Since I last wrote, the idea of creativity in business has been swirling around in my mind.
The current economic conditions are driving our customers to think more about WHAT they sell - what are the top products, what else could we sell to existing customers, etc. Trouble is, that thinking really only operates from an internal perspective. It's much better to ask why customers buy, how & where they do this, what are their expectations of the service wraparound, etc. In essence, you need to think creatively, albeit Inside the Box of your chosen business environment.
Isn't this obvious ?
Now I know this sounds a bit like a "Business 101" lesson. Focus on your customers and all that. However, I still think the day-to-day reality is very different. In the last week I have talked to a number of prospects who, when asked to think about WHY they want to a process to work a certain way, said "it's what we do here". Their only frame of reference was an internal one - the customer experience was almost entirely missing. Indeed, one business had even gone as far to drawing up how they wanted their CRM screens to look - with almost no reference to the raison d'etre for having the system in the first place.
Not seeing the wood for the trees, as someone famous once said. Or, as Ben Goldacre, author of Bad Science notes in his book: "It's more complicated than that"
So, why does this happen ?
I was listening to Russell Ackoff talking on Radio 4's In Business a few weeks back - the programme was replaying an earlier interview. I was struck by his comment along the lines of "most managers don't have the knowledge and understanding required to deal with complexity ... they tend to look for simple solutions to problems." I think he is right. Innovation is hard work, especially if your role in a business is to execute & monitor a strategy. So effecting a simple solution that appears to deliver results will often suffice. That is until the results dry up and/or the strategy does not match up to the operating complexity of the real world.
So, what's the answer ?
Ackoff advocates a concept of synthetic thinking - which is thinking about & designing systems that derive behaviour of the parts from the functions required of the whole. At its most basic, that means thinking about your customer's journey through your entire business & aiming for a joined-up approach. This, I believe, is inextricably linked to my previous thoughts on employee engagement. In a knowledge-based econony, your most valuable capital is tied up in employee's heads. They probably have the answers to the intricate details of various stages of the customer journey - joining up these answers will shed light on the complex systems within a business.
That should allow you to drive innovation from within, delivering a clearer view of the world in which your business operates & how best to focus your efforts.