Creativity, innovation and HR

So, day one at HR Tech World London has whizzed by. It’s late, I have my feet up and I am reflecting on what I saw and heard today. In fact, I have actually already had some time to reflect because many of the conversations I’ve had today have involved discussing the conference sessions and what stood out for myself and other attendees.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of this buzz centred on the opening keynote from Sir Ken Robinson. With a background in learning, I have heard much tale of Sir Ken but am one of the few not to have watched his TED talk (over 44 million views and counting) or seen him speak elsewhere. Not something I’ve achieved on purpose, it had just never happened for some reason. So I went with an open mind to his session on ‘leading a culture of innovation’. It’s immediately obvious why he is a popular speaker, he is very engaging and funny with only a small handful of slides to illustrate key points.

He began by talking about how people are infinitely creative and talented, even when they don’t think they really are. His aim is to understand the ‘depth of human talent’ and how cultural backdrops – like where we work – affect the ability of that talent to shine. He then discussed how organisations struggle to stay creative – therefore finding it hard to innovate – and therefore finding it hard, in the end, to stay going. The average lifespan of a company has halved to 30 years in the last four decades he says.

And here’s where the session could have taken a HR-specific turn but unfortunately for me, didn’t. The rest of his talk used some interesting examples to show creativity in action both in terms of art and problem solving. But as is often the case with keynotes, didn’t offer up any real practical advice for fostering a culture of innovation beyond the importance of leadership and a nice reframe of the traditional organisation chart (below).

For me though, the elephant in the room (full of HR professionals) was exploring what the role of HR is in creating a culture of creativity and innovation that helps organisations not just survive, but thrive. As Sir Ken stated, many individuals do not see themselves as creative. Some project that onto others as the art experiment demonstrates, where the Chinese couldn’t initially see disabled people as having creative ability. And to my mind, HR falls into this category. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that HR isn’t generally perceived as being a creative discipline. But is this doing HR a disservice? Has it in fact got potential to be far more creative and have a role in leading from the front when it comes to an organisational culture of creativity and innovation?

Alternatively, maybe the perception is right and HR isn’t inherently creative. But maybe that’s OK. Because HR’s role in this culture of innovation could be in hiring the right people, it might be in managing and nurturing their talent effectively, it might be incentivising creativity with the right rewards, or it might be providing learning opportunities to hone skills in creativity. Any or all of these could be the key to this Utopian organisation that Sir Ken referenced – one which is innovative, keeps reinventing itself and ultimately, stands the test of time.

I feel this could have been an interesting debate and whilst I appreciate that Sir Ken clearly isn’t a HR professional so probably just isn’t interested in that level of detail, I think that so many discussions could have been started from this point if it was made more explicitly in the opening session of the day. It was still an entertaining keynote and one which sparked lots of thinking and conversation throughout the day. Maybe that’s one for a panel discussion or for follow up at HR Tech World in Amsterdam in the Autumn.

I’ll be reflecting on other sessions in later posts but if you were there or following the live stream, what were your thoughts on Sir Ken’s session? And how do you feel about a) HR as a creative discipline and b) HR as a driver for organisational creativity and innovation? Let me know in the comments.


About kategraham23

Start-up founder, writer, connector, librarian's daughter. Interested in learning, HR, technology, online, media, marketing, fashion and cricket. Not always in that order. The views expressed here are solely my own and do not reflect the thoughts and opinions of the company I work for currently, or those I've worked for in the past.
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