Creativity Is the New Productivity

Every three months, we are reminded of the doom and gloom of the PC market. As PC vendors report their earnings and various bean counters – I used to be one – publish their market share numbers, we are reminded replacement cycles remain long and consumers do not seem interested in upgrading.

I’ve discussed before what I see as a crucial step in breaking this process: stop talking about PC replacement and start talking about what the new PCs have to offer and the role they play in your portfolio of devices. This week, with both Microsoft and Apple holding their device events, I hope this is exactly what we are going to see.

If we look at the invites the two companies have sent out, there is not much to go on. Microsoft is a little more generous in giving us a taste of what the announcement will be. We assume it is a device event because of the time of the year, although the invite itself says, “What’s next for Windows 10”. We are also invited to “Imagine what you’ll do”, which is as fluffy as an invitation can be to open our minds to new possibilities. Yusuf Medhi, VP of marketing of the Windows and Devices group, urges us to “get ready to get creative”. So it would be safe to guess it is about a device that is going to focus on creativity.

Apple’s invite was even more cryptic, saying. “Hello again” — which many connected to the “Hello” used for the Mac launch in the 80s. Rumors have it we will see three different devices: a 13” MacBook and a 13” and 15” MacBook Pro. Aside from the device specs, what will be interesting is how Apple positions these new devices against the iPad Pro. As many of you will remember when the iPad Pro was launched, Apple had an ad that asked, “What if your PC was an iPad Pro?” Of course, while their focus was on the competing Windows devices, the question raised doubts in certain minds on what the role of the Mac will be going forward vs the iPad Pro.

Mobility Changed the Meaning of Productivity

I think it is important to look at how our workflow has changed over the past few years to understand what role different devices could play in our life.

According to the dictionary, productivity is a measure of the efficiency of a person, machine, factory, system, etc., in converting inputs into useful outputs. Productivity is computed by dividing average output per period by the total costs incurred or resources (capital, energy, material, personnel) consumed in that period. When we moved from analog to digital productivity and creativity were very much intertwined as thanks to computers we were able to do things we had not been able to do before and in much less time.

I strongly believe that mobility change the meaning of productivity.

The “connected anytime, anywhere” world we live in has put more emphasis on the speed of that output rather than the complexity or quality of it. Gone are the days when people put their “out of office” hat on and are not available while they are out. The only time I put my out of office hat on is when I am traveling in different time zones and it is really more to apologize in advance for the delay in getting back to people than warn them I will not be available. Whether through social media or email, mobility made it all about the timeliness of the information we create and exchange. Because of this, we have become accustomed to triaging our work on the go with devices that are very light weight, have smaller screens, and have, in more cases than not, built-in connectivity. While we might not be creating a full presentation on the go or might not be writing the next New York Times bestseller, we see what we accomplish in our day on the go as being productive. These devices have allowed for what used to be down time during travel or in between meetings to be an opportunity to keep up with what is going on at the office when we are not physically there. It has also created the opportunity to turn us all into control freak workaholics but that is a different story.

Work and Play is More Fluid

The other side of the coin for this always-on world is work and play are more blended. Both with content and tools, we cross boundaries all the time. Consumerization of IT, bring your own device, bring your own app, the cloud, and real–time collaboration are some of the result or the spark of such blending. This means when we look at our next PC/Mac to buy, we want to see familiar technologies we have come to love and depend on like touch, voice, high-resolution screens, fast processors, and even pen support. Having all the apps we use every day on our PC/Mac would also be great but, given that our phones are never far away from us, this is not necessarily a must.

Creativity Is All About Thinking Outside the Box

So, if productivity has more to do with our response time, making highly mobile devices more suited for it, what is creativity and what kind of devices does it require?

According to the dictionary, creativity is the mental characteristic that allows a person to think outside of the box, which results in innovative or different approaches to a particular task.

First, let me say I realize not all white collar jobs are created equal and require the same skills and tools. I also realize there are many verticals, from health to education that, depending on where you look, are either stuck in an analog world or are full on into a digital one.

If I consider how my job has changed over time, I cannot help but see the impact of creativity in what I do. I see my job as delivering insights and advice to my clients. That has not changed since I started over 16 years ago. What has changed is what I deliver and how. I used to engage in three main ways: writing reports, delivering presentations and taking calls. Today, while I continue to engage that way with clients, it is not the only way I deliver value to them. Social media, interactive webinars, podcasts, and blog posts are added to my output list. Having the ability to manipulate charts as I present using Pixxa, or to draw a mind map on my iPad Pro or Surface during a meeting, I am embracing new technologies and devices to make my workflow more effective. When I am not on the go, I appreciate a device that gives me a non-compromised experience. A device that allows me to be immersed in what I am doing whether that is combing through thousands of data points, following a tweetstorm, watching a live stream of an event or recording my weekly podcast or experiencing a mixed reality environment.

This is good news for PC vendors because, if I am not alone, it could mean consumers shopping for PCs will be looking to invest more money for that non-compromised experience. It is also good news for platform owners who will have another platform for consumers to engage with. This last point is, of course, particularly important for Microsoft who needs to continue to build engagement with Windows 10.

