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  • Writer's pictureSeema Sutradhar

Why develop a systematic culture of Creativity & Innovation?


The expertise of today may not be valuable tomorrow. The work that we do today would get impacted by the change we are experiencing in everything - the way we live, work and connect with each other. Technology has made its way deep into our lives. Everything that we do now has an element of technology and more precisely information technology. It appears like our lives are getting digitised - what we do; what we like; how we make decisions; how we take actions - almost everything for that matter. We are constantly leaving behind our footprints of our personal as well as professional lives in the form of data points. Now, imagine if this data that we are leaving behind constantly is read by machines and those machines learn to make sense out of it then they will know more about us than we do. It may also learn to do the jobs that we do now and certainly, in a much smarter way. As most of you would agree, this is not a possibility anymore but a reality, indeed.

Artificial Intelligence or Deep Learning or Cognitive Computing is about machines learning to do work that humans do. How do they do it? It’s actually all about prediction. How do machines predict? They do it by digging through the data we humans have produced. Machines develop algorithms, the extended version of millions of ‘if then else’ conditions. Now instead of writing, ’if then else’ rules as programmers did in the past, machines develop decision trees after reading through the historical data they are fed with. This helps them to form a network. This network creates multiple paths (scenarios) and each with an endpoint (decision).

These decision trees or algorithms help the machine make a decision or predict what should be done in a given scenario. Machines are capable of updating their algorithms as and when a new set of historical data they are fed with. Hence we can say that machines are capable of learning and getting better over time. These machines can read data in various forms including unstructured text, image, audio, and video. Now as you see we are constantly generating an enormous amount of data at a rapid pace and this data is easily archivable because the price of storage has come down drastically. All these things have made the conditions favourable for machine learning and thus automation of human jobs.

IBM’s ‘Watson’ is making its mark in this area. For example, an international insurance company that processes millions of claims a year, a complex claim that took two days to process is now completed in just 10 minutes thereby reducing response time. WestPac Bank in New Zealand increased customer interactions from 40% to 92%, transforming the way the bank engages with its customers. Another one, a virtual agent providing cognitive conversational self-service experience while able to answer as well as take actions. Now Artificial Intelligence is also used in so many ways in our daily lives - Siri takes our command; Netflix suggests movies; Facebook suggests friends; computers trade our stocks; we have cars that park themselves and many more.

We know we cannot ignore these smart machines. We will be using them in the future to do more and more of the jobs because they will be making sense and if that means we will be handing over a major chunk of our work to them then the question will remain - exactly what will we do? Here, what we still need to understand better is that the future is in our hands. We are the ones who will design jobs of the future and decide how we want to use these machines. This is why we have to start using our unique quality which is imagination and paint a picture of the future. We can imagine and create new needs which are not visible to us now, but these needs will trigger new jobs in equal or more in numbers in the future. The demands in the economy are created by humans and fulfilled by humans. So, as long as humans are there, needs will be there; so jobs will be there. ‘What’ will albeit change is the nature of the work, and we are indeed at the beginning of this fourth industrial revolution.

Rob High, IBM Fellow, Vice President & Chief Technology Officer of IBM Watson shared:

As artificial intelligence (AI) begins to power more technology across industries, it’s been truly exciting to see what our community of developers can create with Watson. Developers are inspiring us to advance the technology that is transforming society, and they are the reason why such a wide variety of businesses are bringing cognitive solutions to market.”

Artificial Intelligence is here to augment human work and not replace it. All around us, there are plenty of work to be done to address global challenges we all are facing today. These challenges include climate change, poverty, food, health, education, clean water and sanitation, inequality and injustice, the uplifting of human lives and many more. Smart machines have brought in an enormous opportunity to us and a glittering hope. It will enable us to hand over many of our repetitive work to machines and thus free us to do higher level jobs that will be actually needed to address the big challenges of today. We may not know all the answers but we definitely know through our imagination and will, we can think afresh and work towards goals that really matter. Through economic activities and appropriate business models, we can create new jobs while attempting to address our biggest challenges. By including the power of smart machines in our toolkit, we will be in a much stronger situation than anytime it has happened in the past. Thus what organisations need to do now is imagine and start innovating. In Sir Ken Robinson’s words:

“Innovations may focus on any aspect of an organisation’s work; on the introduction of new products, of new services or new systems. Innovation may be the aims, but the process of getting to it has to begin with imagination and creativity.”

- Sir Ken Robinson

Imagining about the future and expressing ideas and further transforming them into innovations is what will help us create the future that we want. Innovation takes off from a ground that is rich with imagination and creativity. This fertile ground is nothing but the culture of the organisation. If the culture is such that people feel free to share their ideas, they are motivated, and they engage in creative work, then innovations are bound to come out of them. In such a culture the leadership shows faith in their people and believe in them. They know everyone in the organisation is capable of imagining and expressing new ideas of value. Nurturing of such a culture needs a commitment from the top. In Sir Ken Robinson’s words:

“Creating a culture of innovation will only work if the institution is led from the top of the organisation. The endorsement and involvement of leaders means everything, if the environment is to change.”

- Sir Ken Robinson

People have ideas that are of value. It is a question of believing in themselves and coming forward to share, discuss challenges, form allies with those who think alike, ask for what is needed, develop solutions collaboratively and test them. Leaders need to encourage these thinkers, provide them support and exposure. Leader’s approval or endorsement and involvement in nurturing of ideas make a huge difference in developing a culture that is supple and welcomes creative insights. Also, leaders are empathic and intellectually humble. They disapprove quick and easy answers and stay hungry to learn more and understand different perspectives. They set the stage for people to interact, to understand the challenges, to get inspired, to find their passion and to come up with new ideas. They create the ambiance including the physical space that welcomes creative thinking. They make people feel free to experiment and get creative. This might look like leading the organisation to chaos but to nurture a culture of innovation, leaders need to allow more freedom with agreed systems of evaluation and less of command and control.

Leaders need to value harmony and balance between the internal and external environment - the ecosystem in which the business co-exists. The innovations must align and embody the 3Ps - People, Planet and Profit together without marginalising one for the other. This is the real challenge at this time as we are creating the future we want. Ignoring any of the first two Ps for the third is not what will work in the long run. Thus keeping sustainability at the centre of everything, we would be working towards better answers to the global challenges we are facing. It is the harmony with nature if maintained; everything else will fall into place. The distortions in our environment like pollution, temperature rise, drought, dreadful hurricanes, heavy blizzards, etc. are the outcomes of this imbalance created by us humans. We have this enormous opportunity now to rectify our mistakes and innovate systems those will be much more sustainable and better for everyone.

Keeping the focus on nurturing a systematic culture of creativity and innovation will enable us to build the future that we want. We will be creating enough jobs to engage us. These jobs will have definitions that will be brand new while smart machines will become indispensable items in our toolkit.

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