Creativity and joining the dots

South Wales Evening Post - 3 December 2013

A question I inevitably get asked about my consultancy firm is, "So what exactly is it that you do, anyway?"

This can be tricky as I'm aware that a full answer has the potential to come over like an obscure form of theology. In other words, it takes a while to explain and a lot of it has to be taken on faith.

My stock reply is that I poke my nose into other peoples' business for a living. In my case, it's the literal truth as the most effective way of presenting the big picture about someone's plan or project is to understand how it all fits together.

How I managed to turn a skill-set gained from experience in public and private sectors into a business opportunity is a subject for another time. My reason for mentioning it however is that I recently found myself doing a spot of unintentional benchmarking on my creative abilities.

This happened at an event hosted by the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) where a series of top flight speakers made some very intriguing connections between creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship.

An invited audience of academics, Assembly Members and business folk heard several remarkable insights on how we can be wired to succeed. What most grabbed my attention was the premise that the creativity spark doesn't just stem from being clever enough to connect the dots but by evolving the ability to see more dots. 

On hearing this challenging proposition, I can understand why the university is making headway on the international academic scene.

A further impression I gained is that while becoming a successful entrepreneur may not entirely depend upon you being young, brilliant and backed by an innovative university but it undoubtedly helps.

Part of the reason may be that practically everyone over the age of 25 has learnt to be fearful of risk in a society that has a real hang-up about failure. Yet as people like James Dyson, Henry Ford and Richard Branson have all professed, failure is an essential part of the process of learning and success.

A story told about Welsh entrepreneur Sir Terry Matthews is that he and a partner tried to raise money to start up their fledgling electronics company Mitel in Canada by importing and selling lawnmowers. Somehow the lawnmowers were delivered in winter when most of the country was under several feet of snow. Thereafter, goes the tale, the company was noted for displaying an exceptional sense of timing when launching new products onto the market.

Returning to the seminar, it didn't take long for the pragmatic in the audience to point out the elephant in the classroom. The general view was that there's a job to be done in educating the educators about creativity. I also heard someone alongside me mumble that he couldn't see a notoriously risk-averse banking sector buying into the concept.

Yet maybe there is scope for change if investors are able to distinguish between a creative entrepreneur with the right training and responsible attitude towards risk and the selfish serial chancer who quickly liquidates leaving behind a string of struggling creditors.

Whatever your view on the relative merits of the mixed economy, entrepreneurs clearly have a key role in creating new business and new jobs. Our dependency on public sector employment in Wales is an economic cul-de-sac and we desperately need alternatives.

As I've written previously, innovation can actually be re-invention with a new twist. There's nothing wrong with that approach. Taking something that isn't yet entirely fit for purpose and finding a new commercial niche is essentially smart business.

The example I had in mind is the newly opened Ocean Room at the National Waterfront Museum which was showcased last week. Located on the ground floor overlooking the Marina, I'm amazed that this space has not previously been marketed as an ideal 120 seat conference venue. Of course, it all makes perfect sense following the conversion – which is what innovation is meant to achieve when you think about it.

It's a venue I plan on mentioning to clients, especially having sampled several slices of the sweet red onion and cheese quiche that was on offer. Definitely my kind of creativity.