In the Information Age, creativity that leads to business innovation and added value is less about beginner's luck than it is about possessing a "beginner's mind," one that allows you to see things as they are, versus as they have been. The ability to do so, says John Kao, is one of the tenets of fostering and managing creativity to engender new value in organizations.

Kao, author of Jammin: The Art and Discipline of Business Creativity, and academic director of the Managing Innovation program at Stanford University (he's also taught at Harvard Business School and Yale University), believes that organizational prosperity is contingent upon companies developing systems that stimulate creativity, which, in turn, leads to genuine new value. The ability to harness such creativity, he says, is fundamental to unleashing a business's greatest potential.

While it's apparent that embracing the notion of increasing returns, or the tendency of that which is ahead to stay ahead and press on further, is a much-desired state for financial institutions, getting there is no easy task. Overwhelmed by innovation and the pace of ensuing market change, many institutions mistakenly believe that increasing returns are linked to technology. Not so; achieving this requires building skills to manage creativity, something Kao refers to as Jammin (as in musical jam sessions), or improvisation to create value. In a world where the achievement of greatness is diminished by a growing commoditization of innovation (read: Internet), most financial institutions are merely chasing potential, confronted by a creativity chasm prompting many of them to substitute technology for entrepreneurial vision in a frenzied bid to capture new market opportunities-sans the added value. While abandoning all existing business practices, procedures and processes is unnecessary; real change- scrap the lip service-is imperative. Kao's advice: The objective is to balance "what is known with getting to what isn't known" in the business.

Despite what some self-proclaimed experts have encouraged, Kao says that business creativity cannot be fostered by gathering senior executives together for an off-site that begins with everyone literally "barking like dogs" to unleash it. Real creativity comes from persons that see a new "perception of opportunity and then marshal the resources to make it happen."

To do this, Kao argues that three improvisation skills are necessary: clearing the mind, or extending one's radar screen beyond what is; clearing the place, or creating an entrepreneurial environment where people can go and think differently, if even in a virtual sense; and clearing the beliefs, or getting people within the organization to buy into the relevance of creativity to your company's respective business. The most successful companies are not just focused on knowledge management; rather, they blur the traditionally vertical silos of strategy, design and creativity, developing an acute "awareness" of when to pull back and when to push harder.

This, he says, is what business creativity, competitiveness and prosperity are really all about.

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