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Creative Kryptonite

A recent survey from IBM’s Institute for Business Value shows that business leaders value one leadership competency above all others.

After conducting 1500 in depth face-to-face interviews with CEOs and public service leaders around the world – “creativity” was identified as the single most important leadership competency for the successful business of the future.

The report suggests that creative leaders should “embrace ambiguity,” “take risks that disrupt legacy business models,” and “leapfrog beyond tried-and-true management styles.” Coming through the worst economic downturn in their professional lifetimes, when managerial control and process ruled the day, this indicates a remarkable shift in mindset. It’s a sea change from a rational ‘scientific’ management approach built around efficiency and control to a creative ‘intuitive’ approach – based upon agility, adaptability and emotional intelligence.

With the acceleration of the pace of change – global trends are reshaping the business landscape and are forcing companies to either adapt or die. The Cork News caught up with ThinkTank to talk about how companies can become more creatively evolved.

Think differently

To look at a company that has brought creativity into the core of its business model we need look no further than Apple. It has single handily revolutionised not one but four different industries -computers, music, retail and now mobile phones.  On the verge of bankruptcy when Steve Jobs resumed leadership in 1997, Apple has transformed itself from the maker of Macintosh personal computers into a consumer electronics trendsetter with the release of the iPod music player in 2001, the iPhone in 2007 and most recently the release of the iPad tablet.

Since launching the iPhone three years ago the company’s share price has doubled. With a market capitalisation of $235 billion it has surpassed its old nemesis and rival Microsoft to become the most valuable technology company on the planet. Jobs, the maverick founder of Apple who was once fired from his own company for being ‘too creative’ recently commented:

“When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.

Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem.

The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”

Creative advantage

This quote provides some revealing insights and gives us a peak into Job’s own thinking about creativity inside Apple. It also highlights how habitual patterns, comfort and lack of diversity can disable our creative capabilities and put a limit on what we can achieve.

Some might say that Apple’s meteoric rise should be solely attributed to Steve Jobs. While it’s impossible to imagine Apple without Jobs, the company’s success is more than the product of one individual creative mind. In his role as CEO, Jobs inspires and leads but he is only involved in a fraction of the innovation that permeates Apple’s product suite.

So how has a company that didn’t invent the MP3 player or the mobile phone been able to disrupt and create profit opportunities within so many different industries?  How does the company continue to defy conventional wisdom and most importantly, why is it able to routinely deliver the exceptional?

The fact is most people go to work every day with their emotions in check and their passion switch turned off. Apple has been able to reverse this by attracting and activating the most talented logical and lateral thinkers. By creating meaning and purpose for these teams Apple has become not only one of the most innovative but also one of the most efficient companies in the world. Apple’s knows that beautifully designed, sleek and unexpected products can provoke a visceral reaction in customers—a reaction that may not be easy to quantify but can none the less be monetised. Apple has realised that consumers use both parts of their brains to buy products so maybe it would be a good idea that the company does the same when designing and developing new products.

Values drive performance

Most organizations invariably only tap into a mere fraction of their creative capacity. What’s critical is that they organize in a way that channels their untapped creative reservoir into innovation breakthroughs. Most companies get the horse before the cart – not realizing that it’s the creative horse that actually pulls the innovation cart. The starting point is for managers to actually let go of the hyper-rational, militaristic models that were developed in the last century. Companies need to recognize and value creativity so that it’s not just something that’s done by ‘creative types’ but becomes part of the company’s blood stream. A large part of the Apple success has been its ability to unlock passion and deploy creativity throughout the organisation and across different platforms.  It’s only when other companies get to this realisation point that they’ll be able to fully harness and leverage the power of creativity and design thinking.

However you can’t improve a company’s performance or creativity without understanding its values or emotional eco-system. Apple’s extraordinary success story reflects an unrivalled devotion to a particular set of values that has yielded transformational results. Within the world of inventors, designers and artists, these values aren’t particularly remarkable; but within the corporate world, they are as rare as a politician who does not lie.

Leading management thinker Gary Hamel recently outlined Apple’s values compared with those of conventional companies:

Apple’s Values_____________________Conventional Company Values
Be passionate                                            Be rational
Lead, don’t follow                                       Be risk averse
Aim to surprise                                            Aim to satisfy
Innovate incessantly                                   Innovate intermittently
Sweat the details                                        Get it right mostly
Think like an engineer, feel like an artist    Think like an engineer, feel like an accountant

So if the values on the left represent Apple then what are the values of your business? Whatever you think of Apple, you have to acknowledge the fact that it has outmanoeuvred some pretty intimidating competitors. Imagine the kind of world we would live in if Apple’s values were creatively applied to our banks, airlines and even our health care system.

It’s time for companies to realise that they are no longer manufacturing products but creating consumer experiences. Managers need to be able to define and embed a value system that connects their people to their strategy and their strategy to their customers in the most creatively engaging way. So why not start nurturing a new creativity in your company today? The results will certainly delight your customers and may even surprise your accountant!

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