Digital transformation: 5 ways to balance creativity and productivity

Creativity and productivity shouldn't be opposing forces in your digital transformation efforts. Consider these tips to tap the power of both
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Creativity and productivity might sound like they’re poles apart: One is about thinking in new ways; the other is about making things happen.

In the wake of the pandemic, creativity is more important than ever.

But in successful digital transformation programs, the two go hand in hand – a perfect marriage of creative thinking that takes the latest technology innovations into account and productive action that brings those new ideas to life.

Today, creativity is more important than ever. As a result of the pandemic, organizations have been forced to think differently and to adapt quickly in order to stay relevant and survive. It’s a case of do or die.

[ For more tips on building a creative problem-solving culture, read 4 exercises to ignite creative problem solving on teams. ]

Digital transformation: 5 tips to harness creativity 

But how can you ensure that creativity gets the attention it deserves, and how can you effectively translate abstract thinking into concrete innovation that adds value to your programs?

Here are five ways to help you strike the right balance.

1. Adapt your way of thinking

Our world and our lives are changing at pace, and we need to be able to adapt. The view that “this is how we’ve always done things” is becoming increasingly obsolete. We’ve all heard the term “the new normal,” and whether we like it or not, this is forcing us to adopt a more divergent style of thinking. Finding new ways of doing things rather than simply drawing on previous experience and solutions is key.

2. Expand your thinking by making time for learning

One of the biggest challenges is how to ensure that creative thinking is an integral part of your program planning and development.

Creativity is fueled by knowledge and experience. It’s therefore important to make time for learning, whether that’s through research, reading the latest trade publication, listening to a podcast, attending a (virtual) event, or networking with colleagues.

It’s all too easy to dismiss this as a distraction and to think “I haven’t got time for that” because you can’t see an immediate output. But making time to expand your horizons will do wonders for your creative thinking.

3. Develop a creative process that suits remote work

The pandemic has served as a reminder that creativity doesn’t happen by accident – there needs to be a process in place for collective, creative thinking. At the start of the crisis, thanks to various collaboration tools, my team was quickly able to transition to work from home.

Brainstorms via video call just didn’t have the same impact.

However, the one thing we initially struggled with was how to keep being innovative. We were used to being together in the same room, bouncing ideas off one another, and brainstorms via video call just didn’t have the same impact. However, by applying some simple techniques such as interactive whiteboards and prototyping through demos on video platforms, we’ve managed to restore our creative energy.

4. Experiment more

To make it through the pandemic, companies have had to think outside the box, either by looking at alternative revenue streams or adapting their existing business model.

Businesses have proved their ability to make decisions, diversify at speed, and be innovative. In fact, according to a report from BeTheBusiness, during lockdown small businesses in the UK achieved three years of innovation in just three months. Businesses have seen that they can make decisions without all the facts and that sometimes “imperfect now” is better than perfection that arrives too late.

Your aim should be to create, iterate, fail fast, discount any innovations that aren’t quite right, and move on.

Digital transformation programs can learn a lot from this willingness to experiment, try new things and deliver business change quickly. Your aim should be to create, iterate, fail fast, discount any innovations that aren’t quite right, and move on – which is very much in line with the agile project management methodology. Narrowing down your options and focusing your efforts on those ideas that bear the most fruit is a productive way of approaching creativity and innovation.

5. Stay focused on outcome

Unless you maintain a sense of direction and purpose, creativity can become an unending journey of discovery that ultimately amounts to nothing.

Creativity doesn’t mean endlessly theorizing with your head in the clouds; it should always be bound to a purpose and an outcome. Success is, after all, measured by what is delivered and whether it’s timely.

For example, I know that I need to deliver a digital platform to enable online sales by a certain deadline, but I can still allow for creativity in how that platform is built.

This means thinking about program delivery from a more traditional waterfall approach that lays out broad timeline objectives for achieving outputs and goals – while leaving room for creativity within the process. Essentially, it’s about combining the what with the how.

For example, I know that I need to deliver a digital platform to enable online sales by a certain deadline, but I can still allow for creativity in how that platform is built. Imagining different ways in how a project is presented to the customer helps give you an edge.

So stay focused on a timescale, but provide scope within the plan for your creative people to work with your customers and really understand them and how they operate. Finding that one silver bullet that really makes the difference rather than delivering a routine, done-it-a-million-times-before experience will win loyalty and set you apart.

Delivering value

Ultimately, we’re all judged on delivery. We’re only as good as the last project we delivered, the last change we implemented, or the last release we rolled out. However, if what we deliver doesn’t present the right value for our customers, if it isn’t innovative or relevant enough, then we’ll lose ground and struggle to keep up with the competition. That’s why it’s so important to factor creativity into our development and delivery cycles.

As we exit the pandemic, those organizations that are able to balance creativity with a focus on delivering on new ideas will be the first off the blocks.

[ Culture change is the hardest part of digital transformation. Get the digital transformation eBook: Teaching an elephant to dance. ]

Andrew is a principal consultant at Step5 – a digital transformation consultancy which delivers complex change programs and recovers programs that are failing. Andrew specialises in service management, program management and business change with a focus on financial services.