Is Creativity A ‘Dirty Word’ For Finance Professionals?

This article is co-written by Talita Ferreira and Anders Liu-Lindberg

We desperately need more creativity for the challenges facing us in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. If challenges were posed precisely like yesterday’s historical problems, we could possibly do without creativity. However, most CEO’s believe that their business models are being disrupted, but also that they don’t have the right team to help them rise to the challenge.

If we still don’t believe we need this skill, let’s look at the World Economic Forum top ten skills that we should have by 2020 – creativity is number three on the list. LinkedIn Learning ranked creativity as the top soft skill that companies are hiring for in 2019. Tom Malone, a professor at MIT, states that as many challenges will come from the way we work as will come from the advancement in technology. Jamie Anderson, strategy professor from the Antwerp Management School believes that creativity is the new mindset required for a digital world.

If we want to go beyond surviving as finance, we need to embrace creativity and stop seeing it as a dirty word. This thought pattern might have stemmed from the ages of creative accounting – but it is time to view creativity in a new light. It is a crucial skill to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution and to help us imagine new ways of doing things.

What holds us back from creativity and creative thinking?

Our patterns of linear thinking are holding us back. As children under the age of five, we are very creative, but then we lose that creativity and start thinking in more traditional ways. The Western education system supports this linear way of thinking. Another blocker to creativity is organisational and team cultures that don’t encourage creativity, trying to do things differently, failure, and learning from mistakes.

Sometimes we are too busy to engage with creative activities or take the time to brainstorm different ways of doing things. As finance professionals, we don’t always ask the right questions upfront. We are used to jumping to action and activity, figuring out how to reach the target best. Sometimes we need to slow down and discover more; ensure we are asking the right questions and taking the appropriate time to answer them effectively, before jumping to delivery.

Our default setting is also our past experiences, but most of the challenges facing finance today are very different from past experiences. We need to sense and probe from different perspectives to come to new conclusions.

What do we need to be more creative?

According to an article by Professor Jamie Anderson on Creativity, creative thinking involves six key components

  • Problem sensibility – reflection upon the task or challenge,
  • Liquidity – having a lot of ideas to come to a good idea,
  • Flexibility – the ability to look at the problem from different angles or perspectives which leads to a
  • Re-definition– viewing the problem or challenge differently,
  • Originality of thought – courage to try something different and not copy others around us and
  • Collaboration – a process of engaging others to create solutions built on multiple perspectives.

Finance leaders are required to tap into all six areas if we want to thrive in the face of complexity, ambiguity and the challenges of digitalisation in finance.

What are the benefits of increased creativity?

Creativity helps us to solve problems more effectively, which in turn leads to the more significant accomplishment of goals. Better collaboration and interaction amongst team members and between different teams have been observed in groups with greater creativity – so a perfect prerequisite for finance business partnering and the future of financial planning and analysis.

Increased passion and motivation flows amongst individuals displaying higher levels of creativity. Creativity stimulates increased curiosity and a desire to learn and opens up new possibilities. Teams that openly embrace creativity have a far more stimulating work environment and are far more engaged and bonded as a team.

Which conditions support creativity in a business context?

A general attitude that supports open-mindedness, thinking differently and less judgement of different ideas will foster greater creativity. High levels of team trust and psychological safety will ensure that individuals are willing to say what they think and bring forward their most creative ideas without the fear of ridicule.

Rewarding the right behaviours like curiosity, trialling ideas and shared learning will ensure that individuals are more committed to doing things differently. Allowing time for creative thinking and play, supported by an inspirational environment can start to shift things on this front. Using a diverse group of thinkers when brainstorming for new ideas, will add cognitive diversity and ensure more creativity flows naturally. For instance, inviting marketing or sales to help brainstorm finance-related issues will provide a different perspective and add new ways of thinking to the mix.

The ability to start embracing uncertainty also goes hand in hand with increased levels of creativity. We need to allow experimentation and become more comfortable with failures– often referred to as the failing fast mentality. A culture of challenging, especially at the leadership level will help to bring about new ideas and stimulate doing things differently.

What can you do personally, to support more creativity?

Believe that you can get better at creativity and that it is a skill that even analytical finance professionals can learn. Challenge yourself a bit every day to do things in a different way that will enhance your non-linear thinking in terms of the six creativity components.

Commit to a few activities that will support your daily creativity development, e.g. challenging the status quo, or talking to diverse people. Brainstorm challenges with your team regularly. Do away with traditional meetings, sitting down around a table, whenever possible. Be more creative, ask powerful questions and use post-it notes and other facilitation mechanisms to come up with different answers. Create a finance team charter for creativity and commit to doing things differently.

You can also take a free CPD accredited course ‘A new mindset for a digital world – increase performance through creativity and innovation’, which will guide you on how to create a creativity team charter.

@ Talita Ferreira and Anders Liu-Lindberg

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