Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Business Creativity ( why you need it and how to buy it) Part 5

In the fifth article in this series I look at why a business might want to employ a consultant or facilitator to help them kick start a creativity or innovation programme.

Why use consultants?

For some reason, and I’m sure there is research somewhere on this topic, it is impossible for an organisation to kick-start their own creativity or innovation programme. Many have started and attempted to devise some sort of change programme, workshops or new processes but all fail shortly afterwards. What seems to be needed is an external kick (in the right place) that mobilises the internal resources of the business.

For many organisations, the resources and skills required exist within the business as it currently is. There is no need to recruit, or spend many hundreds of thousands of pounds on getting very expensive consultants to do the work for you. All you need is some external help with a plan, some training and development, facilitation and knowledge transfer before continuing on your own. It is likely that and organisation will not have the capability to keep abreast of the world of creativity so a regular ‘top up’ might be needed. But be wary of long term dependency on any outside agent.

Probably the single most important reason for hiring consultants is to bring in people with a particular set of skills. The more specialised a consultant is in his or her field, the more valuable they are to clients. Specialist know-how usually falls into two categories. First, there's 'industry-specific skills' – you need people who are experts in your sector. Second, there's what you could call 'issue-specific skills', which is where you need people who are experts in a particular issue – it may be a problem or an opportunity.

But there are times when you simply need help – bright, energetic people who are well-informed, who can help you get a new initiative up and running at a time when it's proving difficult to free up your own internal resources. You're quite definitely not looking for specialists here. You need the consultants to be very flexible – rolling up their sleeves and doing whatever it takes to get the job done – and that's something that requires a broad base of knowledge, rather than in-depth expertise in just one or two areas. It is this third category that your creativity or innovation consultant should fall.

Going back to the premise that the client is the person with intimate knowledge of their business and their market, the final ingredient is the ability to make things happen (i.e. know where to aim the kick).

Even in the smallest organisations, managers find it difficult to stand back and analyse what's happening. Opportunities are missed, and threats are ignored. Even where time is allowed for such reflection, how can you ensure that you're seeing what matters most to the organisation, not just what matters most to you as an individual? Outsiders, like consultants, can provide you with an invaluable perspective because they're looking at your organisation with new eyes.

There are also occasions when you want access – not so much to an outside view, or new data – but to creative thinking, when you want someone to sit down with your organisation and devise an innovative approach. It may be that you and everyone in your industry face a similar threat – for example, the appearance of new, potentially disruptive technology. All your competitors may have adopted the same stance, but you may be looking for a different approach, one that takes the problem and converts it into an opportunity for you to differentiate yourself.

In the sixth and final part of this series I will take a look at how a business might run a creativity programme and some tips about choosing an external consultant.

The entire article on Buying Creativity can be read and downloaded by clicking on the link.

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