as we uncover five inspirational women who use creativity at work in surprising ways.


Creativity comes in many guises. You don’t have to spend your working days brandishing paintbrushes and creating colourful mind maps; as you’ll see from the top businesswomen honoured in The Fast Company’s 2015 list of the most creative people in the world today.[i]

From surgery to sales strategy, allow us to uncover some of the ways creativity plays a part in these women’s diverse careers. Notice the sheer breadth of skills that have been brought to bear in earning these women the ‘creativity’ label, as well as the range of backgrounds, businesses and industries they operate in.


The Fast Company’s Most Creative Businesswomen 2015


1. Dao Nguyen – Publisher, Buzzfeed.com – “For turning LOLs into a media empire”

The secret to Nguyen’s success lies, as she says herself, in her close attention to data. When she saw that the majority of web visitors were distributing their favourite puppy and baby videos via email despite Buzzfeed’s longwinded functionality, she improved the process and increased sharing by 100% in one week. In less than two years, her attention to customer metrics has seen audiences grow to 200 million individuals. But she isn’t resting on her laurels and says that reinvention is the key to creativity: “My mom recently became a Buddhist nun and she is over 80 years old. I think reinventing yourself is something that is really hard to do. That’s inspiring to me.”


2. Maria Claudia Lacouture – President, Procolombia – “For rebranding a country”

Rebranding a simple product like a chocolate bar takes months of planning, effort, finance, and organisation. So imagine the effort involved in rebranding a country. Lacouture took her creativity muscle to the next level as she transformed Colombia’s image from one of a country riddled with drug violence to a welcoming, picture-postcard tourist destination; she had to dig deep to find the inspiration to increase international tourism by 56%: “Inspiration comes from all circumstances, which is why we should always be observant. It arises in the battlefield, from a situation needing an option, an issue needing a solution, an instruction demanding a response, or a necessity looking for new options. Sometimes stress also comes loaded with inspiration.”


3. Leslie Dewan – CEO, Transatomic Power – “For throwing salt on traditional nuclear technology”

Proof that sometimes the best ideas are the slow burners, Dewan’s molten salt technology – capable of both eliminating waste from nuclear plants and preventing radioactive waste – will require another ten or so years to realise; the goal, she says, is to have hit on a successful prototype by 2020. She attributes her success in nuclear engineering with her ventures into other fields: “I did a lot of interdisciplinary work—in material science, archaeology, computer science. A lot of the interesting ideas I’ve had come from exploring the boundaries between different fields.” Despite her futuristic innovations, she’s old school when it comes to documenting her ideas: People make fun of me for keeping a paper dayplanner, but I found that it’s much easier to keep track of things when I write them down.


4. Dana Mauriello – Director, Seller Category Growth, Etsy – “For getting crafty about cultivating entrepreneurs”

The success of the arts and craft community selling their wares on digital marketplace Etsy has given rise to the term Etsy-preneur. But being a whiz with handmade jewellery or printing stationary doesn’t automatically make you a shrewd businessperson. That’s where Mauriello comes in. Her program in business skills has now reached over 10 cities and 450 Esty-preneurs now all the more savvy when it comes to accounting, marketing and pricing. “We’re teaching pride and empowerment,” says Mauriello. “One of the things I’m most proud of is when [participants] say, ‘I feel like I now have skills that people care about and that matter.’” She attributes her creative success to an endless quest for new knowledge: “I am obsessive with finding, cataloguing, and doing new activities. A dancefloor meditation? A talk on game design? A tattoo convention? Done, done, and done. I am on an endless quest to learn about and personally experience as many diverse subcultures as possible.”


5. Martha Murray – Orthopaedic Surgeon, Boston Children’s Hospital – “For finally figuring out how to fix a torn ACL”

After witnessing the pain and suffering caused by a torn knee ligament (and declaring the laborious tendon grafts and months of rehab that follow ‘ridiculous’), Murray switched from engineering to medicine and determined to find a solution. After ten years of dead ends, she realised that the fluid that keeps the knee lubricated is the very thing that stops it being able to repair itself. Her team developed a non-invasive procedure which would make healing time considerably shorter. Human trials are underway and, if successful, could save a multitude of athletes and accident-prone types hours of unnecessary physical therapy and medical bills.

“My inspiration comes from seeing something in the human body that isn't working quite right – it makes me wonder how we can use the things that often work so well to create a solution for a medical problem. If one project is getting stalled for some reason, I switch gears to another project or two for a while until the problem with the first one works itself out. Sometimes if I am stuck, and leave a problem to sit for a bit, the answer shows up at a traffic light or when I am reading something totally unrelated. It's like when you are trying to remember someone's name and once you stop trying, it pops into your brain.”

Do you use creativity in unexpected ways in your day-to-day life? Share your stories in the comments below.

[i] fastcompany.com/section/most-creative-people-2015


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