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It’s tough being in business today. And, it’s going to get tougher. The rules of business are changing. Companies in the Chicagoland area have clearly felt the impact of these changes.

There are countless surveys that indicate that we should be concerned with the future well-being of our regional economy, including a 2004 Inc. magazine survey in which Chicago finished 213th for the city with the fastest and most sustained growth. In 2004, a Forbes magazine article named Chicago as the 95th best place to do business in the country.

Chicago needs to stay focused on growth. To drive growth, Chicago businesses need to be creative and drive innovations — create new ideas, develop new approaches and design new business models to allow us to compete effectively in this cut-throat global economy. There’s hardly a mission statement that doesn’t herald it, or a CEO who doesn’t laud it. However, despite all the focus that “creativity in business” has been getting over the past few years, little impact is being felt in the Chicago business environment.

As John Maynard Keynes said, “The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.” This is the root of our problem. We need to shake our existing operating paradigms and move to a new one — leveraging the power of our creativity to drive big innovations for sustained growth.


To do this will require some new ways of organizing and operating for both our businesses and the government. Here’s what we need to do:

Have a shared vision among business and government in Chicago. We know that organizations with a clear shared vision are better able to appreciate and use people’s creative talents. When an organization has this vision, it is focused on long-term outcomes. This shared vision will allow us to change and reinvent our environment in a focused and flexible manner.

Build an environment that inspires creativity and innovation. The basic response to any problem or challenge needs to be: How can we solve this more creatively? How can we compete with innovation? How can we lead with new ideas? Innovation should be woven into the fabric of our entire region. Without politics. Without bureaucracy. The major focus is to create an environment that supports innovation. Maybe we can establish a position of a Chief Innovation Officer in Chicago as part of the Mayor’s office.

Appreciate and embrace the diversity in our market. Different people with different backgrounds and cultures bring distinct perspectives to problems. By valuing these distinctions we will enhance the possibility of cross-fertilization and new connections for bigger and better ideas.

Keep our eyes open and our ears peeled for ideas about new products, new markets and new ways of operating. In this global arena, ideas can come from everywhere. With O’Hare Airport giving us access to the world while giving the world access to us, we are in a great position to find and exploit ideas.

Create an open architecture among Chicago businesses. Markets where people are aware of what is going on outside their own environments are usually more creative. We should share tools, ideas, concepts and approaches.

Make new technologies available to businesses in a cost- efficient manner. Let’s take a leaf out of Chaska’s (small town in MN) book and invest in creating mesh networks in the City to make high-speed wireless technology available to all businesses.

Absolutely continue to improve the Chicago Public Schools system. A strong school system that produces great scholars is one of the best assets to driving creativity.

Finally, let’s remember what Daniel Burnham said: “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood, and will not be realized.” I believe that we can change our position in this world. We have the talent and the capability to become a city without any equal. We can do this. We have to do this together.

Let us commit to this by making Chicago the most innovative city — fueled by creative people with creative ideas and businesses with sustainable growth profiles.

Zain Raj Executive Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer

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