In order for this to happen, however, we need to see more than just a beautiful design, which has been the focus for many vendors. Looking like a MacBook Air is not going to be enough for users who really want to have a rich experience. The focus should be on pushing the boundaries of how hardware, software, and apps all come together. While this gives an advantage to the Microsoft Surface family, and Apple’s Macs,  over other manufacturers who do not control their entire destiny, I strongly believe this will be a win for the entire industry but most of all for the consumers.

Published by

Carolina Milanesi

Carolina is a Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, Inc, a market intelligence and strategy consulting firm based in Silicon Valley and recognized as one of the premier sources of quantitative and qualitative research and insights in tech. At Creative Strategies, Carolina focuses on consumer tech across the board. From hardware to services, she analyzes today to help predict and shape tomorrow. In her prior role as Chief of Research at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, she drove thought leadership research by marrying her deep understanding of global market dynamics with the wealth of data coming from ComTech’s longitudinal studies on smartphones and tablets. Prior to her ComTech role, Carolina spent 14 years at Gartner, most recently as their Consumer Devices Research VP and Agenda Manager. In this role, she led the forecast and market share teams on smartphones, tablets, and PCs. She spent most of her time advising clients from VC firms, to technology providers, to traditional enterprise clients. Carolina is often quoted as an industry expert and commentator in publications such as The Financial Times, Bloomberg, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. She regularly appears on BBC, Bloomberg TV, Fox, NBC News and other networks. Her Twitter account was recently listed in the “101 accounts to follow to make Twitter more interesting” by Wired Italy.

558 thoughts on “Creativity Is the New Productivity”

  1. ” appreciate a device that gives me a non-compromised experience. A device that allows me to be immersed in what I am doing….”

    And since I’m in it for the long haul, a device that is at least traditionally flexible and upgradable to continue to suit my needs and whims in time, for anything less is a compromise.

    Would hate to need a new car, just because I filled the ashtrays.

    1. Sure, there are always “traditional” things that we grow used to and expect, and believe they should persist forever. Most provide something we want, otherwise we wouldn’t pine for them.

      On the other hand, you are a little disingenuous with your analogy as usual. Upgrading RAM, which you are apparently alluding to, is not a routine, maintenance task however much you like to portray it that way. It’s more like wishing you had chosen the turbo or injected version of the car; and a CPU upgrade is like wishing you had chosen the 6-cylinder model instead of the 4-cylinder model (all of which most car owners can’t change, no matter how cool an upgrade that would be when personal needs change; they are something you could be stuck with for ten years while the device is still usable).

      1. I don’t think knowing how to use a screwdriver and inserting chips that only go in one way is a high level skill. If the person is too feint hearted, I’m sure there’s a high schooler that could use $20.

        Solder, now that’s disingenuous!

  2. “Gone are the days when people put their “out of office” hat on and are not available while they are out.”

    Not everyone considers this a good thing.

    With expanded hours allotted for work, doesn’t that actually work against the productivity equation?

    As for the benefits of creativity in the work place, I came across this article that talks about how most work environments resist creativity and marginalize individuals for creative input:

    “We need creativity to survive so why are we so suspicious of it?”

    It’s really all quite the conundrum that likely starts in school:

    “How old is the shepherd? The problem that shook mathematics.”

    Which has this to say about education today:

    “Students are taught that their role is to consume knowledge, even if without understanding, and to acquire skills, even if without context. Students have limited space to develop intuitions or to explore concepts beyond the confines of the curriculum.”

    So we are taught in school that outside the box thinking is not only discouraged, it is unnecessary. And then this is re-enforced at work.

    All this to say, while I agree with your article in principle, it is going to take more than new PCs to make happen. Culture is working at cross purposes.


    1. I so appreciate your post.
      You may have heard me say these things before, but the culture component, which is really the reward system in the end, cannot be underestimated.

      We are training kids, an important thing to be sure, but training teaches only how to find answers, not to ask questions worth answering. For that, we need education.

  3. “First, let me say I realize not all white collar jobs are created equal and require the same skills and tools. I also realize there are many verticals, from health to education that, depending on where you look, are either stuck in an analog world or are full on into a digital one.”

    What’s the purpose of this paragraph?

  4. The article is lost in translation for me. Are you stating that there is a staleness in creativity in its current state, and past state? Are you trying to convince your audience that great creativity will come because of new computing prowess? Do you mean shiny objects alone will not cut it, but yet, while they are in their current incarnation, we/you use them in a manner that has made us more creative and industrious.

    Excuse my dim mind, but this article and many past Techpinions articles have the stench of promotional pieces. Maybe the subscribers have access to more depth.

  5. “controlling the whole experience” implies such random criteria that it sounds like regurgitated PR.

