Teaching Creativity…

Oxymoron, right?  Well, let’s see.

Today, creativity, innovation and the ilk are corporate buzzwords.  Every manager is looking to increase these to improve product appeal and to reduce costs.  The debate is over how.

Can we increase these competencies in our teams today or do we need structural changes to happen.  The answer may depend upon what the organization’s views on these skills are.

One point which elicits agreement is that there are already instances of creativity and innovation in most teams.  The incentive structures and organization around these efforts, in most cases, is not sufficient to tap into these instances and derive the desired benefit or sustainability.  Further, some of the organizational frameworks actively discourage out-of-the-box thinking which is a severe limitation towards these competencies.  Tapping into the existing instances is necessary, but probably not sufficient for the needs of the organization.

Solution?  A culture change is necessary.  The people need to believe that the creative and innovative competency is something that is not only rewarded, but is expected.  However, the larger question is can they deliver?  Is this competency static or is something that can be built up in the individual and the team?  That is where I see disagreement.

One argument is that you cannot teach people to be creative.  That is an inherent part of ones nature and cannot be infused.  To really be able to create these competencies in an organization, you need to acquire it externally.  Evidence the increase in evaluation of creativity and innovation ability during the interview process!

My view is different.  I believe that these competencies can be encouraged, nurtured and taught.  These competencies revolve around a state of mind where people think outside of the standard script.  This can be encouraged if there is sufficient latitude for bringing up new ideas and sufficient allowances for failure.  The expectations also have to be realistic.  We probably will not get a Mona Lisa, but we can definitely do better than draw stick figures.

There are also some reasons that internal growth of these competencies is preferred over external infusion.  The subject matter experts of the organization, especially a knowledge organization, are the key drivers.  Without this expertise, creativity and innovation will mean little.  You cannot create a masterpiece painting without knowing how to paint.  Similarly, you cannot create a concept car without understanding cars.  If you know the current product range inside out, the concept product will be much closer to your organizations ability to deliver – faster time to market and better quality!

Fact of the matter is that these competencies cannot be “taught” in the sense that there is no roadmap or textbook which can be followed blindly.  The acquiring of these competencies is riddled with experimentation and hitting brick walls.  But, if teaching is limited to imparting skills which can be learnt only with a roadmap, our whole education system is in trouble!

Wait a minute!  Isn’t that what is already happening???  Aaagghh…

Reactions To The Mumbai Blasts…

Like a lot of people, I was a helpless observer of the events unfolding in Mumbai last night.  There was a drive to contribute accompanied by a distinct inability to do so.  In the end, I became part of the masses watching this unfold on media and trying to ensure that friends and family were OK.

Friends and family…  Would first like to pass on my condolences to all who were directly impacted by this.  Loss of life or health is not replaceable with any post-facto actions.

I would also like to pass on some of my observations.  What surprised me was that these observations have large support from the sources that I was able to observe – comments on TV, digital media or print media – the general public comments.

Panic

A lot of panic was generated yesterday.  Panic was related to a general feeling of deja vu, and the experiences of the city and country from the pre-decessors.  The panic was exacerbated by the actions of the media.  What did impress me though was the calm and methodical approach taken by the people in charge.  Regular, clear, concise communication with no pre-analysis announcements – the biggest difference that I was able to note.

Police

Seemed to do a better job than I remember ever before.  They were much better at communication, but in the scenes that I could see, the hawaldar on the ground was still confused.  Preparedness, organization and ability to respond quickly seems to still need work. Inability to clear and secure the sites quickly also bothered me.

Media

The behaviour of the media did not surprise me.  That to me was strange given that what I saw I categorized as deplorable. There has been a lot of criticism of this in previous incidents; likewise in this one, but not sure what would motivate our dear TV news channels to change.

