Posted: 05 Nov. 2020 05 min. read

Thinking creatively about creativity

Leon Doyle, Lead Partner sits down with Rob Hillard, Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer and Clare Harding, Chief Transformation Officer to discuss why creativity is essential to solve today’s business problems and what role it should play in the future at Deloitte.

This article was first published in Make, a Deloitte publication celebrating creativity and design, and the work we make. Volume 01, Issue 02.

To start with, what does it mean to be creative?

For me, creativity is about imagining new ideas and things, and is an integral part of the process of making something new. Creativity extends further than the creative arts; you can be creative in anything that you do at any point in life.

Rob: Ninety per cent of what we do in business and government is about running the status quo better, but what our best leaders do is bring a completely new perspective or angle to what they do, and that’s where creativity comes in.

Sometimes we think of creativity in the arts as often taking new perspective and that word perspective goes right alongside creativity.

The both of you have run large businesses in the firm, you’ve served dozens of clients, and you now help to steer this great firm. What is the most creative thing you’ve seen?

: I’ve seen creativity in action many times over my career; whether it’s applying design principles to reinvent civic penalties, so that people feel a little better about paying a traffic fine, right through to reimagining financial literacy so that people can get more out of the investments they’ve made over a lifetime.

What I see as a consistent theme, whether you are doing mergers and acquisitions

or reimagining the customer experience, is perspective. It’s somebody bringing something from another area of their life or another discipline and applying it to a business that may have always done things in a particular way. We can usually tell that someone has been creative when the first time the idea is put down or somebody thinks about it, everybody says “that’s completely crazy”.

When we first started hiring consultants from non-traditional backgrounds, everyone said, “that’s completely crazy”. Then suddenly, people started to see that someone with a music background can bring something completely different to consulting engagements. That idea of multi-sourcing for skills just becomes the new normal. Applying perspective to creativity ultimately changes the status quo.

Clare: If you look at Uber, when they first put that idea out there you think “that’ll never catch on”, yet it’s a different way of looking at the problem and they’ve created a new way of doing things.

Equally on the ground here in Australia, there are so many examples of creativity. What about reinventing the way we deal with food waste so that disadvantaged people can have a square meal every day and we have a lower environmental impact at the same time? That’s creativity close to home being brought to life by OzHarvest. It isn’t just about the ideas; it is about putting them into action.

We now see creativity on a big scale. Here in Australia, the Gravity Challenge (see page 06) led by Rob and Jason Bender, our Innovation Leader, has been incredibly creative. Bringing together government, business, entrepreneurs and space fanatics, they’ve been considering how we can use the data we collect from space and satellites to solve business, social and environmental problems.

These big problems have really creative solutions and have involved lots of different people in the process. I think that we’ve seen more of this in the last few years because of the mechanisms that make this kind of collaboration easier. There is a lot of creativity in the organisational environment at the moment.

Singularity University refers to this as “global grand challenges”. We’re going to need a huge dose of creativity if we are going to navigate these problems.

To build on Singularity University, if there is one thing we know, it’s that as a global society we face some massive challenges. We have masses of science and ingenuity that hasn’t been harnessed to its full potential; many scientists have invented really unique and clever technologies but our application of them has been limited by our application of creativity. Now there is opportunity for both business and government to apply these unharnessed capabilities in brand new, interesting ways.

When I think about ‘big’ and creative innovation in Australia I think about the big challenges of reinventing energy, climate change, the future of agriculture and transport — particularly for our major cities. Existing and emerging science combined in creative ways is essential if we’re going to bring solutions to reality. What’s really exciting is that this is happening right across the country.

Clare: A great example of creative applications of existing technology was raised by Anna Marsden, the CEO of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. She describes that the future of the reef comes down to really very clever people using their creativity in technology to support the reef’s regrowth and continued protection.

Rob: Creativity is innate in all of us. Some people may come up with ‘more’ creative ideas or express their creativity more often, but we all as humans are capable of being creative. There are two enemies of creativity. The first is the availability of time and space to be creative. In some ways, technology has become the enemy of creativity because executives have allowed themselves to become insanely busy, reducing their capacity to be creative.

The second is increase in specialisation. As business, government and industry become more complex, often we are demanding people to gain more and more expertise. I find it quite scary that we’re encouraging kids to continue their education right up to their mid-twenties, so that they have that depth of expertise when they hit the workforce, but we know that creativity comes from being exposed to a wide range of ideas.

Clare: You can get very narrow in your thinking and thought processes if you only hang out with a small number of like-minded people. Diversity and creativity are very closely linked as well, and with the problem of specialisation we need to be great at collaboration in order to be collectively creative!

Rob, you mentioned two blockers to creativity, time and specialisation. I’d like to flip that around, what are the enablers we should think about as a firm to enable creativity to flourish?

It’s about encouraging curiosity, to explore things outside your brief and asking the question ‘why?’. The second is the confidence to ask the dumb question. When something new comes up, people often wonder why didn’t we come up with this ages ago. We need to give people the confidence to ask the ‘stupid’ questions.

Clare: If you think about strategy and creativity, strategy is about inspiration, choices and direction. This provides a frame within which you have the freedom to create and innovate. Fostering a culture where we expect creativity is important. Where it not only gives you permission but a responsibility and an obligation to be creative.

