IBM Study: CEOs See Creativity and Managing Complexity as Today's Vital Skills

IBM has just released its fourth annual survey based on 1500 face-to-face interviews with global CEOs. Past studies have been rich sources of understanding the trends that company leaders are seeing shaping their businesses. The opening statement by IBM’s own CEO, Samuel J. Palmisano, sets the stage for this year’s study:

“[E]vents, threats and opportunities aren’t just coming at us faster or with less predictability; they are converging and influencing each other to create entirely unique situations. These firsts-of-their-kind developments require unprecedented degrees of creativity — which has become a more important leadership quality than attributes like management discipline, rigor or operational acumen.”

Later, the report states:

For CEOs and their organizations, avoiding complexity is not an option — the choice comes in how they respond to it. Will they allow complexity to become a stifling force that slows responsiveness, overwhelms employees and customers, or threatens profits? Or do they have the creative leadership, customer relationships and operating dexterity to turn it into a true advantage?

Today’s complexity is only expected to rise, and more than half of CEOs doubt their ability to manage it. Seventy-nine percent of CEOs anticipate even greater complexity ahead. However, one set of organizations - we call them “Standouts” - has turned increased complexity into financial advantage over the past five years.

Creativity is the most important leadership quality, according to CEOs. Standouts practice and encourage experimentation and innovation throughout their organizations. Creative leaders expect to make deeper business model changes to realize their strategies. To succeed, they take more calculated risks, find new ideas, and keep innovation in how they lead and communicate.

Having written a lot about the new breed of complex problems businesses are facing today, this rang true with me. In fact, the study’s findings line up well with the challenges and approaches I describe in Innovation X. Here’s a small sample.

  • Embody creative leadership: Creative leaders invite disruptive innovation, encourage others to drop outdated approaches and take balanced risks. (In Innovation X I refer to this as Divergence)
  • Reinvent customer relationships: In a massively interconnected world, CEOs prioritize customer intimacy as never before. Globalization, combined with dramatic increases in the availability of information, has exponentially expanded customers’ options. (Immersion)
  • Build operating dexterity: CEOs are revamping their operations to stay ready to act when opportunities or challenges arise. (Adaption)

The report is fairly lengthy but an easy read, and well worth getting. Unfortunately the site seems to be having some technical glitches and it took me several tries to actually download the PDF (registration required with opt in/out contact info). Get the report here >