Dispelling the “Creativity” Myth

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One thing I find particularly curious is the assertion that some jobs are somehow inherently “creative” and others are not.  We hear people talk of the “creative industries”, and this conjures up an image of well-paid executives in huge and sparsely furnished Madison Avenue corner offices discussing what the next big ad campaign will be, yelling to their assistant through the office door. Other roles are labelled as “technical”, which conjures up an image of hard working professionals in cubicles, heads-down and headphones on, diligently analysing complex information. I am sure the reality is different, but these are the images that spring to my mind!

This distinction “technical” vs “creative ” is sometimes discussed as if the two were mutually exclusive.  This begs the question “Is there really such a thing as a non-creative role?”. Surely just about every role has the capacity to be creative… if we want it to be? Isn’t the “technical” vs “creative” distinction a false dichotomy? 

 

Sweeping Roads

This brings me back to one of the first part-time jobs I had, while still studying.  I was an “Assistant Groundskeeper” for a small industrial estate.  This is a very grand title for a role that essentially involved a lot of weeding of flower beds and sweeping of roads.  Now, those jobs probably sound boring—and I won’t lie, it was physically and mentally difficult in a very different way to the jobs I’ve had since (imagine looking at your watch… then looking at your watch later, assuming at least an hour had passed only to find it was actually only 6 minutes later. Yep, time can drag and that takes mental resilience to get through).

 

You might assume this job had no capacity for creativity. After all I was a lowly assistant, and how much creativity can be involved in sweeping roads and weeding flower beds? Well, quite a lot it turns out.  There are different approaches and techniques to road sweeping (trust me, I’ve tried them all), and you start to think “how can I prevent this road requiring so much sweeping in the first place”.  For example, small potholes in the gutter often fill with leaves and rubbish, and after rain they are horrible to clean out. Reporting these to the site owner so they are filled in could prevent that horrible job. Equally, I remember taking the leaves from the gutters, adding them to a compost heap, then later using these as “mulch” for the flower beds (a creative idea borrowed from another member of the team). There was ample opportunity for creativity— and although the boss didn’t ask for it or require it, they supported it.

 

So if it’s possible to be creative in an important yet seemingly ‘routine’ job, what about other more empowered roles?

 

What This Means For Business Analysis and BAs

So now examine business analysis. We are empowered from the very beginning to engage with stakeholders,  understand problems, define what the organisation values and help define possible improvements. We have a plethora of frameworks on which we can build, adapt and embellish,  and a global community of practitioners that we can network with.  No two projects or assignments are the same and we have to be constantly learning, whilst helping our organisations to learn and stay nimble too.  Our role is inherently creative, and we have the privilege of being able to be able to work with others to creatively facilitate and generate ideas and interventions. Different roles call on different types and levels of creativity, but in analysis the capacity for creativity is constant.

 

Yet some types of creativity are less visible in organisations, which risks this significant element of our work going unnoticed. We shouldn’t be afraid to showcase it, to use new techniques and experiment. There is no such thing as “painting by numbers” when it comes to analysis, and whilst we have a robust toolkit of techniques, it is for each practitioner to creatively adapt to the context utilising both their technical and creative skills and knowledge.

 

So, let’s dispel that false dichotomy!

 


What are your views? Please add a comment below, and let’s keep the conversation flowing! 

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About the author:

Adrian ReedAdrian Reed is Principal Consultant at Blackmetric Business Solutions, an organisation that offers Business Analysis consulting and training solutions. Adrian is a keen advocate of the analysis profession, and is constantly looking for ways of promoting the value that good analysis can bring.

To find out more about the training and consulting services offered at Blackmetric, please visit www.blackmetric.com

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4 thoughts on “Dispelling the “Creativity” Myth”

  1. Adrian,

    I agree completely with your sentiment, but something deeper is at work here. For me, design is creative and a very important part of what we as business analysts do. We design the work, the business solution, that way that people interact with any automated products, and so on. This of course relies on the requirements, but it is forming the requirements into the final solution.

