April 2012

April 12th, 2012 by Caitlin Morrow

A recent IBM study suggests that the majority of CEOs believe the key to navigating today's volatile, uncertain and increasingly complex business environment is creativity.

I recently attended a conference; "Creativity and Business: A sign of the times or another bubble?" run by the Cultural Capital Exchange (a new membership organisation of 11 London Universities). The conference looked at the relationship between creativity and business and where existed mutual benefit.

So is creativity just another bubble in business?  And what do we actually mean by creativity in business? Should we aim to have creativity in our strategies, processes and people? I suggest all three.

Google famously encourage their engineers to down tools once a week to allow creativity to happen; create new ideas and build on existing ideas. They invite lecturers, speakers and experts into their offices to give talks on whatever their area of expertise is – it’s about inspiring people. Their strategy leans towards the creative. It works for Google, but every company is different and what works for one won’t necessarily work for another.  If you google ‘Google working practices’ you will find a whole bunch of practices that lean towards the inspiring, ethical, healthy and flexible. Are these the ingredients of creativity?

Flexibility is certainly a key player - Accenture recently won the ‘Innovation In Flexible Working’ award 2011 (WorkingMums). Accenture’s policy is to have a strong focus on what their employees deliver rather than the hours they put it and they actively encourage their clients to have this focus too. Profit was $2.58 billion in FY2011, an increase of 12% over FY2010.

And it’s not just about profit...  A study by consultancy The Resource Connection, found that job-sharing managers and those working flexibly at the London borough of Merton had greater problem-solving and analysis skills, as well as better planning and organisational skills than full-time colleagues.

So a business grows in efficiency and profit, but what about its people? Creativity is becoming an imperative of good leadership, this is emphasized in the number of courses that are on offer for leaders; City University London are currently offering a Masters in Innovation, Creativity and Leadership, a new course for 2012.  And it’s not only the leaders for whom this is a critical factor, management also requires creativity; ‘Improvisation is a managerial skill that is acknowledged as an important factor, grounding the ability to respond spontaneously and under pressure to problems and opportunities as they arise’ (Crossan, 1997).

So how can we encourage our people to be creative? Allow them to be creative? What behaviour should we be modelling and encouraging to engender a creative environment?

‘One thing a leader needs to do in order to foster the innovation process is create a safe environment where people act in friendship’ (Senge, 1990). Therefore exploring how we behave and how we can be more inclusive is a key factor in generating a creative culture. This leads me to think that Diversity and Inclusion are the bedfellows of creativity. Diversity and inclusion has, at its heart, acceptance and interest in others – its components are inspiration, ethics, health and flexibility. So diversity becomes a primary catalyst in creativity. Is it possible to be creative without acceptance and interest in other groups, ideas, people etc? 

We deliver training and development in many different areas but a key focus is in Diversity & Inclusion. All our programmes, not just those that look at Diversity and Inclusion, but those that look at leadership and communication amongst others, ask people to consider their own behaviour and, importantly, to discover for themselves what works for them. The drama is used as a springboard, a mirror - and we ask our participants to be creative with their thinking during our session; we offer a safe (no/low risk) environment to try things out. These ideas are then taken into the workplace, where, I suggest, the participants are more creative in their response, thinking and behaviour. ‘Learning in the arts encourages the development of cognitive capacity and the ability to learn in other domains’ (Deasy, 2002; Fiske, 1999)

Steps is 20 years old this year and I believe we have creativity at our very core. Not just because we use drama to explore behaviour as our core offering, listen to our clients and respond with bespoke solutions - but also in the way we run our business. Our people live in various locations across the UK and Germany, we work flexibly, part time and at home. It works, for us, and though it doesn’t mean it’ll work for everyone I consider it to be a creative response to the working challenge.

So what do you think? Is creativity imperative for your business?

For further reading on the value of creativity in business, have a look at Giovanni Schiuma’s paper.

[Sources available on request]


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