Creativity in Business

This, from The Book of Life:

"...business creativity is a little different from artistic creativity. A company is a group of individuals gathered together to solve a problem for other people. This helps to define what the true focus of business creativity should be: intense and lateral thinking about what could be missing from the lives of customers. Business creativity means skill at identifying and profitably meeting the needs (many of them unspoken and vague) of customers. Everything else – the factories, the technology, the logistics, the spreadsheets – is in a sense secondary to this aim; whatever efforts are subsequently lavished on execution, a business cannot succeed if it hasn’t zeroed in on a real, that is, sufficiently urgent, human requirement."


Visual Cues, Habits and Motivation

Progress

My first job after University (which was actually a Polytechnic if you can remember back when there were such things) was selling space in recruitment directories. There was a recession on at the time (hence very few jobs for graduates with non-vocational degrees) and I kind of fell into it. But in many ways I think it was the best start I could have had. It was a telesales job, cold-calling businesses, selling them advertising space. I had to make at least 80 calls a day in order to reach a daily target minimum of 20 effective phone calls (ones that reached a decision-maker). I learned about how to persuade. I learned about persistence, I learned about the importance of listening. About matching benefits to needs. I learned how to sell. It's a skill that I think is fantastically useful.

One of the things that stuck with me from that time was how we always had visual representations of bookings and targets up on the wall. You could see, as every booking was made, the target coming ever closer and closer. It was hugely motivating. And I was reminded of this when I read this short piece on the power of visual cues in building and maintaining good habits. It's so true. And it makes me wonder why, when we have access to so much data now, companies don't use this more (beyond obvious vertical functions) in the service of creating simple visualisations to enable staff to see progress toward a specific objectives. Such a simple thing, and yet so powerful.


The Creative Company

Creativity

I thought this Scientific American piece on the messy minds of creative people (based on research by Psychologists Guillaume Furst, Paolo Ghisletta and Todd Lubart) was the best thing I’d read on how creativity works in ages. 

What was fascinating about it was that it acknowledged the many different (and sometimes contradictory) components, characteristics and personality traits that comprise creativity, and how they play a different role at different stages of the process.

What was also interesting for me though, was how much you could apply this thinking to companies as well as individuals (after all, an organisation is but a bunch of people put together). We all know just how important creativity is as an organisational differentiator, and not just to creative sector businesses  - an IBM survey a while back found that global CEOs believed it to be the most important quality in being able to navigate an increasingly complex world. So taking the key points in the piece, here’s how you might view the critical attributes of a creative organisation.

The researchers identified three “super-factors” of personality that predict creativity: Plasticity, Divergence, and Convergence.

Plasticity

Plasticity comprises personality traits including extraversion, high energy, being open to experience and inspiration. The common factor in this is a high drive for exploration, and the comparator here is with organisational willingness and propensity to be externally facing and exploratory. Too many companies become increasingly internally focused as they scale, mature or face ongoing challenges and this is about outwardly-looking organisational energy, curiosity, scrutiny and ambition. About a willingness to try new things, to experiment and learn at a fast pace.

Divergence

Divergence consists of 'non-conformity, impulsivity, low agreeableness'. For me, this is about organisational independence of thought, a willingness to be misunderstood, to try new and different things, stubbornness and uniqueness of vision.

Convergence

This relates to qualities such as precision, persistence, critical sense and conscientiousness. The equivalent organisational qualities here might be taken to be data-driven decision making and validation, a strong purpose, a focused approach, aligned and informed decision-making.

The article goes on to talk about how convergence often related to plasticity and how 'those who were open to new experiences, inspired, energetic, and exploratory tended to also have high levels of persistence and precision'. I can see this being true of companies too. But they also mention how these different, and sometimes seemingly contradictory characteristics may be used at different stages. Those who were creative were able to combine both generative (coming up with lots of original ideas) and selective (being able to critique, evaluate, and elaborate on ideas effectively) skills. And I think this is true of companies as well.

Being able to imagine lots of different possibilities, originate quality ideas but also focus on those which have the most potential value are key attributes of the creative organisation. And it is those that are able to combine these different behaviours and switch between them in flexible ways, that are best suited to world in which we now find ourselves.


Two Great Quotes on Strategy

This from Good Strategy/Bad Strategy (via @amayfield):

"The first natural advantage of good strategy arises because other organisations often don't have one. And because they don't expect you to have one either. A good strategy has coherence, coordinating actions, policies and resources so as to accomplish an important end. Many organisations, most of the time, don't have this. Instead, they have multiple goals and initiatives that symbolise progress but no coherent approach to accomplishing that progress, other than 'spend more and try harder'."

...and this, from Russell's extract from an interview with Roger Martin which also makes a good point about not confusing planning with strategy:

"The very essence of strategy is explicit, purposeful choice. Strategy is saying explicitly, proactively: 'We're going to do these things and not those things for these reasons.' The problem with a lot of strategies is that they are full of non-choices. Probably most of us have read more than a few so-called strategies that say something like, "Our strategy is to be customer centric." But is that really a choice?"

Martin goes on to say that you only really know that you've made a real strategic choice if you can 'say the opposite of what that choice is, and it's not stupid'. And how, in a similar vein to the first quote, developing strategy so often becomes 'an exercise in agglomerating initiatives, assigning responsibilities without a coherent set of choices that help bind them', meaning that most strategic plans are more accurately described as 'budgets with prose'.

So true.