The drive for operational excellence has brought an end to the age of creativity in too many businesses
Lots of companies are focused on doing what they do better. This is a noble goal, you might think. And that’s true, as long as this pursuit doesn’t exclude an even more critical challenge: asking the question, “should we even be doing it?”
I spent another fascinating day at Accenture’s The Dock recently, a facility in Dublin that is packed with a diverse range of business, technology, and most importantly, social and cultural thinkers. This is where Accenture’s clients take their existential problems and get support in exploring them. In conversation The Dock’s director, Ryan Shanks, encapsulated perfectly an issue that I have been battling since I founded this practice six years ago: “Many of our clients are focused on operational excellence. That means the age of creativity is over.”
If you are frequent reader of this blog, or listener to my podcast, you will be aware that I believe we are in an age of high frequency change. I don’t believe change in the grand scheme is faster or slower now. But that there is a new class of small but impactful and highly accelerated waves of change that will ultimately present an existential threat to every organisation. In this age, it is critical that every leader who wants to build sustainable success – who prizes stewardship over short-term wins – focuses on adaptation not optimisation. That they recognise that while wastefulness is never good, long term success will require rapid change to fit the market, rather than endless refinements to today’s model.
Shanks’ statement focuses on a critical aspect of this adaptation: creativity. I’ll be referring to it in my upcoming talk at the Association of Colleges conference on the future of education. Creativity is one of those words that gets bandied about meaninglessly like ‘innovation’ and ‘disruption’. Without qualification of what we mean by creativity, or how that creativity is to be directed, I think calls for more of it have little value.
Creativity is often misunderstood. It is overly associated with the arts, and art in particular. Those who didn’t take to art or creative writing at school may not consider themselves creative. But creativity is problem solving. It is often not about originality but transposition and iteration, bringing ideas from one place and applying them in a different context then refining them over a period until they fulfil a need. The arts are a great place to learn these skills, but they are not their only outlet.
In an age of high frequency change we need open minded, wide ranging, creativity applied across our organisations. A constant challenge to our processes, propositions and behaviours, and new ideas instituted, revised, and applied.
This type of creativity is a skill, one that can be learned and that must be honed. This process is an unalloyed good for individuals and has enormous benefits for our organisations. It is something that deserves our investment. We need to return to an age of creativity.