One of the most striking elements of the COVID pandemic is how some companies have been opening up new markets for themselves.
There are drinks and perfume companies manufacturing hand sanitiser, pubs becoming local grocers offering delivery services, automotive manufacturers making PPE and other healthcare equipment.
The global challenge has catalysed a new creative mindset – with established companies rapidly pivoting to offer new products and new ways to service customers – which will remain after the pandemic has passed.
Creativity will give your business a competitive advantage. But how many organisations are actively upskilling their people to be more creative?
Creativity is not “more brainstorms”
Over the past decade, creativity has been recognised around the world as one of the most sought after non-technical skills. The pandemic has accelerated its relevance as we embrace this uncertain and very fast moving present.
Creativity encompasses so much – so what are we talking about in the business context? One thing it isn’t is the idea of increasing the number of brainstorms – buying more packets of biscuits and forcing people to mull over a specific problem for an hour and then forget about it.
It’s not necessarily a skill that workforces are used to consciously deploying either. Very often leaders are uncomfortable with the process, the silent spaces, the unusual approaches.
Before I really understood it, I never liked running creative problem-solving training either. It seemed like it was too wacky and drew on concepts that are never used in business.
That was until I came across the work of Stefan Mamaw, who defines it within the business context as “the ability to solve problems with relevance and novelty”. Relevance is how well the problem is solved (adults tend to be good at this) and novelty is how original the solution is (kids are better at this).
His thinking revealed to me that creativity is not a talent but a skill. One that any of us can learn.
In order to support creativity amongst teams, you need to give people the freedom and permission to use and develop this approach. You need to recruit people who are confident and courageous in their core abilities, and persuade them that their problem-solving skills are also relevant to company wide issues, which will allow creativity to flourish within a collaborative, open culture.
L&D professionals, some of whom are currently fighting for every spare piece of budget available to them, are in a great position to stress how useful this could be at this time.
Here are a few examples of creativity’s relevance to a business that have struck me recently.
Creativity helps with reframing
In business-speak, ‘reframing’ is about looking at a situation differently in the context of a business’s resources and capabilities. Right now, leaders and businesses need to be alert to reframing opportunities and quickly take advantage of them. I was recently speaking to a start-up that has developed a new product that works for contact sports. They’d focused on that market because it promised to be lucrative. But now they are having to broaden their focus, spread their bets. That could create internal ‘winners and losers’ as one product stream takes hold and another fails, as they’ll need to be fast-footed to move resources around. They are already ahead on that, thinking about how they manage new product development, and inviting everyone to contribute to all – so no silos are built.
This, of course, is the typical start up mentality: test and move on. We’re used to hearing large corporates talk about how they want to emulate the start-up mentality, but it is now more than ever an essential characteristic for success. Training managers and HR can look to the start-up world and advise their leaders on what skills they can bring to their workplaces to engender this spirit.
Creativity helps with developing new opportunities
In a fast changing world, unexpected solutions to problems can become the next revenue stream. Good leaders know threats can be flipped into opportunities, and this entrepreneurial culture can and should permeate the whole business.
Here’s a great example from a client we know, that’s all about training. The company always had to train people to use the equipment it sells – it used to be delivered face-to-face, for one week onsite.
Now it’s all done remotely with online learning, access to live help via Zoom and written support materials. It is delivered to anyone, anywhere without having to travel – and the training becomes an income stream in its own right, as the client needs to train new staff.
Most idea generating activities in businesses are heavily constrained by convention and invulnerability. Organisations will be hot-housing the same ideas that all their competitors have (or soon will have) had. Novelty takes collective courage, which in turn requires trust. This is another clear opportunity for L&D Managers to add value. Not just with how they help teams develop their ideas, but in helping leaders to develop the right culture for creativity.
Creativity is about being ahead of the game
So, we can see how people development can:
1) catalyse the solutions the organisation is looking for,
2) create an environment where the opportunity is recognised, and
3) build the framework for its implementation.
Training is needed to prepare people ahead of change. Everyone needs to rethink what they are doing – which takes creativity and problem solving expertise.
Of course, many training leaders are at the forefront of all this, constantly reviewing and figuring out where the next skills needs will be. Now, senior leaders need to buy into this approach and recognise how powerful it can be.
We have one client that has a culture of rule changing and challenging the status quo. What makes them unusual and extremely relevant now, is how they embraced these principles from the very beginning. For example, they’ve been paperless from day one, which made their lockdown transition very simple. And wellbeing is something they’ve adopted right from the start. All these cultural factors make them placed to adapt and exploit new opportunities.
Use constraints to fuel creativity
The biggest transformation we’ve seen in the workplace has been the move to remote working and the rapid adoption of digital transformation – something that had been very gradually happening anyway but has now been hastened by necessity. A good example in the UK is the NHS. Less than 1% of appointments took place remotely in 2019. This year 100% of patients are assessed by phone with 7% proceeding to face-to-face visits according to McKinsey.
In our business, we have transformed from a face-to-face training organisation to a fully remote one. On a cultural level, this has resulted in closer bonds within the team. Communication is more effective giving rise to the rapid development of new modules, to support change within our clients’ businesses. The external constraints have produced a creative response from our company – that we’ve all embraced.
L&D managers need to be creative in how they can identify and catalyse the solutions the organisation is looking for, create an environment where the opportunity is recognised and build the framework for its implementation. For those under pressure to defend budget cuts or justify new spends, the time to get creative is now.
Tell about your creative endeavours…
Are you being creative in your business? How does this help teams face current challenges? Please get in touch and let us know.