On the Digital Dimension and Creativity

This week, I stumbled upon a somewhat uncommon article in the Harvard Business Review – an article on creativity, and more specifically, creativity in digitally or technologically driven organizations.

The author of this article quite straightforwardly states that in order to succeed, tech-savvy companies should really hire more creatives – instead of merely hiring more people who excel in business analytics, or even instead of hiring people who have hard core skills in creating new software.

(You can read the full article, by Tom Perrault, bluntly entitled “Digital Companies Need More Liberal Arts Majors”, at the HBR website: https://hbr.org/2016/01/digital-companies-need-more-liberal-arts-majors.)

Coming from a design background, and moreover, a background in philosophy, I think that we could certainly do with more of us in technologically oriented companies. However, I also think there’s much more to success than simply hiring a designer, or a philosopher, or several, for that matter.

Much like the author here, I find what the management of any successful digital or otherwise technology-oriented company really needs to do is to “create the type of culture in which creatives thrive”.

Having done some reading on this issue, I previously wrote about it in a post entitled “A Structure of Unstructured Time” in this blog last year (https://iiriskblog.wordpress.com/2015/10/28/a-structure-of-unstructured-time/).

To briefly recap that post, the point I wished to make was that in relation to creating an innovation-oriented culture was that employees should perhaps be given some “unstructured” time to act as “intrapreneurs” in their respective organizations. This is the kind of culture that many prominent companies like Apple and Google seem to make it a point of supporting and sustaining.

Most digital and technological innovations – or at least the very best ones – tend to require the early input of a creative person, or a group of creative people.

I firmly believe that many people, given a chance to, can act as creatives, regardless of their vocational background. Only hiring a creative marketing posse for the product or service hardly makes any sense.

What really makes or breaks success, then, is having and maintaining a creative organizational culture.

A Structure of Unstructured Time

How to create and cultivate an innovation-oriented culture?

Soren Kaplan, the author of the bestseller “Leapfrogging”, says that most corporate visions and missions sound alarmingly alike, emphasizing sales. According to Kaplan, instead of concentrating on making profit, we should be focused on the way we want to change the world, and put people first.

This sounds like a plan for creating original innovations, as well as making the world a better place for all. But how to create a truly innovation-oriented culture at the workplace, a culture focused on the way the world needs to be changed?

In his article “6 Ways to Create a Culture of Innovation”, Kaplan gives us a few good starting points. First of all, when attempting to create an innovation-oriented culture in your organization, it is essential that the people working there have got enough time to spare for experimenting and becoming “intrapreneurs”.

Kaplan says this calls for creating a structure for some “unstructured” time in the organization level. Google is one of the companies that gives its employees about 10% “free” time to innovate.

Kaplan says that providing free time for employees to experiment with new technologies, products, or processes can catalyze the next big thing. Nevertheless, he also states that too many companies—and the consultants they hire—attempt to over-engineer the innovation process. In my opinion, a consultant is perhaps only needed for convincing the management that driving intrapreneurship and creating an innovation-oriented culture and workflow is a key factor in any organization’s success.

If your organization were to adopt “the Google workflow”, each employee working a 40-hour week should use approximately 4 hours per week being an intrapreneur. How to make this happen? It seems there are several ways to implement this kind of workflow. One easy way to start focusing more on innovation is to begin or end your working day with approximately 45 minutes of “unstructured” time.

However, I believe the most valuable innovations are created together with others. What I would add to Kaplan’s suggestions is getting a group of diverse people from the organization together to act as a team of intrapreneurs whenever creating new products or services, as well as getting the customers deeply involved in the process of innovation in order to co-create value.

This, to me, seems like the most feasible way of putting people first, and it might help in focusing on the various ways to be the change we want to see in the world.

Read more in the article on innovation by Soren Kaplan: