By Sharon Mandell-Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Juniper Networks
You might not expect to be asked what your passion outside of work is, or what books you like to read, or what kinds of things have piqued your curiosity recently in a job interview with a CIO—but for any candidate I interview, these questions are just as important as any technical expertise. Creativity is a top priority for any candidate, and it’s not just me who thinks that.
“IT” and “creativity” are not exactly symbiotic in most people’s minds. IT has long been seen as a super-technical space that had a sole focus on making sure that computing systems and infrastructure run without issue.
But modern IT leaders have seen how the need for creative thinking has become critical to any IT team. As digital transformation continues to thrive, technology will be looked at as a solution to a host of issues that businesses will face. These issues will require IT teams to be able to be both technical and creative to produce the best results for customers, whilst still encouraging environments of efficiency.
It’s true that “creativity” has been a buzzword for some time now—in 2010, an IBM survey of more than 1,500 CEOs found that creativity was “the most crucial factor for future success”, whilst just last year LinkedIn cited it as “the most important skill in the world.”
The difference now is that the IT industry has begun to accept this as a standard: the perception that it is dominated exclusively by technical specialists is eroding, and the most successful teams today are expected to display creativity that helps the business progress like any other team—in some cases, even more so.
Nowhere has this been more abundantly clear than the pressures COVID has placed on IT teams across the world, with an accelerated shift to remote collaboration which has increased the pressure and focus on IT teams.
IT teams need to address the issue of adaptation in our new world, whilst still considering how to optimise costs. It’s no easy game to play, that’s for sure—but what are the key signs your team has that ‘X-factor’ for creativity? Here are the key signs:
Two sides of same coin: IT is all about problem solving, and people need to feel enlivened by the challenge of finding innovative solutions to any problem. Regardless of technical skillsets, there has to be a team-wide understanding that constructing solutions for issues is a process that requires creativity.
“Constructing” is the key concept here. There are thousands of ways for a team to solve any number of single issues, but the best IT professionals approach each job like a musician. They utilise their creativity in order to orchestrate the elements to best fit the issue on a larger scale. In the same way a musician picks the notes or a song to display a certain type of emotion, IT professionals construct compositions of technologies that are effective and elegant.
A roving curiosity: A creative IT team will be filled with curious employees. It is a trait that dominates their lives, not just their time at work, and spills over into their work-life as a desire to innovate and try new solutions.
What passions do they have in their personal lives? Are they musicians? Scientists? Woodworkers? Any deep interest signifies that they are a person who has the gift of wonder and the curiosity to explore new ideas.
A lack of curiosity will lead to a dearth of creativity—and nothing can substitute a candidate with creativity, even if that means hiring someone less qualified on paper.
Empathy is the key: Research demonstrates a strong correlation between being creative and being empathetic. Applying creativity to any problem requires the ability to identify the issue and to understand the difficulty that it is causing the person or organisation who is experiencing it.
This is a skill that is growing ever more prevalent, as products become simplified and consumerised; everything becomes more and more based on the user’s experience. As such, IT professionals have to be able to really empathise with the user experience in order to better understand that experience for the user.
This translates into a team that delivers solutions to issues in a way that exemplifies experiential technologies, and ensuring that each user feels a deep level of personalisation for every solution.
Creativity is seen as essential: Due to the increased proliferation of automation and AI, IT is a space seeing transformative changes. Every manual repetitive task that would have traditionally be seen as the ‘bread and butter’ for IT professionals, is now being supplanted by machines. It’s already happening, and will only continue to scale into the future.
It’s a hard truth in the IT world that jobs are changing their requirements, and one of the primary requirements is an ability to tackle more cerebral business problems. The result of this shift is that a new outlook is required from IT professionals, where being creative is of paramount importance and a necessary capability for any professional to be truly successful. This will push teams to rethink their purposes within the overarching business and re-focus on providing innovative solutions to much larger problems.
The best way to see whether or not your team values creativity is how they behave towards training and new opportunities. Are they pushing themselves to learn more about new technologies? Are they embracing the opportunity to engage with new technologies or are they shying away from them?
These are four essential indicators that creativity is highly valued and highly integrated into your organisation. It’s of the utmost importance that CIOs and other IT leaders put time and effort into making decisions that lead to this type of environment and attract the types of thinkers who utilise their inquisition and spirit to make organisations better. It’s something I’ll continue to search for in any new hire, and something that you should too.