Planning to Be Creative? Start Violating Conventions

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“Become a master of the rules, then violate them with abandon”
Pablo Picasso

Fast Company released their annual 50 Best Workplaces for Innovators list for 2023 in May, which aimed to acknowledge organisations that promote creative thought and risk-taking. The list featured renowned names such as Amazon and Mozilla, and also some unexpected entries including an Australian digital marketing company. Every company mentioned deserves recognition for their excellent contributions.

These companies have achieved great success by embodying the principles that define a trailblazing workplace culture. They consistently seek out new prospects, view setbacks as opportunities for growth, and foster constructive communication among diverse departments to cultivate inventive ideas.

All companies featured in Fast Company’s list share an essential characteristic – they reject conventional business practices that are typically perceived as essential for success. As Pablo Picasso famously said, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you may violate them like an artist.” This quote epitomizes the innovative and imaginative approach embraced by the companies mentioned in the list.

Adaptability is crucial for innovators to thrive in today’s ever-evolving technological landscape. But when standardised practices and structured approaches are essential for optimum operational efficiency, is it still feasible to generate inventive solutions? Can we bridge this apparent paradox?

It may appear otherwise, but the top 50 firms on that list prove that it is possible to blend these two approaches for the best outcomes.

In this modern digital era, we require fresh protocols

The widespread digital transformation has left companies of all sizes and sectors grappling to catch up with the pace of change. Startups tend to fare better in such a dynamic environment, unencumbered by the shackles of past conventions, they can be more agile and inventive. They are often dubbed as the disrupters, as they can swiftly and robustly penetrate the market and carve a unique identity for themselves.

The rise of technology has posed various challenges for established companies, emphasising the need for a fresh approach. Regrettably, larger corporations attempting to embrace digital platforms have been somewhat sluggish in their response to the hurdles that emerge due to technology-driven advancements.

In order to harness the power of digital technologies, businesses have an evident obstacle to overcome – they must adopt a digital mindset with precision and strategy to ensure success. Therefore, the challenge is, how can they adapt to the digital age while remaining loyal to their responsibilities and commitments? Essentially, how can companies preserve their values and rules while innovating and embracing change that may clash with their established norms?

It’s feasible to develop a feasible business model that fosters innovation and growth for employees while ensuring the company’s continued prosperity. To achieve this, leaders must adopt a new approach to functioning within the organisation, prioritising values and policies established from the bottom up rather than the top down. This also entails a willingness to challenge the very norms that led to their success.

The Permission to Fail

Jeanne Ross, a research scientist at the MIT Centre for Information Systems Research, has presented a stimulating piece on the concept of companies embracing digital evolution. She outlines a series of measures for those seeking to begin their journey in this domain:

  1. Differentiate

    transformation through digitalisation of analogue processes, commenced using digital methods.
  2. Grant

    digital company leaders the autonomy to create their own key performance indicators and protocols.
  3. Recognise

    and nurture the development of future thought leaders.

Establishing a culture of innovation at work can be an arduous task, but starting with the fundamentals is critical. Companies must differentiate between the technology that is propelling the current business landscape (e.g., data science and artificial intelligence) and the tactics implemented to exploit these technologies to achieve specific objectives (e.g., dependability, foresightedness, security, and transparency).

As Ross suggests, it is vital not to limit digital technology solely to digitalisation activities. This means that the rigorous performance indicators of existing initiatives cannot be applied to the unlimited possibilities of emerging technologies (e.g., cost savings and customer satisfaction). Though these may serve as benchmarks for measuring the triumph or failure of new technology, they should not be evaluated in a vacuum.

Recognising that emerging technologies can result in numerous benefits, including innovative and data-driven insights along with new business opportunities, is essential. To make this possible, organisations must temporarily set aside their established performance indicators and norms. Instead, companies should focus on experimenting. Since there is no guaranteed method of forecasting whether a new product, service or feature will resonate with customers, it is crucial to allow for exploration – including the possibility of failure.

Developing a distraction-free atmosphere that fosters innovation and inventive solutions is certainly difficult. As Ross elaborates in his second point, it is vital to grant digital leaders room to experiment and explore within the organisation, enabling them to take calculated risks, adopt novel methods, and learn from any setbacks encountered along the way – even if this entails disregarding certain established business norms.

By beginning with an evaluation of what generates profit and what doesn’t, companies can establish the groundwork for future accomplishments. However, this can only be realised with the correct personnel in charge of the process. Ross’s last point is that, without leaders knowledgeable in the new methods, the strategy cannot achieve success.

Traditional leaders may struggle to adapt to novel situations due to their reluctance to deviate from conventional procedures and their bias against methods that diverge from their knowledge and years of experience. Therefore, companies eager to promote innovation should take a risk when selecting their new set of leaders, prioritising traits such as creativity, communication, attention to detail and a willingness to embrace the unknown, instead of placing excessive importance on prior experience.

Latest Advancements in Innovation

It came as no surprise to see the tech giant Amazon included in Fast Company’s list of the most innovative companies. After being named on the list, Amazon released a blog post outlining the factors behind its perceived creative disposition. A cursory glance at the post indicates that Amazon’s approach strongly adheres to the principles of empowering individuals, embracing failure, fostering creativity, and nurturing innovation.

It might come as a surprise to some that numerous successful organisations have traditionally been exclusively managed by top executives. However, those days are long gone, and the game has changed. Today, it is critical for companies to have individuals who are willing to break the mould to drive progress and innovation. This doesn’t mean that companies should throw caution to the wind and act without any form of governance; on the contrary, they should establish policies that are more in sync with the realities of the contemporary world, which should be more akin to guidelines rather than strict rules.

In the current business landscape, innovation and staying up-to-date necessitate a culture of experimentation and a willingness to embrace failure.

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