When I introduce creativity in a business setting, I often see a similar response. It raises business questions (1) about how it contributes tangible value to the bottom line of the business and it raises personal questions (2) about our own capabilities of being creative. Especially in today’s unprecedented times we need to tackle those issues and grow our creative confidence to unleash the potential within to make a difference.
We are all creative beings. We shape our lives in new ways everyday. Yet still many business oriented people, feel discomfort or express inability to be creative. This lack of creative confidence might be the result of a strong conviction about what it means to be creative and a misalignment with how you perceive yourself. Next, your cultural settings might encourage and reward non-creative behaviour.
Creativity is often looked at from an artistic point of view. Yet for me, creativity is not about drawing or designing professionally, it is about the human potential to create change. I like to focus on creativity as a skill that is relevant in all sectors and for all personality types. Tom and David Kelley (IDEO) describe creativity as a muscle that can be nurtured by practicing. There is creative potential within all of us and if we are willing to notice and practice this powerful resource with more care we could increase our impact and make a positive change.
“There is creative potential within all of us and if we are willing to practice this powerful resource with more care we could make a positive change.”
Intentional or not, leaders often see creativity as a threat to organisational performance. Innovation projects involve high levels of uncertainty, novel solutions and untested hypothesis. Clearly they have a more risky profile in terms of (fast) financial return then standard projects. From a traditional cost–benefit analyses creative projects won’t last long.
In my work, I often stumble upon a shaky business case for a creative project. For professionals working on innovation there is a growing need to be crystal clear about the benefits of creativity to break the business skepticism and live up to its full potential. Yet, just because creative business projects do need a clear business case, it doesn’t mean that we should use the same performance indicators as for the usual project management portfolio. On the contrary, it is the duty of innovators to show how creative projects results deviate from the execution project results. Eric Ries introduces the concept of actionable metrics (The Lean Startup, 2011) that help focus more on learning instead of optimisation. An actionable metric could be e.g. the conversion rate instead of page views. Actionable metrics are tied to repeatable tasks you can improve and they provide insights for decision making rather then just giving you a good feeling.
The exploit-explore continuum, among others introduced by Alexander Osterwalder (Strategyzer), also offers an easy to understand framework to mark the importance of both exploration, creative activities and the exploitation of existing opportunities. Although many companies do prioritise exploitation over exploration of new opportunities for growth, there is a growing group of successful companies able to build and unify the two conflicting cultures in one organisation. The exploration funnel is focused on new opportunities, possible breakthroughs, use of new technologies and broader outside lessons to learn. Contrary, the exploitation project portfolio is focused on growth and efficiency. Each company needs both to be successful in the long run.
The need for creativity on an organisational level is growing when the need for new sources of revenue or impact is growing. Some experts say that around ‘50% of revenue in five years time must come from sources that do not exist today’ (Ernst & Young, 2014). On a individual level creativity is an essential skill that enables employees to come up with new or better ideas. This skill creates a sense of control in times of change. Co-creating novel solutions increases the engagement and ownership of employees. This is in line with a global study of Adobe that found that businesses which invest in creativity experience a 78% increase in employee productivity.
Now is the time to invest time and resources in growing your personal and organizational creativity muscle. Peter Senge his old concept of creative tension is particularly relevant today. Due to the COVID-19 crisis there is a huge gap between our envisioned world and the current reality. It creates a tension and need for change-makers to be creative. Employees with creative confidence are able to use this creative tension to generate energy for the emerging challenges of this time. Creative skills provide a sense of control in times of uncertainty and unleash a drive to re-imagine a better future. Let’s start the creative journey together!