Lessons from the Past 91: Creativity – The Need of the Hour
It is a turbulent world. A world of change and chaos. I see that old solutions, which I had successfully applied to problems 40 years ago, are no longer suitable for the same problems. This is compounded by the fact that even the basic nature of many problems has changed. Hark back to the old dictum that
‘The only permanent feature of the marketplace is change!’
The marketplace does not respect the status quo. When I started my working life in the 1960s, at Glaxo Laboratories in Mumbai (India), if we introduced a new product, we were certain that we would get a five to ten-year monopoly run on it. Betnovate was a monopoly for a long time, and so was Grisovin. No more is this so. When Glaxo marketed Zantac in the 1990s, the product was, in fact, preceded by imitations. Glaxo did not even have the privilege (as original inventors) of being the first of the pack. A classic case of how times had changed!
That is why in most enlightened companies, top management is looking just not for efficiency; not just for effectiveness, but ALSO for creativity—that uncommon ability to look for new solutions to old problems and also to look for different solutions to problems that may arise later and which a good manager can generally foresee.
Three decades ago, the first escalator was installed in Mumbai at the Chowpatty beach. A visitor’s dhoti got caught in the edge of a moving step and, as the dhoti unwound, his anxiety to protect his modesty won over the need to ensure his safety. He lost his balance, tumbled over, hit his head on the metal edges of the escalator and arrived back to where he had started, dead! The escalator was abandoned after this and people reverted to using the age-old formula of climbing up and walking down.
Since these early times, creative people have added features to the simple escalator to give both ‘sense’ and ‘economy’. The escalator progressed further, so that when one wanted to use it, one switched it on. But if others were on the escalator behind, it would continue to function. It would not leave the others stranded midway.
The escalator progressed even further, so that now, it starts as soon as you step on it and stops as soon as you step off it, if no one else is still on the escalator.
Why did these simple ideas not occur to people much earlier in the first place? Because at every stage, it needed a creative input—the output of a creative mind, not just an intelligent or analytical mind.
When you look around, you will see many examples of creative thinking, but unfortunately, not enough; and not as much as is needed to solve today’s problems. The seemingly simple development of a pencil with eraser attached, developed by Hymen Lipman, to the car with radar, which would pick up the easiest route between two points; to the TV which can be fitted on the wall to save floor space; to the washing machine which can wash without detergents with only ultrasonic waves. And the once-simple refrigerator which was just an icebox with electric power, and now has four doors, spouts for cold water and a separate section for soft drinks.
Sam Swaminathan, writing in Gulf News, lists five myths about creativity.
ONE - that creativity is an artistic talent. Yes, artists need to be creative. But they are generally not creative outside of their own field. Business is perhaps, the only field where people are required to be creative in a variety of situations.
SECOND - that creativity is synonymous with intelligence. It is not. Intelligence is inherited. What we do with it, depends on our thinking, i.e., our creativity. You can have a monkey driving a Jaguar car, or a highly skilled driver at the wheels of a Morris 8. The latter would fare much better because he brings thinking (creativity) into the process. The monkey would probably drive the Jaguar into the nearest lamp post.
THIRD - that creativity is dependent on analytical skills. It is not. The right brain deals with creativity and ideas. The left brain handles analytical skills. The ability to evaluate alternatives has nothing to do with the generation of alternatives. Without creativity, you cannot get new ideas. Analysis helps judgement; creativity helps exploration. We need to suspend judgement in order to explore.
FOURTH - that creative people are crazy. This is because they appear to be crazy to those who are not creative, because creative people appear to do things differently. Creativity is as serious an activity as logical thinking.
FIFTH - that creativity cannot be taught. That people are born creative, they cannot become creative. But thinking is like driving and can be taught. It is not just an allocation of intelligence that you are born with.
ILLUSTRATION- Remember the story of the simple factory worker on the packing line who suggested that the size of the nozzle of the toothpaste tube be increased by 2mm? He was creative. After the suggestion was implemented, far more toothpaste flowed out—and more profit flowed in!
Survival today needs the creative genius of the three Scotsmen who did not want to respond positively to the loud and earnest plea for a generous contribution to the charities of the church. As the collection tray approached close to the group, there was both concern and fear - until one of them fainted and the other two carried him out. The right brain had taken over!
Excerpts from Planning for Executive Success by Walter Vieira   Sage Publication/ Amazon
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India- FIMC. He was a successful corporate executive for 14 years and then pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across four continents. He was the first Asian elected Chairman of ICMCI, the world apex body of 45 countries. He is the author of 16 books, a business columnist and has been visiting professor in Marketing in the US, Europe, and Asia for over 40 years. His latest books are ‘Marketing in a Digital/Data World’ with Brian Almeida and ‘Customer Value Starvation Can Kill’ with Gautam Mahajan. He now spends most of his time on NGO work and is presently Chairman, Consumer Education and Research Society, India)
5 months ago
Indeed, some of the most creative employees of Indian companies have left their respective companies and started up firms that contractually perform what they were doing earlier at that company for 10x the price!! May their tribe increase. Until of course bosses here start feeling less insecure about their subordinates (for their creativity, hard work, competence, honesty etc.).
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