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What CEOs Really Want

September 14, 2010

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Recently, IBM surveyed over 1500 CEOs, to find out their most pressing challenges.  The complexity of the worldwide markets, combined with an increased rate of change, were the top remarks.  In attempting to deal with the challenges of the current economy, business leaders cited one quality above all others that can help employees to make a difference.

Surprisingly, the most-desired quality or characteristic was not technical competence.  It wasn’t loyalty, or communication skills, or financial acumen.  The number-one most important characteristic for business leaders?  Creativity.

Surprising, when you consider the traditional definitions of creativity.  For “creatives”, that word is used as both a description, and an excuse (Ever heard this one? “We can’t/won’t/don’t do that, we’re ‘creative'”).  Under careful consideration, “being creative” is not always a positive and encouraging description.  Where do you find “creative” accountants, for example?  Answer: Jail.

For financial professionals, project managers, executives and other task- or numbers-oriented individuals, the call for creativity seems quite contrary to the training and experiences that form the very foundation of the business world.  “Creative” is a department, or a compartment, reserved for individuals with unique talents that are not particularly commonplace in shipping, accounts payable, or operations.  So, “creativity” is rare, shapeless, often negative, potentially dangerous and certainly counter-intuitive.  Has IBM generated a survey that appeals for an artsy-craftsy approach to business?  Or is there a deeper meaning that this author has carefully chosen to ignore, in an attempt to roll out a few one-liners? (Ah, you caught me….)  This survey actually says that it is time for creativity to turn this economy around.

Creativity, in the context of business, means the power of creation.  Creativity is the way that we harness our imagination to disrupt the status quo, and find new solutions to the same old problems. The global leaders in the IBM survey seek creative solutions to experiment and innovate.  The leaders in the survey identify creativity as the antidote for the status quo, and central to the necessary disruption that is required for our collective marketplace to get unstuck.

CEOs are looking for ways to shake up their portfolios, their business models, and their old ways of addressing challenges in the marketplace.

Business leaders expect complexity to increase, and the need for disruption to follow (perhaps even lead) the advancement.  Creativity is needed, above all else, in order to innovate and lead through this current financial climate.  Why?  Because business must create a new future.  That future must build on the present, but in new and meaningful ways – ways that can only be described as “creative”, because they haven’t been created yet!

Creativity means many things, but at its core, the process of creation begins with an idea.  Based on current information, “what if?” opens the door to imagination – and new solutions can only come from within the realm of new ideas.  As the economy continues to churn and struggle, the leaders of tomorrow are the ones who are open to new concepts, new perspectives and new solutions.  Seeing things as they are is an important skill (awareness), but seeing things as they could be – and then making them that way – well, that takes some creativity.  Don’t you agree?

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