Want to develop a culture of creativity in your IT organization? You might need to change your current thinking about efficiency, solving problems and leadership.
By Charles Araujo
Have you noticed that all of the excitement seems to have evaporated out of IT organizations recently? I remember when I first started in the industry. It seemed that every day was a new adventure. We were always facing new challenges that led to unexpected solutions. It was fun and it was exciting. I loved being in IT. I loved working with technology and finding new ways to solve business problems.
Over the last decade or so, it seems all of that which was once exciting has disappeared. Instead, our halls are more often filled with an institutional mindset and a sense of daily drudgery. In recent times, a rising chorus has said that we need to mature our industry and replace the “cowboy culture” with a culture of professionalism and discipline. I know because I've been one of the leaders of that chorus. But, like kids in a hurry to grow up, I think we have missed a larger point. In our effort to become a mature and professional industry, we have given away one of our most important characteristics: Our creativity.
I feel partially responsible for this mess. I am a huge fan of process improvement disciplines like IT Service Management (ITIL), COBIT and Lean Six Sigma. While I believe that these disciplines are very valuable tools in the arsenal of any progressive IT leader, I think that they have also been misconstrued and twisted into an over-reliance on best practices. In our effort to normalize, standardize and optimize our industry, we have systematically stymied the creative forces in our teams.
And that has left us vulnerable.
The Future Belongs to the Creative
In a recent study by IDG, more than half of the IT and business executives surveyed said that IT professionals must be business-savvy, collaborative and innovative. These attributes are effectively reflections of a creative approach to the profession of IT. These are not about simply executing consistently and reliably. These attributes all require creative and strategic thought. In my book, The Quantum Age of IT, I make the case that everything we know about IT has changed and that it will require a new type of IT organization and a new type of IT professional to remain relevant in the future. Central to these new organizational traits and professional skills is the ability to be empathetic, communicative and creative. Without a healthy dose of creativity existing up and down inside our organizations, we will be lost. We will be unable to be the type of IT organization that our customers need us to be.
I was recently talking to Rob Webb, the former CIO of Hilton Worldwide, about the changes in the IT industry, and he said that one of the exciting things he is working on is bringing some of the most progressive IT leaders together with some of the most innovative venture-funded companies. The reason is simple. By creating connections between organizations that are producing breakthrough technologies and progressive CIOs who can apply them, we can create an explosion of technology-driven value. But why is he focused only on this small group of CIOs? Because the "culture of creativity" needed to harness and leverage these kinds of advancements does not exist in most IT organizations today. For far too many IT executives, the focus is simply on incremental improvements, increasing efficiency and maintaining the status quo. That’s a recipe for irrelevance.
But it doesn't need to be this way. Here are three simple steps that you can use to turn your IT organization into a powerhouse of creativity and innovation.
Unleashing Your Organization’s Creative Forces
If you are prepared to foster a culture of creativity in your organization, it will take faith and perseverance. You must be willing to let go of some of the most entrenched attitudes, beliefs and habits in our profession. But if you are willing to take this leap of faith and stick with it, you can create a powerful culture of creativity in your organization, one that will continually produce exceptional leaders and, in the process, unleash a wave of value creation.