During the course of my 20-plus years of experience in the IT industry, I have often wondered why there isn’t more creativity infused into the development process.
It seems to me that Computer Science is as much art as it is science. For example; in the areas of Architecture, Design, and Software Development, there is never one single “right” way to do something; there are multiple platforms, tools, programming languages to choose from, as well as multiple ways to architect systems, numerous data models and applications. In other words, there are so many paths to chose from, with each having its positive as well as its negative aspects.
But the best-designed systems are ones created by people who can collaborate to produce the most complete, creative solution to solve a particular problem. Yet a lot of IT people do not really like to collaborate – having their work challenged and critiqued is too uncomfortable for them.
Collaboration as the Key
In his book Creativity, Inc., Ed Catmull lays out a compelling case for collaboration and creativity in the workplace: What if collaboration was viewed as a positive creative process, rather than viewed from a critical bent? For example, while most of us won’t work in an environment as creative as Pixar, companies would benefit from seeing IT through a creative lens. Developing software to manage a credit approval process may never be as exciting as creating the next Buzz Lightyear, but it could still benefit from some creativity. Creativity, as defined, is the process by which something new and valuable is formed. So, it could be argued, in some cases that new and valuable thing is a well-designed and well-functioning credit approval process.
It all starts and ends with people. You may have the best hardware and software but it is, ultimately, people who develop the ideas and creative methods with which to solve problems. As Catmull says, “A mediocre team with a good idea would most likely destroy the idea; whereas a brilliant team with a mediocre idea would come up with something better.” Consider this: What is the negative cost of hiring a very intelligent architect who can only work in a silo and isn’t willing to collaborate? You’d better hope his ideas are the “right” ones. But taking the time to assemble project teams comprised of people who complement each other and have the right chemistry would pay real bottom line dividends, and increase the chances that great ideas rise to the top and are implemented in solutions.
How to Increase Creativity?
The best ideas come from collaboration. Unfortunately, many in IT roles are introverted, and by nature shy away from collaboration. Some of the smartest technical people can be rigid in their views and battle religiously to defend their positions. But how many times has one individual developed the perfect anything? There are always changes to be made and a few years into most systems’ lifespan, people are at least talking (albeit in hushed tones) about the need for a major overhaul or rewrite.
What if we worked to infuse creativity into our work cultures and made collaboration a positive experience? At Pixar, they operate with the understanding that any person who takes on a complicated task will at some point become lost during the process. This is not viewed as a negative; collaborative teams are already in place to help get through these periods.
What Kills Creativity?
Other workplace killers include fear and stress. You can tell if a company embraces the negative connotations of failure by observing what happens when mistakes are made: How do people react when an error is discovered? Do they turn inward in an attempt to hide the error, or do they bring it out into the light so that the group can find solutions? What if we created work cultures that worked to remove fear from the environment?
As Cutmull says, “Many CEOs ask themselves, which is more important: good ideas or good people? This is a dichotomy, as ideas come from people; therefore people will always come first.” Until computers can create new ideas, people are always a company’s number one asset. The best company can never overcome its people, for better or worse.