Did you hear that cry of vindication? You should have. Thousands of consultants worldwide threw their hats in the air as a new global survey found that the most important leadership quality was ‘creativity.’ If you haven’t seen it, read the article now.
The survey Capitalising on Complexity: Insights from the Global Chief Executive Officer Study is notable for a variety of reasons.
First, the findings came from the highest level: 1,500 chief executives from every region in the world. Collectively, they ranked creativity higher than other competencies such as integrity, global thinking, influence, openness, dedication, focus on sustainability, humility and fairness.
Second, it was conducted by IBM’s Institute for Business Value. Not only is the endorsement by IBM significant, it’s rich with irony. Remember the phase “No one gets fired for hiring IBM?” You couldn’t find a more non-creative declarative sentence, so clearly, the brand overhaul of IBM’s reputation is nearly complete.
Third, the release of the survey after one of the worst economic period in history makes it extremely surprising. A senior manager at IBM Global Business Services said that “(CEOs) didn’t fall back on management discipline, existing best practices, rigor, or operations. In fact, they (did) just the opposite.”
Last, perhaps most important, this is the strongest proof yet that the only way to grow and succeed in today’s increasing complex business environment is to “think differently.” This survey conclusively shows that CEOs believe the most successful organisation will be those which take calculated risks, balance alternatives against the status quo, and engage with internal opinions and external viewpoints – ultimately, to make better business decisions.
Of course, this isn’t going to change overnight, if for no other reason than creativity is a daunting idea (excuse the pun) for most people in business. The word itself defies a universal definition: there are nearly 500 different definitions in English alone. It can’t be taught like a traditional left-brain skill (such as accounting, law, even basic writing). And, the training itself is often inefficient. A study in Australia by the Creative Leadership Forum in 2009 found that 62% of managers had been through “creativity training,” but 25% said it didn’t last, and 50% couldn’t tell if it did or not.
Despite the challenges, it’s not impossible to instil and change an organisation to be more creative. Based on its research and first-hand empirical involvement, the Creative Leadership Forum has three clear steps:
Get a clear snapshot of how creative and/or innovative your organisation is now. KPIs will always exist (for good reason), so to demonstrate short- and long-term growth and change, get a clear and measurable picture of where your organisation or team is today.
There are three ways to map your organisation from a creative point-of-view:
1a) What’s the existing culture or environment of the organisation as a whole?
1b) What are the current creative or innovation practices, and what do people think of them?
1c) How do people gauge their own personal creativity, against the traits of the organisation?
One beneficial side effect of an audit is that it begins the process of introducing creative vocabulary to all employees. Like any skill, there are unique or specific terms to creative philosophy and methodologies – and words are one-half the way to build a common culture. (The other half is ‘action’ – which comes next.)
Determine the creative vision. Once the organisation has a clearer understanding of its “SWOT,” management needs to agree upon a vision. What does it want creativity and innovation to accomplish? This is not a closed-door, behind-the-scenes decision. It is a public and declarative step to engage everyone, so people feel part of the organisation and its success and failure. Once it’s put into a suitable format, it’s communicated to the organisation with clear action steps. Teams should then be created to tackle specific business issues. Commitment is public and declarative.
Create a management culture of innovation. The organisation now needs to be shown how different behaviours and practices can make the organisation innovative and profitable. Generally, this is done in three ways. Specifically, the three ways are adapted and tailored to the business model, its structure, and the existing culture.
3a) Engage by inspiring through individuals and teams. In other words, show them what creativity can do. Give them context. Best practices and case studies of both similar and different organisations are one way to do this.
3b) Enlighten through learning and development, using best-practice tools and techniques. Do not accept passive training from your facilitators. It’s not just a demonstration of the tool itself, they must also put it into real, day-to-day situations for employees to understand how to use creative tools and techniques.
3c) Empower teams and employees by encouraging them to begin in a new dynamic: one which allows new options and choices in a risk-balanced situation through social networks internal and external to the organisation. This might be tailored intranet solutions which house tools, best practices, teams and potential in-house resources. Or, establishing a more ‘open innovation’ network by creating external partnerships to examine, analyse and solve real business issues.
If you’d like to learn more about the survey of Australian managers or the management innovation process developed by the Creative Leadership Forum, please contact Ralph Kerle.