I recently read an excellent and though provoking article entitled Essential and creative advice from Joss Whedon, Carrie Brownstein, Jim Stengel and 13 others. The article cites some really creative tidbits and describes the content as providing “some useful insight into being creative in whatever realm you work in”.
I was really pleased to see that this article indirectly promoted the use of creative thinking in any industry. My view is that every job or business should (or could) involve creativity, yet often pre-conceptions blinker us from the opportunities. People talk about “The creative industries” as if these are the “owners” of creative thinking, ideation and fun. This implies that everyone else has to come to work in pinstripe suits carrying a briefcase and wearing a bowler hat. OK, perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration, but I’m sure you understand my point!
Perception really matters – I’ll give you an example. A few years ago I was working as a “Lead Business Analyst” in the Financial Services industry in the UK. I’ll let you into a secret — when people hear the term “business analyst”, their eyes glaze over. Even more so because it’s in Financial Services (which sounds dry, boring and dull at the best of times) so by the time I’d said “Business Analyst in the Financial Services Industry” people were generally either asleep or looking for an opportunity to get out of the conversation.
However, the reality of the role was very different – the role required a huge amount of creativity, idea generation and some real off-the-wall thinking at times. It was necessary to understand the business, build conceptual models, understand how it needed to change and to co-create the solution with a whole range of diverse and different stakeholders. It involved understanding the needs of customers, understanding the “business system” and the macro-level issues that affected industries, as well as finding a way to distil all of this into one-page diagrams that busy and time-poor exec members could buy into. It’s a team effort, which needs a huge injection of creativity to get right. And more than that, it needed creativity to keep it fun and to keep people engaged. However, the stakeholders I was working with seemed genuinely surprised that meetings can be fun and energetic as well as productive—and it was part of my job to prove this to them. Perhaps their previous experience had been different.
The key point is that businesses of all sizes – from multinational, small and mid-size, need creativity even if the industry isn’t known for its creativity. In fact, creativity is one of the things which helps separate out the organisations that can survive and innovate from those that can’t. If you’ve been doggedly pursing the same strategy for 20 years and are seeing declining returns, something needs to change. By exploring your business model in a new light, by asking new questions and (sometimes) “thinking the unthinkable” you can generate new ideas. New ideas can be tested against market data and existing insight and analytics you possess about your own business to see what is viable.
So, I’ll finish this article with a dare. If you don’t consider yourself creative at work or in your business, I dare you to do something differently this week. Take a different route to work. Work from Starbucks for an afternoon. Switch off e-mail. Write your problems, ideas or constraints on cards, building blocks or beanbags and re-arrange them and play with them, rearrange them and build new relationships between them. Look at things from a different perspective, and see what new ideas it yields.
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.