Meeting our business challenges with creativity

A tide is turning for the state of business. We have come to realize the old ways of innovating and competing are no longer moving fast enough. We’re looking for new answers, and more importantly, new ways of finding them.

This past week I had the pleasure of attending the 25th annual Emerging Issues Forum in Raleigh. The forum brought together business and government leaders from across the state to discuss the challenges facing our economy as we race to compete in a changing world.

You can read a great perspective on the event by Chris Grams here and here, and you can also read the Twitter stream as it happened.

The theme of this year’s forum was Creativity, iNC.–how to cultivate and apply our creative resources to inspire change in North Carolina. And while the dialogue centered around how we can improve the economic climate and enrich the lives of people in our state, the challenges certainly aren’t limited to our state alone.

This is why I was so impressed when I saw the world-class caliber of thought leaders in the forum’s keynote lineup. Among the speakers: Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management, Tom Kelley, general manager of IDEO, and bestselling author Daniel Pink–all are at the very forefront of applying creativity, design, and right-brain thinking to a business world that all too often values analysis and only what it can measure and control.

Daniel Pink. Photo credit: Emerging Issues Forum. Click photo for more.

Creativity is the the fuel for innovation. It’s the key to competing in a world where, as Daniel Pink says, routine, repeatable work can be done cheaper elsewhere. These creative jobs where people are given autonomy and must apply creative problem-solving skills–these are the jobs that, for the past 40 years, have never seen higher than 4% unemployment according to Martin.

So the question becomes, as we continue to export manufacturing jobs out of North Carolina, and indeed across the US (although Martin reminds us that this is not a new trend and has been steadily happening for decades)–how do we help educate the new workforce, re-energize industry, and return hope?

This is one of the keys for me: How do we inspire. How do we lead with ideas. How do we get people to believe.

The forum certainly provided its share of ways to help solve the problem: expanding arts programs for our young people rather than reducing them, investing in the next innovation revolution: green energy, and applying design and design thinking to solve our biggest challenges, even leveraging the power of open source.

I felt so fortunate to be able to join a forum to hear from these thought leaders in my own city firsthand. I also had an opportunity to briefly speak to Roger Martin and Daniel Pink directly at the reception on Monday evening. I’ve read books from both of them, and I couldn’t recommend them more highly.

Roger Martin’s new book is “The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage.” Which was just recently released and I can’t wait to read. I’ve read his previous book, “The Opposable Mind” and it’s outstanding.

What I continually find so powerful about Roger Martin’s work is how he applies business data to promote his theories about creativity, which also gives creative individuals a language to speak to business leaders in their own organizations. In our department at Red Hat we’ve often looked to Roger Martin’s concepts on balancing reliability and viability to help explain the dual mindsets necessary in finding answers to problems.

Daniel Pink has written a new book called “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.” It’s a brilliant book, and not just because he references the open source model. I’ve also written about Daniel Pink and his previous book, “A Whole New Mind” here.

I’m thrilled Daniel Pink mentioned open source in his speech. Pink talked about the power of open source and that one of the reasons it motivates people is that gives them a higher purpose. These kinds of intrinsic motivations can be very difficult to quantify, but very powerful.

Red Hat’s VP of Open Source Affairs, Michael Tiemann, continued the conversation about open source when he talked about how the best way to master creativity is to understand nature. And that open source, where the best ideas can come from anywhere, even outside your own company, is a more natural way to do that. Tiemann calls the concept “exonovation,” where you take the best ideas and apply them. Tiemann believes the new model for innovation must be based not on ownership, but leadership.

The forum was brought to a fitting close with a stunning talk by Bill Strickland. Strickland eloquently told his story of how he is helping lift inner-city people out of poverty by curing spiritual cancer–through sunlight, food, art, and hope.

Bill Strickland. Photo credit: Emerging Issues Forum. Click photo for more.

For Strickland, he says the environment drives attitude. Which is why he builds the highest-quality training facilities to teach and introduce poor people to pottery, art, cooking, and music. In his words, “The only thing wrong with poor people is that they don’t have any money. And we can solve that problem.” It was an emotional, inspiring, and unforgettable.

And it reminds me just how important it is to give people hope and a reason to believe. To inspire with ideas. To take on big challenges. To give people a mission. And to hand ordinary people, whether in inner cities or in organizations, the autonomy and accountability to make their own decisions and put their most creative ideas to work.

When you do, you’ll be shocked at the ingenuity and passion they apply toward solving even the biggest problems.

At the end of the forum, I’m left with one conclusion: That the issues discussed in these two days aren’t really emerging at all. They’re here. And we need to start working on the solutions now.

When we supply the hope and belief and the power of ideas, we can cultivate communities and then mobilize them. And hopefully with forums like this in North Carolina, we’re starting to see the tools to get started are within each one of us.

Congratulations to the Institute for Emerging Issues for a timely and relevant theme, great event, and a stellar lineup of speakers. Also congratulations to my friends at New Kind for their work on the brand identity and the collaboration platform, where you can join in on the conversation now.


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