Why You Need Creativity for Successful Digital Transformation

(My Consulting Offer Part 2)

In my last blog post I outlined the need for digital transformation and why this should include a focus on improved user experience. In this post I start exploring the role that creativity and creative methods can play in in helping organisations make the significant changes needed.

Creativity and Innovation

At a basic surface level, most people have an intuitive understanding that creativity is needed to help unlock innovation and innovation is needed as part of the process of enabling change. Not everyone however really understands how to successfully apply creativity into this process. After a quick introduction to the relationship between creativity and innovation I will outline some ideas about how to apply creativity in the following ways:

  • Through design thinking
  • Through play
  • By bringing together different perspectives

Design Thinking

Design and creativity are closely connected. On their website the design and Innovation company IDEO state:

“At IDEO, we know that our greatest tool for innovation and problem solving is creativity.”

IDEO – https://www.ideou.com/pages/design-thinking

They argue that creative tools can help address a vast range of challenges. Tim Brown their CEO gives the following definition of design thinking:

Design thinking is a human-cantered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.

https://designthinking.ideo.com/

Linking this with IDEO’s comments on creativity it should be clear that within design thinking creative approaches should be part of the designer’s toolkit. In his Ted Talk Tim Brown demonstrates some creative techniques and explains why creativity needs to be part of the design process. He argues that we need to be creative to ideate and to create effective prototypes to help solve problems. The healthcare and technology academic Dr Erin Evans makes a related point, she argues that imagination is part of how we make sense of the world, and we need imagination to entertain new opportunities, to get beyond what we have seen before.

Design thinking is a very user centred approach. Bringing creativity into its process has the potential to help organisations design more user centred products and services. Digital technology has the potential to make products and services more user focussed but creativity is needed to explore what new products, services and business models could look like.

Theatre and Play

The creative ideas that Tim Brown outlines include the use of play to help people unlock the creativity within them. This resonates with me as the use of play was at the centre of my approach when I worked as a circus and street theatre artist. I applied theatre games to help people devise performances. In my design work I have transferred many of the playful theatre exercises I used when I worked in the arts into the process of ideation that I use now.

Another theatre approach that has significant potential as part of digital transformation is forum theatre. It is one of the techniques outlined in the influential service design book This is service design doing, they state:

“Theatre offers perhaps the ultimate toolkit to model, prototype, and play around with human–human or human–digital interactions.”

In forum theatre after a scene has been acted out the audience have the opportunity to suggest changes or even step into one of the roles presented. The scene can be replayed multiple times to explore the potential impact of changes and gain insight into what is likely to work. The characters in a scene could be personas based on user research and the scene a prototype service as part of a service design project. Through acting and directing forum theatre I have seen how powerful it can be for engaging stakeholders in the process of community engagement and service improvement.

Further insight about my arts background and how it relates to theatre and service design is outlined in this earlier blog post.

Complexity and Different Perspectives

The organisational theorist RD Stacey argues that addressing complex problems requires creativity and that to apply creativity to address such issues managers should lead their organisations to the edge of chaos. His argument is that opposition to dominant guidelines, procedures and structures is needed to enable innovation. A diversity of perspectives is needed to enable the emergence of new ideas that enable change. 

Due to the value of different perspectives, I find that the varied nature of my background has significant value to challenge dominant narratives. Academically I have studied subjects including business, sociology, education, research methods, all at postgraduate level. Professionally my career has shifted from working in the arts to business development, to management, research, UX and consulting.

In my arts career I worked as a circus and street theatre artist. The creativity I gained has informed how I have approached all my other work since. For example, the improvisation skills I gained has been invaluable for helping me deal with unexpected situations in management and consulting. In my consulting I have also, often reflected on the idea of the court jester. Whilst working as a street theatre artist I was often employed by organisations to provide entertainment or team building activities, I however remained outside the formal structures of these organisations. It can feel similar as a consultant. Whilst I have worked for and with different organisations, as a consultant I have not been part of them, I have found this separation essential for enabling me to talk truth to power and I see the ability to speak honestly (with evidence) essential for highlighting the changes that clients’ organisations require. The parallel with the court jester, is that it has often been said that the jester was the only person with the ear of the king that was able to speak truth to them. I’m not the first person to make the connection between the idea of the jester and the consultant however. The executive coaching company my coaching.com argue that:

“A consultant is a jester with outside experience and nice clothes”

https://mycoach.com/the-jester-and-the-advisor/

The diversity of my education and professional experience also gives me the ability to make connections between different ideas and challenges. I have often found that problems in one industry or sector can be informed by prior work in a different area. In my PhD for example I was able to bring in a community sector perspective on user centeredness to inform thinking about designing for users. I am also aware that addressing complex problems of digital transformation requires bringing together different stakeholders with varied worldviews to find innovative solutions to complex problems. The community engagement skills I gained in charity sector management roles gives me the ability to engage the stakeholders required. The variety of my background assists in this process, as it enables me to understand and empathise people with differing perspectives.

Conclusion

As outlined in this blog, creativity is essential for addressing the complex problems and challenges of digital transformation. If these are harnessed however, they have the potential to unlock the potential digital technology has to create more user centred products and services. There are many tools and approaches that can be used to apply creativity to this process. The process requires getting decision makers to think differently about what their organisations do and how they work. Play and theatre activities such as forum theatre have the potential help decision makers see what a different future might look like. Another essential part of the creative process is to bring together people with different perspectives, as this enables problems to be viewed from different angles. My arts background gives me tools to facilitate creative activities to help with the process of digital technology. My community sector experience combined with the variety of my expertise makes me well placed for facilitating the process of bringing together people with different world views.

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