By Mike Wright

Capitalizing On Complexity

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December 7, 2010 | Categories: Articles & Insights

The IBM Institute for Business Value and IBM Strategy & Change recently published the results of their biennial study that attempts to better understand the challenges and goals of today’s CEOs (a link to this report is at the end of this article). IBM's own CEO, Samuel J. Palmisano, gives a concise summary of their findings…

  1. The world’s private and public sector leaders believe that a rapid escalation of “complexity” is the biggest challenge confronting them. They expect it to continue—indeed, to accelerate—in the coming years.
  2. They are equally clear that their enterprises today are not equipped to cope effectively with this complexity in the global environment.
  3. Finally, they identify “creativity” as the single most important leadership competency for enterprises seeking a path through this complexity.

Ok, I get it - the world is becoming increasingly complex, businesses don't know for sure how to navigate these complexities, but hey… creativity will save the day?

Now if you're like me, the word "creativity" instantly conjures up images like this…

…and I start thinking, "We're doomed."

But, I'd be pretty naive if I doubted 1,500 of the world's top senior executives, and so I started thinking creatively (pun intended) about why they'd choose creativity over global thinking, openness, or even integrity. Here's what the report has to say,
 
"CEOs now realize that creativity trumps other leadership characteristics. Creative leaders are comfortable with ambiguity and experimentation. To connect with and inspire a new generation, they lead and interact in entirely new ways. Creativity is often defined as the ability to bring into existence something new or different, but CEOs elaborated. Creativity is the basis for “disruptive innovation and continuous re-invention,” a Professional Services CEO in the United States told us. And this requires bold, breakthrough thinking. Leaders, they said, must be ready to upset the status quo even if it is successful. They must be comfortable with and committed to ongoing experimentation."
 
Ok, so they're not talking about those with an affinity for the arts. They're talking about people who aren't afraid of taking risks that disrupt legacy business models, who can act despite uncertainty, and who can leapfrog beyond "tried and true" management styles. So it's not just creative people who CEOs value, but rather creative business leaders. Or in other words, a creative sales professional (someone who looks for new ways to add value to their role) is more valuable to the business than just a plain old sales person. Likewise, a creative HR director (someone who's willing to try new ideas that will add value to the company) is more valuable to the business than an insular HR professional who doesn't understand their part in the big picture.
 

If you think of creativity as the ability to create something new which has value (a new strategy, a new management style, a new product offering, a new IT system, etc.) then it becomes clearer why CEOs would value creative leadership as the single most important competency in today's marketplace. In light of this report, professionals in business would be wise to develop their creativity within the context of creating value (i.e. making money). Doing so will help you navigate the complexities of business, and as the report says, "see around corners, predict outcomes where possible, act despite some uncertainty, and then start all over again." Or in short, capitalize on complexity. Check out the study…

IBM 2010 Chief Executive Officer Study

P.S.
We teach this kind of stuff…
We've helped countless companies develop training programs around business acumen (a synonym of creative leadership in a way). While we focus heavily on the value employees bring to an organization, or the impact of individual decisions on the company's financials, we feel strongly that the best employees are those who can assess the big picture, who can cut through complexity, and who can make profitable business decisions quickly within the context of making money. If you're in charge of building an organization that uses their creativity to drive results - we should talk. Reply to this email with your contact information and specify the best days and times (including time zone) at which you can be reached. Your free phone consultation can help you assess your current learning and development objectives, analyze how Acumen Learning can help you reach these objectives, and provide advice and help in getting your plans implemented for 2011.