The other side to that is that you are at your most innovative when you have constraints. Having the right constraints in place means that people are creative and thoughtful in the direction you want to go. It’s important to create or innovate with an end in mind or a problem to solve within a set of constraints.

One of the joys of working in our firm is that you can be creative. Our people are asked to use their imagination every day. If we get to the point where people feel that they aren’t using their imagination, then we have got what we are doing very wrong.

It’s the human spark — the work of the heart in conjunction with work of the head.

I always say that creativity is a team sport. Within a firm like ours, very few of the creative answers come from somebody on their own, but instead someone posing a problem around constraints and a group of people coming up with ideas. The outcome is very different from the original spark of creativity that led the discussion in the first place.

Clare: It’s important that our people don’t feel that they’ve failed if what they come up with the first time doesn’t end up being the outcome. It’s great to see a different final result. When your thoughts have gone into the melting pot with everyone else’s to create something new and exciting, that’s the feeling of success.

We do take deep satisfaction and gratification from the success of the group.

If you want creative capabilities in business, you don’t look for a group of individuals with individually brilliant ideas but instead a group that’s keen to be a part of the creative process. If you’re more concerned about individual recognition and having your ideas at the fore, you’ll never get anything done.

 Both of you have used the word creativity in describing the 2024 strategy, why is creativity important to Deloitte Australia?

You need creativity in order to continually move forward; you need to have new ideas, new ways of doing things and new ways of thinking. If we stand still and stagnate, we will actually go backwards. It’s such an important ingredient in the way we go about doing our work. We’re expected to bring creativity to our clients or to our work. In most of what we do, we are engaged to think differently, to help our clients reflect on what they’re doing, where they’re going and what they’re seeing one of our cultural commitments is to bring the combination of curiosity, creativity and courage to our work. They all fit together — without curiosity it’s hard to be creative, but without courage in executing on your creativity — you just come up with lots of ideas. The combination of these mean we are creating with purpose, and we have the courage to do something with it.

Plus, creativity brings the fun. Our people come to work because they want to do something new every day, feel a sense of engagement and involvement when they can contribute toward something. You go home at the end of the day feeling as if you’ve done something worthwhile and you’ve enjoyed it.

Rob: Take communicating complex financial concepts in a creative way. Instead of presenting a complex financial report in a standard table, one day it was presented with a dose of visual creativity added in. The moment that was done, the audience spotted an error in the report that had been there since day one. Creativity absolutely has a role to play in ensuring that everyone is on a level playing field. In this case, it’s also about saying creativity is about democratising information.

Ultimately what’s important to our business, or any business, is that what got us here isn’t what is going get to us to tomorrow. And I believe that creativity is our vehicle to tomorrow. 

More about our authors

Leon Doyle

Leon Doyle

Lead Partner, Customer Strategy & Exp Design

Leon leads the Deloitte Digital Sydney practice, and the Customer Strategy and Experience Design practice nationally, with over 150 consultants within Deloitte Digital. He has a career in online and digital spanning 16 years, the past eight of which has been spent leading Australia’s leading full-service digital consultancy at Deloitte. Leon has been living, breathing and designing experiences for over 18 years. In that time, he has led a wide variety of projects encompassing innovation, design strategy, service design, digital experience architecture, conceptual design and customer research. For the last three years, Leon’s focus has been at the intersection of design, culture and leadership development. He is proud to be one of Deloitte’s leaders in providing executive transition experiences for C-suite executives. Leon is also one of Deloitte’s Diversity & Inclusion champions and leads the firm’s cultural diversity strategy and steering committee “IDentity”. In this role, Leon and a team of culturally diverse staff work across business units to create and embed strategies to ensure all our people have the same opportunities to succeed, regardless of their cultural diversity or ethnicity.

Clare Harding

Clare Harding

Chief Strategy Officer

Clare Harding is the Chief Strategy Officer of Deloitte Australia. Clare oversees the setting and execution of the firm's corporate strategy aligned to the global and Asia Pacific strategies of Deloitte. Clare has oversight of Innovation for the firm including Ventures. Clare sits on the firm's National Executive Committee, the AP Strategy and Innovation Council and the AP Talent Executive. Prior to this role, Clare has been the Chief Transformation Officer and the Managing Partner for the Financial Advisory business unit. She is a Technology, Media and Telecommunications specialist and a strategy partner. Clare has worked in both the UK and Australia for Deloitte and her career has spanned Consulting, Financial Advisory and Tax. Clare has worked with businesses such as NBN, Telstra, News Corp, Fairfax, APN News and Media, Seven West Media, ABC and SBS. Clare is the Lead Client Service Partner for the relationship between News Corp and Deloitte.

Robert Hillard

Robert Hillard

Consulting Leader, Deloitte Asia Pacific

Robert Hillard leads Deloitte Consulting across Asia Pacific spanning China, Japan, Australia, India, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, New Zealand and Korea. In this role, he oversees the management and growth of a US$2B consulting practice with approximately 18,000 professionals. Robert has previously served as a member of Deloitte’s global board (Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited), Chief Transformation Officer for Deloitte Asia Pacific and the Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer for Deloitte Australia.