    And yet, almost whenever I talk about design to business analysts, they give me the most sceptical looks. I can almost see the thought balloon above their heads saying, “Design is not something I am responsible for. My task is to discover the requirements; not be creative.”

    I might be being harsh on some folks, but I find it difficult to get business analysts to agree that theirs is also a creative task.

    And let’s face it, I want to be in a creative job. Creativity is probably the only thing that is immune from being taken over by some AI robot.

    James Robertson

  2. James, thanks so much for taking the time to reply. And I must say I completely agree with you. I find the distinction between ‘requirements’ and ‘design’ at best a grey area, and at worst completely arbitrary. I sometimes imagine myself dancing on the line between requirements and design—it is completely fine to be on either side of the line as long as it is done consciously.

    It strikes me that there are some BA activities which just can’t be done without implying (at the very least) design. For example, if we were to specify a manual process we are (in my view) designing the *work* that will be carried out. Of course, there is the distinction between logical and physical processes; but make a process too ‘logical’ and it loses its meaning entirely (“What do you mean by ‘authenticate identify of requesting actor…. Oh, you mean ‘enter pin’”).

    Additionally, I wonder whether something is a ‘requirement’ or a ‘design’ is somewhat in the eye of a beholder. For example, a high level ‘organisational design’ might actually be viewed (by a BA) as a set of very high level business requirements, which trace to more granular solution requirements… which themselves trace to deisgns. (e.g. “We need an office in Hong Kong” might trace to “We need the ability to print Traditional Chinese characterset” etc etc)

    Anyway, I digress. Thanks so much for the thought provoking comment James. I hope to catch up soon!

    Best regards, Adrian.

  3. Adrian,

    First, I must admit that I am not a business analyst, nor do I know one personally. However, I am a technical communication major who is considering a career as a business analyst, but so far I have not been impressed with the degree of creativity I’ve seen. For a class I’m taking right now, I had to look up blogs related to our intended careers and see what information is communicated and how.

    After doing even some brief searching, it seems that the vast majority of blogged BA information is highly technical, relies heavily on BA slang, and is often not creatively presented. In fact, your blog is the only one I’ve seen that I’d consider a creative BA blog. I understand that many other blog posts are made with the intention of educating other business analysts, but for anyone else, this content only perpetuates the perception that BA is a career that lacks creativity.

    If this perception, or “myth” as you call it, is ever going to end, then I think that business analysts are going to have to put a lot more effort into creatively communicating their messages. I know that this is an incredibly subjective topic, but this is a perception that only business analysts can change and I’ve yet to see any progress.

  4. Thanks Kaitlin, for your perspective.

    I always think it’s interesting to reflect on what ‘creativity’ actually is, which is what spurred me to write the original blog. I suppose inventors, and scientists who help bring brand new ideas to life would certainly be defined as ‘creative’. Yet, much of scientific literature (which is aimed at other practitioners) is often rather hard to read. Academic papers are often very interesting, when in one’s own field… but virtually impenetrable if not. Does the fact that a creative person, in a creative role, has written something which a non-specialist finds difficult to interpret make them less creative? I’m not sure that it does.

    However, I do agree with the broad point that you have made, in that there’s a lot more that we can do in the BA community to showcase what we do in a creative way. I don’t think this means that we need to stop writing technical articles/books; it isn’t an ‘either/or’ discussion; rather it’s about finding mainstream channels to talk about what we do. Much like a scientist might write an academic paper, but their department might also issue a ‘press release’ with the summarised details for a more general consumption. There is a lot of the first type in the BA world, and not so much of the second. This is a useful point that we should certainly consider.

    You mention that you haven’t yet met with any BAs, and you are considering a career in business analysis. I’d highly recommend that you join your local chapter of IIBA (International Institute of Business Analysis — http://www.iiba.org). You’ll be able to meet lots of practising BAs, and get a sense of what the role involves. This, I suspect, will help give you a wider view of how creative (or otherwise) the role can be!

    Thanks again for your thought provoking comment, I appreciate you taking the time to post it.

    Best wishes & Happy New Year — Adrian.

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