Monomita Roy Avasarala, 37, is constantly looking for ways to improve her creativity.

As a senior director and head of product for consumer shopping experience at Myntra Jabong, creative thinking is important for Bengaluru-based Avasarala to understand her customer’s needs and develop an engaging, hyper-personalized shopping experience. “Innovation and creativity are core to keep pace with these changes," she says.

In January, while going through customer data, Avasarala and her team found out that their shoppers are expecting fashion advice and inspiration for styling. Upon discussion with her management, she decided to offer fashion tips through video experiences. “I even got stylists to conduct classes through a webcast on the Myntra app, where our customers can ask questions and get answers along with product recommendations," she says.

According to a LinkedIn Learning study, released in January, creativity is the most important soft skill that companies need to prepare for disruption this year. The reason is simple: Organizations need people who can creatively approach problems and tasks across all business roles, from software engineering to HR. As artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning take over predictive, mundane jobs, the market is rapidly evolving and companies are encouraging employees to think across functions, collaborate across structures and find creative solutions to survive in the new business world.

Creativity meets data

With technology taking over routine tasks, it’s skills unique to humans, like creative thinking and building, which are being valued by industries.

Human creativity is a unique combination of innovation, hard work and unusual combining of dots, something that technology lacks.

Avasarala believes creative thinking and AI complement each other. “Creative thinking helps in defining the right problem statement and how to build a product, while AI analyses and leverages data and paves the way for developing the solution."

Atharva Joshi, a management associate with DBS Bank India, uses creativity to maximize his productivity. “While routine functions can be coded, I can leverage creative thinking to become more productive," he says. Giving a recent example, Joshi mentions how his team that deals with a forex remittance product faced a conundrum. Though they had data on possible customers, they were not able to find those that needed their product. “After a brainstorming session and some creative tweaking of our existing AI software, we were able to accurately identify customers with need for a remittance product," says Joshi. This, he claims, helped them double their transactions in four months.

Hiring innovation

Sowmya Santhosh, senior vice-president (HR), Citius Tech, a healthcare technology firm, believes creativity is vital to collaborate and solve challenges “both in and outside your domain."

She points to Abhishek Prathapan, 27, who works as a business analyst at Citius Tech. Prathapan used to spend hours feeding manual results in an updating system that tracked issues. “I automated this process through a code and our system would get automatically updated without human intervention," says Mumbai-based Prathapan. The solution not only saved him hours every day, it has also been adopted by Citius as best practice across the board.

Companies have also begun to rethink their hiring processes to vet prospective employees for creativity. This includes traditional industries like IT, engineering, marketing and HR, according to Kamal Dutta, managing director India, Skillsoft, an online training company. “What they’re looking for are individuals who think out of the box," he says, adding that a creative employee generates new solutions, disrupts the market and fosters financial growth, leading to productivity, which startups and companies need in today’s volatile markets.

Take the example of Dell Technologies. Last year, the company went through a comprehensive transformation to refresh their processes so their employees could think out of the box. Teams were given systematic training, one-on-one coaching and workshops, which helped in upskilling. Since then, Dell Technologies claims to have seen success stories ranging from products going live within the first month, to delivering strong business outcomes. “The common ingredient for all is the ability of tje employees to think creatively and come up with solutions that are non-invasive and non-disruptive, making their adoption easier," says Hemal Shah, senior vice-president, Dell Technologies. That’s the reason potential candidates for technical jobs at Dell are now made to pair with interviewers and solve a problem. “Novelty of solutions ranks as high as their technical competence," says Shah.

DBS, too, has made creative thinking an integral part of the candidate assessment process. “Alongside functional and technical skill assessments, we assess candidates on innovation and creativity," says Kishore Poduri, HR head, DBS India.

It doesn’t stop at new candidates, though.

To push their employees to think creatively, Siemens Healthineers, Siemens Healthineers, a medical technology company, brings in discussions to brainstorm on problems and hackathons. “The new generation is hyper-connected and demonstrate a high level of dexterity," says Raghu Chandrashekar, HR head, Siemens Healthineers. “Once you share challenges or problems with them, they find creative solutions."

Since learning has become a constant, Bengaluru-based Abhishek Patil, 26, who handles product and growth at CRED, a credit card payment app, is heading to a forthcoming festival on creativity, Forest Festival for Creators, at Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand. Patil’s reason to attend the carnival-cum-forest festival that seeks to “discuss the future of creativity" is clear: Learn how consumer behaviour is changing. “I handle growth for a startup and aim to start something of my own," says Patil, adding that the only way to keep doing that is to constantly be exposed to a stream of new creative ideas.

Creativity needs constant recharging. “Efforts need to be put in by companies and individuals to keep themselves rejuvenated," says Santhosh.

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