Creative difference: how a little imagination can go a long way when it comes to strategic change

Thought piece from Ben Bush, Partner and Head of Strategy at The Frameworks

Change is tough, especially for financial services firms, many of which operate at an extreme pace just to keep up with business as usual.

But change is also critical, especially for financial services firms, all of which operate in an extreme environment of digital transformation and dynamic competitive threats.

Achieving positive, strategic change by cracking this conundrum is not impossible. It just requires discipline, collaborative buy-in and – perhaps surprisingly – a healthy dose of creativity.

Hitting the wall

In any organisation, the knowledge and proactivity of the senior leadership team is crucial in delivering change. They represent years of experience facing the many problems the finance world presents every day. They know the business inside-out, they are the champions of its offer, and they are the people who will have to live and breathe any change of direction.

When it comes to embracing the need for strategic change, though, they are often too close to the problem. We sometimes see a lack of effective communication among different stakeholders within the organisation, which leads to a narrow perspective on challenges and opportunities.

Ben Bush

This echo-chamber effect can be compounded by a reliance on business consultants whose main source of insight is historical data. Looking to the past has its uses. But if a business is looking to move forward, some imagination is required.

The notion of dedicating time to strategic contemplation may seem like a distant luxury amidst the daily grind of meetings and deadlines. This reflects a broader organisational culture rather than individual shortcomings.

Ultimately, the finance industry’s struggle to adapt to changing ideas arises from a combination of institutional inertia, time constraints and a cultural aversion to stepping back and re-evaluating established norms.

It all adds up to a prevailing conservative mentality that inhibits the exploration of the new. Arguably, though, the most expensive seven words in business are “we have always done it this way”.

Breaking the mould

Certain brands stand out for their innovative approaches to business strategy, particularly through the infusion of creativity into their operations. Unlike traditional financial institutions that often focus on conventional methods and ledger-based approaches[BB1] , brands such as Monzo and Revolut leverage creativity to reimagine customer experiences and develop competitive solutions.

One notable aspect of these innovative finance brands is their strategic blending of traditional banking expertise with software development and marketing creativity. This integration allows them to break new ground by offering innovative interfaces, analytical tools and customer-centric solutions.

Their success underscores the importance of creativity in driving business strategy, challenging conventional norms and setting new standards for customer engagement and satisfaction.

Unleashing your creative capital

These examples, though, are the exception to the rule in the financial sector, where creativity often finds itself overlooked or discouraged, as adherence to procedural efficiency takes precedence over imaginative thinking.

Individual people, however, are as creative in this sector as they are in any other.

The trick is to carve out safe spaces and proven processes for them to channel that creativity. That will require a collective acceptance that these spaces and processes are worth investing in, of course, but once that barrier is overcome, the benefits can be striking.

At The Frameworks, our B2B Reinvention model is built on exactly these principles. Through a short series of focused workshops, we ask senior stakeholders first to focus on a single problem they need to solve: it might be to break out of a rut, to see off a specific threat or to capitalise on an emerging opportunity.

Crucially, we help them to recast this problem as a question. And once you have a question, you can channel the creativity in the room into dreaming up answers.

There are other stages to the process that help the group to filter, test and validate strategic choices, but it’s that crucial stage of answering a core strategic question where the magic really starts happening. And the people doing the answering are the people most qualified to do so – with not a spreadsheet or a historical data feed in sight.

By acknowledging the vital role of creativity in ways like this, financial leaders can draw on previously untapped potential within their teams. Collaboration and external support foster an environment where fresh ideas can flourish, but it’s the ideas and the people who come up with them that hold the key.

And this can be just the start. Embracing creativity at a more fundamental level not only injects energy into the workplace, italso enhances problem-solving skills and adaptability to market dynamics.

How can finance brands adapt?

Championing creativity in the finance industry isn’t likely to be an easy ride. “Creative accounting”, after all, has very specific – and very negative – connotations.

But even in a heavily regulated and buttoned-up industry, creativity still has its place. Channelled correctly, it can even be the key to meaningful strategic transformation.

If you know you need to change but you can’t imagine how you’re going to do so, the answer may be closer than you think.


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