Chapter 2

Creativity in the digital age

I introduced this part of the book with a strong focus on FOMO. And that comes with an associated strong reason why.

With the digital advances today everything is moving faster, everything is accessible globally and your brain is constantly processing the enormous information overload.

Digital transformations are a big deal and every company has to accept digital as an important part of their business. This is completely different than running businesses just 20 years ago.

20 years ago two Ph.D. fellows from Stanford University founded a company to improve the way we find information on the world wide web – they called the company Google. Nokia 6120 became the best selling mobile phone with features including four games, alarm and currency converter, and Amazon were only selling books.

This brings a great perspective and because technology advances happen with such speed, business leaders are reaching out for new tools to help them secure continuous success.

Design thinking, agile, co-creation, lean and open innovation are just some of the tools from the recently updated toolbox. The tools support the digital transformation and the necessary focus on digital.

But how did we end here and which journey have companies travelled during the recent years?

A trip down memory lane

Let's go back in time and take a look at how we have managed innovation and product development over time.

Alright, maybe we don't need to fully understand the origins or how the Egyptians supposedly were the first to introduce project managers building the pyramids. Let me just give you a quick recap and prepare you for the challenge that you face in your organization.

Innovation is essentially about decision making. With a wide range of opportunities and an undefined end result, it is very important that the decisions you make are well considered, but still actionable. However well considered doesn't mean slow. Well considered can just as well be a solid process for quick decisions allowing you to progress, experiment and learn.

Today, agile and lean principles are being implemented in many of the modern digital organizations and product teams. The principles allow for more iterations, shorter development cycles and close collaboration with users to minimize risks. To me this is very interesting, but I am surprised that it is only happening now.

Many organizations are still running Waterfall, SCRUM, PRINCE2 or whatever project management certificate you can namedrop. Personally I understand the need for a process, but I am very surprised that business leaders still rely on processes from 1970's, 1980's and 1990's respectively. However the agile manifesto was developed in the late 90's and was formally introduced in 2001.

That is only three years after Amazon decided to sell more than books and Google was founded. Think of all the advances that technology has gone through since then. How can we be sure that 17 year old principles for developing software are the best for running a company today? I don't think we can.

It's not that the processes doesn't work, but they have not been developed for the digital age of today. They are not ready for the creativity we need in our way of thinking and acting today.

I really believe that all of these principles and processes have brought good things, but reading the principles I think we need to reflect.

''Working software is the primary measure of progress.''

This principle from the agile manifesto I can't agree with. We have so many opportunities to test designs and solutions without writing any code. Those opportunities were not present 17 years ago. That is why we need to widen our perspective.

Creativity today

Creativity has a much more articulated presence today than earlier. World Economic Forum has mapped the top 10 skills required in 2020. That list looks like this:

  1. Complex problem solving
  2. Critical thinking
  3. Creativity
  4. People management
  5. Coordinating with others
  6. Emotional intelligence
  7. Judgment and decision making
  8. Service orientation
  9. Negotiation
  10. Cognitive flexibility

Interestingly creativity is number three. And that is no surprise, even though it is a high jumper, only making it to the 10th place for the 2015 list. And why is that?

As the technology advances and we have more and more opportunities to connect different types of technology and data, it requires more creativity to explore, discover and produce the best solutions.

If your job is to create a more productive health care system, then you must navigate through the humongous amount of technologies and the even larger amount of data opportunities. And you do that just to determine where you see potential optimizations, how you imagine them solved and why that is more important than all the other potential optimizations.

That is not an easy task.

It requires a great deal of creativity, but it also require judgment and decision making, which rank as number seven.

These two skills are very important to master in combination. Creativity can be a lost cause if not controlled with great judgment and decision making.

If you are leading the digital innovation in a pension fund, how are you going to approach that without a creative perspective? You are not.

Creativity in this context is not about putting pen to paper and drawing up something really cool. It is not copying the competitor's corporate start-up that are supposed to create all the innovation needed to support the vision and expectations from the board. It doesn't work like that.

Creativity has much deeper roots. If you copy what other companies are doing, how are you then going to build something entirely different?

Creativity is not something you can buy and then build upon. Creativity is something you have to develop yourself.

The no-copy rule

The most obvious way to handle any type of problem, conflict or challenge you might face is to look in your backpack with experiences and look for the best fit. Oh, that's so, so comforting.

You know how it worked the last time, and you know how to use it. It's safe and it's easier to convince people that this is the right thing to do, because you can back it up with previous results.

Hold my beer while I fall asleep.

Excuse me. I know this works when solving trivial tasks, but if you want to do radical innovation it sounds like you just ditched your creativity to solve a problem in a way it has been solved before. Is that really what you want?

Or would you much rather start from scratch and solve the problem in a creative way that hasn't been done before? A way that possibly might be a game changer in the industry?

If that's your purpose and if that is what you want, maybe you should stop copying previous solutions and maybe you should start moving yourself out of the comfort zone that you are currently keeping your creativity hostage in.

The thing is – when you really need creativity, you stand before a choice. A choice between comfort and known territory and the unknown deep water. If you stay within your comfort, you most likely won't end up with the creative solution that you really hoped for.

Creativity lives in the unknown – if you think otherwise, then you are lying to yourself.

The deep water of creativity

Splash! Welcome in the water. I suppose you want to make the jump, otherwise you wouldn't keep reading. And you know what? I am so happy you are still here, because the world needs more people like you.

Maybe you don't have the courage to really make a jump into the deep, deep water right now. But the fact that you are curious is a sign to me that you are working on your courage, and that you one day will make the jump.

So what's it like here? It's uncomfortable as I said, and if you have no idea what to do, where to go and who to consult, then it is absolutely normal. You just have to be aware that everyone respect you for your decision and will do what they can to help you.

And why is that? Well humans are drawn to people that believe. That is why Elon Musk is so popular. His ambitions are almost unbelievable, but because he is such a firm believer, he inspires and make his employees and customers believe.

His courage is widely respected, and that is something you can't deny. Even though you might appear too courageous in some situations, you will definitely win a lot of respect the other way.

With creativity and curiousity as a top priority, you are well on your way to unfold your inner idea assassin. Furthermore it should be fairly easy to handle the FOMO, however as a company leader you need to know when to say yes and when to say no.

So hold your breath, and let's dive further into the uncomfortable exercise to ask the stupid questions.