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Creativity Is Your Competitive Advantage

from: Natty Gur - Guest Contributor

Many IT executives believe that their competitive advantage is the human capital they manage to recruit and retain. While the right human capital is essential for creating and maintaining a competitive advantage, the ability to foster culture and execution of creativity within your IT staff is actually your competitive advantage.

Promoting creativity is the first step for creating competitive advantage, but true competitive advantage is a result of executing creativity on a regular basis and for a long duration. While most of the IT management (that I know) will agree that creativity is important they find it challenging to execute creativity in an environment that demands IT resources to be efficient and cost affective.

So, how can IT management can push execution of creativity in an environment that demands IT efficiency and cost effectiveness? pushing creativity as a habit for your staff is not an easy task. This is not just due to the cost effective pressure, but it is also due to the fact that that's a internal IT cultural change (and people don't like changes).

The following steps helped us to become an IT shop that executes creativity on a regular basis with full support from our internal customers.

Step 1: Communicate the importance of creativity ( related to both as an environment and execution)

Start your communication effort with decision makers who can support you through the process. If our CEO, CFO and major business unit leaders (around 5 people) are convinced that IT creativity is the competitive advantage needed for your organization you probably have enough support to start your journey.

Once you have executive support, start to get IT staff support. if you expect your staff to buy in to the idea without hesitation, you'll probably be surprised. You'll probably find few people in your IT group who will support adding creativity to IT day-life activities, and that's OK! Start with this small group; the rest will probably follow after several success stories.

Step 2: Push your IT staff to execute creativity on a regular basis

Now you have executive support and a few associates ready to proceed. What's next? First and foremost, you will need to figure out how to add creativity to your team's daily activities on a regular basis. We accomplished this by allocating two days during every two week sprint for 4 associates from our IT team to work on business problems that they felt were important. You might have more luck getting approval from your CFO for more associates and/or time, although I think what we had was enough.

It's very important to explain to everyone that when using creativity time, there aren't any failures. You can manage to deliver solutions to production, you can come up with prototypes, or you can just explain what you tried to achieve, even if you were not successful. Whatever you tried to do and regardless of the results, nothing is considered a failure here. We agreed with the team that they could work on creativity Thursday and Friday. They would need to present their efforts and results the following Monday morning. At this time, the team would decide if it was worth pushing in front of our customers.

Start to assign your few IT team supporters each sprint and follow the no-failure approach every time the efforts and results are presented in front of the group. Success stories will come, followed by more associates involved in creativity. It's just a matter of time; be persistent and patient.

Step 3: Be an example

You are the leader! Everyone is watching you. What you do counts. Join one of the sprint-based activities and be as involved and creative as you can. Yes, the figures in this image are mine, and to be honest, this effort wasn't the most successful one that we had, but the fact that the CIO was involved and the end product wasn't a success story, sent a clear message to all associates.

Step 4: Communicate creativity success stories

Each success story should be communicated both to IT and all other groups in your organization. Use any available options that you have (face-to-face, town hall meetings, team meeting, etc.) to communicate and demonstrate success stories and the business value associated with them.

Make sure that the small group of supportive executives are aware of the success and that they are mentioned as the sponsors of success. You still need them!

Step 5: Harness the business to creativity efforts

Once success stories start to accumulate, it's time to move to forward. Now you want your customers to be part of this work; you want them to at least come with business problems, if not to be involved in the actual development process. We used Hackathon to achieve this involvement. Every 6 months, we have internal Hackathon.The Hackathon process starts with business problems suggested by customers and ends up with groups of developers and customers working on the proposed business problems.

Remember that each organization has a different culture, so adjust the hackathon rules to your organization culture.

A no-failure approach should be applicable to Hackathon, as well. The most important goal is the fact that people are using creativity to work together on new solutions. If there are tangible products that can be pushed to production or prototypes (and they will come with some patience), that's great, but the main goal is different than that.

Make sure that whatever solution you choose to harness, the business (Hackathon in our example) you make is consistent. Although it requires a lot of work and the first one might not result in the way that you would like, keep on doing it. It will pay back big time (We managed to push one Hackathon solution to production in our second Hackathon session)

Step 6: Communicate, communicate and communicate

Success stories are not enough. In order to make creativity a habit, you need to communicate all creativity successes in any way that you can.

Never stop your success communication! Even when you have a big smile on your face when the customer says that something is a good idea for Hackathon or when a customer mentions that they wouldn't be able to gain this competitive advantage without this creativity culture, keep on communicating creativity. Believe me, it takes a lot of time to change culture, but it takes nothing to revert back to the old way of doing things.

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About the Author

Friedkin Companies CIO

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