I’ve spent quite a bit of time with a senior principal at IBM recently. We’ve had a few inflammatory discussions around the IBM brand, corporate green washing and the most recent Accenture / IBM / NHS deal or no-deal. However what did spark an interesting debate was based on IBM’s approach to creativity and commercial innovation.
IBM invest heavily in being creative and innovative. They go as far as setting up think tanks, introducing creative work spaces, encouraging creative collaboration by rewarding self starters, and by offering employees formal training on mind mapping and other techniques.
So why, like most large organisations, aren’t they creative?
Some would argue they are, most would say define creativity. Creativity in this context is the invention of ideas, ideas that solve commercial problems. Necessity is the mother of invention, and, in my opinion, nowhere is necessity more heavily felt than in a small, fragile business.
We often say that anyone can have an idea, but very few can have sixty ideas an hour? That’s why creativity is more about culture than an individual. An organisations culture defines its creative output, and ideas need a particularly toxic atmosphere to breed.
True creativity is found in anarchy, and more often only when pressure is applied. True anarchy and pressure in an organisation like IBM simply cannot exist, because they are bound by the laws and processes that define them.
Creative agencies are magical places, not solely because of the creative people they employ, but because they spawn and tolerate a culture that treads a very fine line. Because ideas are driven out of commercial needs, not a need to simply be creative. And because an agency has to have sixty ideas an hour, just to stay in business.
That’s why IBM have closed their think tanks, removed their funky beanbags and headed back to their spreadsheets. That’s why there will always be small agencies whose sole purpose is to come up with the ideas that make the world go round.
Now who’s going to counter this argument citing Apple?