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Creative Thinking X. Prof. Dr. Paul Drews On Agility and Creativity

2019-06-11 What do digitality, agility and creativity mean with regard to the future viability of companies? The "Creative Thinking X" conference brings together experts, visionaries and developers from business and science to find answers. Prof. Dr. Paul Drews, Professor of Business Information Systems, will deliver the keynote speech.

How do you work in a company? There are two classic approaches: Either you work through a project planned down to the last detail as, for example, construction companies do. Or you can carry out regular processes over and over again. This is how manufacturing companies work. However, the current market poses challenges that cannot be solved with these strategies. Sometimes an order is neither a plannable project nor a defined process, but something hybrid, short-term and unforeseen. A third, precisely tailored approach is "agile work". Drews defines agility at its core as the ability to "sense and respond" - to perceive opportunities and problems and to react to them correctly and quickly. An agile working environment would thus be one that makes this possible: small, interdisciplinary teams, flat hierarchies, and a lot of individual responsibility. The music streaming service "Spotify", for example, works according to this principle, as does the Dutch bank ING.

Where the Puck will be

While the ING Bank is switching to agile structures worldwide, many employees have to apply for newly created positions. Drews explains: "More and more work steps can be digitised. Fewer employees are needed to simply execute processes and more to actively design services and products. Especially in management the focus is on whether people meet the necessary qualifications for agile work - creativity, for example". However, this raises the objection that although creativity is a likeable add-on, it is not absolutely necessary for the success of a company. Not in so far as it could be enough to find out what customers want and then deliver. "No," says Drews, "such an approach is no longer enough. Steve Jobs once said, 'We want to go where the puck will be, not where it is now'. The success of online companies in particular proves him right: Would you have said ten years ago that you wanted a social network or a very expensive but elegant mobile phone? "Market research is only helpful as a tool up to a certain limit. To get even further, you need creativity and agility. This is not yet firmly anchored even in courses of study such as Business Administration - that is, creative problem solving as opposed to systematic problem solving.

New Expectations

In the pertinent part of his research, Drews works on two levels: On the one hand, he examines the origins of the much-discussed concept of agility. The concept of "dynamic capability", or the ability of companies to adapt to changing environments, developed in Business Administration in the 1990s, is an important preliminary work. Independent of this, but with a similar thrust, the term "Organisational Agility" has existed since the beginning of the 1990s, which systematically defines the fundamental ability of organisations to change. These two concepts then merged with the concept of agility from software development. There, the "Agile Manifesto" published in 2001 was the starting signal for a new way of developing software. This fusion of organisational and technical agility also led to a need for new methods, such as Design Thinking. Since there is still a lack of well-founded knowledge about agile organisation, many companies are now setting out to experiment with these methods.

On the other hand, Drews is conducting a large-scale empirical study on transformation processes between IT and business. He attaches great importance to providing a precise answer to the question of what actually constitutes the frequently invoked digital change: "The central issue for me in the current wave of digitalisation," explains the IT business engineer, "is the change in customer expectations. The big Internet companies are the driving force behind this. Google's search interface offers very good results within a very short time. At Amazon, suitable goods can be ordered with just one click. This leads to similar expectations towards all other companies - banks, insurance companies, and craft businesses. Customers are disappointed, whether knowingly or unknowingly, unless the system works similarly conveniently there.  Companies can no longer ignore these expectations. They need to be able to quickly develop similar solutions. And that requires agility and creativity."

Author: Martin Gierczak