What Is Normal?  

If you are one of those people who wonder what on earth Creativity has got to do with the management of business, then you are not alone. Received wisdom is more concerned with things like CRM or keeping costs to a minimum while maximising revenues. Getting your people to perform and optimising the processes has been the mantra in recent years. Add to that the ideas of outsourcing, offshoring and everything digital sums it all.

Many of these include some form of innovation – although who is driving that remains questionable. What is clear is that much of what is being done involves Imitation, sometimes with a twist here and there. Finding new ways to use new technologies or partnerships in the supply chain. On the other hand the idea of being creative in the process isn’t to the fore. Instead business leaders rely on implementing technologies or processes that are packaged as being the best answer to the current situation.

Making a New Normal

The idea of a new normal has evolved with the reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. People have had to get used to sometimes radically different ways of operating. In most cases those have been reactive changes, forced by lockdowns and social distancing. Admittedly there are also a few instances where this reaction has introduced novel ways of working that are likely to outlast the pandemic.

However what if you want to define a completely New Normal? Forget coronavirus. Think instead about trying to establish a new and better platform for your business operations. How would you go about it? It begs a whole series of questions:

  •    Where are the ideas going to come from?
  •    How can you switch on appropriate creativity?
  •    Who is going to provide the inputs?
  •    Are your people sufficiently creative?
  •    If nobody else is doing it – how can you make it work?
  •    Should you rely on external advice?
  •    Why can’t you get a COTS solution?
  •    Do you have processes in place to manage creativity?
  •    Will the existing culture and management structures assist or detract?

The Importance When Finding Ideas

So here you are – trying to design a new normal but that requires some stimulus. Ideas don’t (usually) just come out of thin air. More to the point it isn’t something that comes naturally to everyone. Yet here you are – definitely in need of inspiration and ideation. That’s why understanding Creativity and how to make it work for you when you need it is so important.

Creativity isn’t simply inspiration – it requires process and rigour if you want it to work for you when you need it. This is why it’s such an important part of the business toolkit if you really mean to get ahead of the game.

Let’s draw an analogy. Suppose you wanted to sail across the ocean – whether for pleasure or as a challenge. You would want a skipper and crew who know how to handle the vessel. You will need tools to navigate and so on. There needs to be planning and supplies, charts and more. You wouldn’t set out without having those in place. Regular sailors will be used to having these things around them – even if they only ever go for day trips along the coastline.

So it is with Creativity. You need to have a crew that are similarly experienced and equipped so that when you embark on a major voyage of change they know how to handle things. Sure you can hire in an experienced skipper for the journey but the crew all need to be competent. No good expecting a bunch of novices to handle things effectively – that would be a massive gamble and potentially very dangerous once you are out of sight of land (for which read “entering new business territory”).

If you want to be able to sail the seas of change – expect that creativity will be a normal part of the business culture. Not only that but you would want that to have some degree of competence (just as yacht crew may hold certification from the RYA or elsewhere).

There’s plenty of research suggesting that allowing creativity can produce far better and more radical solutions to complex problems. So – taking our sailing analogy – having a good and experienced team (with creativity skills) is going to get you through the roughest weather and into more places than a crew of amateurs.

Switching It On

You can’t leave this to chance. When you are driving a car and put your foot down on the accelerator you know it is going to respond. How fast and with what power depends on the car you are driving. However it will go faster.

When you push down on the Creativity pedal what is going to happen if it’s not already connected up? Do you panic? Is there a scramble to find out what to do? Perhaps you are now beginning to see why this whole Creativity thing is so important. It needs to be on demand – yet where was that in all the management textbooks you’ve ever read? What are the tools and techniques that will make this reality?

Those texts dealt with a whole host of other things – Finance, Six-sigma, CRM, Digital Transformation, People Management, Social Media and so on but where was there anything on establishing a whole culture and process to manage Creativity on demand? Nowhere!

It’s the bane of business. People either think they personally are creative or have creatives on call. In addition, despite what you might think, Creativity is not the unique domain of those in advertising and the media. Alternatively many people don’t think that Creativity is important in their business. This approach is a recipe for chaos when the chips are down. And it’s no good relying on the idea that necessity is the mother of invention – that’s purely a reactive approach (as in the response to pandemic).

Importance of Providing the Right Inputs

There has to be a culture that is supportive of creativity. That means allowing the playfulness and space for the tools and techniques to be used. It is no good constraining people if you want them to get truly creative.

So the teams need someone who has ownership of the problems they are tasked with solving. That person (sponsor) needs to let them get on with it but be supportive of their approaches.

Give it space – sometimes this means time or maybe simply some physical space or room where activity can be let loose on the underlying problems.

Don’t start with a preferred solution – that is going to constrain the creativity and may close down much more useful avenues before things get started. The number of times where organisations have tried to fit a desired solution to a problem is legendary. It comes about when some highly desirable solution is proffered by a supplier without having gone through the detailed analysis of the problem. I’ve seen it so often where directors get seduced by leading-edge technology when what they needed was a much more rigorous approach to the basics of their business. Creative solutions aren’t necessarily hi-tech.

External Help and COTS Solutions

Constantly relying on external help to get creativity working isn’t a great idea. That’s rather like saying to a chef at a restaurant that he needs to stand aside while outside caterers are brought in for major events like a wedding reception. You wouldn’t do that – so why would you expect your teams to have to stand aside when creativity is needed. They are never going to get good at it.

The recommendation is simple. Get them trained. Get the processes and tools to become part of the business normal. Besides, it is a lot cheaper in the long run to use people who are fully familiar with the business. They are less likely to want to impose a standard solution from elsewhere.

Which brings me to the topic of COTS (Commercial Off-The-Shelf) solutions. They may be components of a solution but rarely hit the nail bang on the head. Think about software packages with which you are familiar or technology like a smartphone. Do they do everything you want? Are they packed with features of which you are completely ignorant and never use? These are COTS solutions in everyday use but they don’t necessarily provide a radical solution to the needs of the user.

Where Can You Find Out More?

That’s where we can help. Get in touch and start the conversation. We’ll help you understand the basics and how to build on those as part of a free consultation. It makes a massive difference in the quality of business management and there’s much more to Creativity that we can share. If you’d like more information online, then you can also follow this link.

Rob Wherrett can be contacted at https://robwherrett.com/contact/

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