  • The TV news channels were running in a loop – showing the same things with an amazing frequency.
  • They kept people extremely up to date on any official announcements regarding casualty numbers and the ilk
  • They were relentless in pursuing eyewitnesses; 1 channel even interviewed a person who had run away from the scene without seeing anything
  • The images were graphic, in a lot of cases not even blurred. People were being encouraged to send more images in
  • In getting this information, neither the TV crews or the other people at the sites worried about trampling all over the evidence
  • There was no information on the state of traffic, trains, buses, etc so that people could find their way home
  • There was no information on blood donation that I noticed – either encouraging or directing donors
  • There was no direction on what people were supposed to do

There seemed to be a focus on satisfying the voyeuristic desires of people sitting at home (like me); not to pass on helpful information to people caught-up in the mess and needing help

 Digital Media

 I have not been a user of twitter until recently. What I have heard about it’s past contributions is one of the reasons I am there now.  The tweeps were what really made the day here. What I saw:

  • People publishing phone numbers in public advertising assistance [food/shelter/medical help/etc]
  • People publishing routes that they are taking so that stranded people could get assistance
  • People responding to cries for help appropriately and providing solutions
  • People willing to give blood and other people directing them where to go
  • Somebody got the bright idea of consolidating the information so that it would be easily trackable and usable
  • Latest information on traffic, trains, buses, taxis and what not – actually useful to people
  • Other kinds of information was available – who to attack, how other countries would respond, etc.  However, there were an equal number of people asking them to hold-off until the emergency had been dealt with.

The brilliant behaviour of the people and the usefulness of the adopted platform to the cause is something that should be remembered in this hour of pain.  To whatever degree, these actions did alleviate some of the pain that would have been present otherwise.

 What I observed was interviewees on the TV, people on twitter and people I have had conversations with having similar sentiments. I am sure with a little bit of change we can do better next time.  For there to be no next time is the best, but that would require a lot of change.

What I learnt and what the 9-to-whatevers can take away is that resources available are not the only thing that drive results.  TV channels and the like have many more resources and better organization than any loosely built collection of individuals.  Yet, this collection provided a significantly higher benefit last night using the meagre resources.  Differences in motivation? drive? desire? leadership? ? ? You tell me…

Update:

A link detailing some of the activities that helped.

What is Customer Service?

There are multiple aspects of customer service; and they are not necessarily aligned.

So, here goes a recent conversation I had…

Ring, ring…
Me: Hello!
Oper: I am calling from xyz mobile company. Can I speak to Axxxx
Me: Nobody by that name here
Oper: Is this 9xxxxxxxxx?
Me: Yes, but the name is Aviral
Oper: Please go to the store at location x and submit your documents
Me: I did that 2 days ago. Can you please get this fixed?
Oper: Sir! This is a welcome call. I cannot do that. Please take your documents to location x
Me: (in my mind) What are you welcoming me to – bad customer service?

Unfortunately, experiences such as this are not limited to Telecom companies. In the city that I call home, customer service often takes a back seat. This is true in stores, restaurants, and even in the professional organizations.

This led me to question why we put up with it. I did an (extremely) unscientific survey and came up with the following observations:

  1. People tend to pay more attention to what they receive than how they receive it
  2. People tend to avoid thinking about what they will do when/if something goes wrong

This led me to thinking about the various facets of customer service. My thoughts, incomplete on hindsight, identified customer service as what I got from people – sales, queries, complaints and the ilk. I was completely ignoring the initial quality of the product as an element of customer service.

I now agree that the best customer service is one where one never needs after sales support. However, this is not realistic and companies need to cater for the other parts also. This is especially true for places with forced interaction such as restaurants – food quality is necessary but not sufficient.

So, the unanswered questions in my mind:

  1. What is the right balance as far as the definition of customer service goes?
  2. What are the drivers for organizations to achieve this balance?
  3. As consumers, how much and how can we impact these drivers to get the right balance necessary for us?

For us 9-to-whatevers, the question translates into how much we think about the customer vs. the product as we perform our duties…