    Android and Windows OEMs control pretty much all of the experience, they can add any hardware as long as they supply drivers, substitute any of the bundled apps and much (pretty much all, in the case of Android) of the OS’s core functionality. I almost choked reading many reviews of the Google Pixel that stated some variation of “Google’s camera is just as good as the Galaxy Note’s, which Google could achieve only because they control the whole hardware+software stack”. Helloooo logic ? Re-read that sentence ? Also, Motorola had an always-on assistant through a smart and tiny earplug even *before* being bought by Google.

    On the other hand, the oft-cited Apple doesn’t control that much, and is still dependent on 3rd party screens, modems, chips (fabs in the case of the SoC), cameras, loudspeakers mikes and sensors, workers… The parts except SoC are the same available to any OEM, how is that “controlling the whole stack” ?

    Who determines what “controlling the whole stack” is, and how ? How is it not a rephrasing of “be Apple” with a random boundary to determine where “the whole stack” stops ( hint: exactly at what Apple does) ? Commodore, Sinclair, Wang, DEC, controlled as much if not more of “the whole stack”, SUN controlled a lot more. How did that help them ? Haven’t OEMs efforts to take control of more of the experience via custom launchers, custom fuctionality (pen, split screen, modules, multi-user…), custom services (Samsung App+media stores…) failed, not because of a control issue, but because OEMs mostly have no clue how to add value (Samsung learned: more shiny, and took control of that with very progressive hardware. Xiaomi is following)

    1. A careful re-read of Christensen would show that he thought of the balance between integration and modularity as something that depends on the maturity of the product. For immature products, integration wins and for mature products, modularity wins.

      If we take his position, then the current euphoria about controlling the whole experience is actually only valid for immature products which have plenty of room for improvement. If the smartphone market has matured, as many pundits claim, then modularity will win and not integration. Same for PCs.

      Therefore, whether or not controlling the whole experience will be beneficial for Apple and Microsoft completely depends on whether they can continue to innovate, and effectively make the PC market into one that is immature again. Apple did this with the Air and ended up resetting the consumer expectations for “thinness”, in a way that competitors had difficulty matching (for a while).

      So the real issue is whether or not an innovation that excites a large proportion of customers has arrived. Whether the market will become immature or not.

      Otherwise, integrated companies will be relageted to making products that only appeal to a limited high-end segment. (Which is where the Surface and Macs find themselves today)

      1. But what about the Air was due to vertical integration, not just smart design choices ?

        All the parts in it were bog standard (actually, Sony had released something very Air-y a few years before); the OS was the same as on the 23″ Mac… Apple got the idea to make it look good, and to focus on thinness/lightness instead of expandability and power, and they sweated the details (trackpad, keyboard, battery life)… What part of that can be attributed to vertical integration instead of just not mistargeting the design ? Wouldn’t an Air running Windows have been an even greater hit ?

        Also, apart from Apple, all current major IT successes (MS, Google, FB, Oracle, Samsung, Huawei, …) are emphatically NOT vertically integrated. Does that mean they’re doomed, or that Apple found a formula that works for them, that is not replicable, and that it’s possibly wildly misunderstood because since Apple succeeds, any random theory that fits Apple is a theory for success ? It might be turtlenecks too, some are actually trying that.

        I understand Apple PR pushing the point because it makes them look unique and unassailable. I don’t understand pundits commentators and innocent bystanders acquiescing w/o even noticing that FB et al are doing fine with little to no vertical integration, and that Apple’s is skin deep. I think lock-in is way more relevant than integration.

        1. As I said, integration matters when the market is immature. In 2008, just when Netbooks were gaining steam, it was clear that the PC market had matured in terms of processing power. There was also little need for software/hardware integration (Apple had been doing this for decades without positive impact in the market). The one thing that people needed (as demonstrated by the popularity of netbooks) was mobility and battery life. This was where the market was immature.

          Therefore, as you said, the integration in the MacBook Air was meaningful only in how it allowed Apple to create an ultraportable with good battery life. The key components being the CPU, the battery, the enclosure and SSD storage. Importantly, software – hardware integration was not part of this.

          Integration does not mean that you have to financially own your component manufacturers. Integration is more about the requirements and limitations of the components influencing each other. It also means that you will need the negotiating power to bend the will of your component suppliers. The opposite of integration is modularity, where in the purest sense you would simply combine stock components. With the MacBook Air, Apple made a big deal of how they got Intel to design a custom die. In fact, the decision to switch to Intel (2006) in the first place was obviously influenced by Apple’s plans to create the Air. Apple also stressed custom battery designs made to fit the design of the enclosure (instead of being just square blocks). Regarding the SSD, it was clear that Apple had huge price negotiating power from being the largest buyer of flash memory (for iPods). Therefore, I would say that the collaboration and hence integration at the hardware level was unique at that time. Remember that at this time, Dell and HP were outsourcing even PC design to the Taiwanese, and you can hopefully see how much more integrated the MacBook Air was in hardware.

          As for the other successes;

          Samsung has integrated hardware, marketing and distribution. MS integrated the Office suite, Windows and the Internet. Google integrated services with Chrome browser. However, I don’t mean to say you need to be integrated to succeed. You can be fully modulated. It all depends on the state of the market and value chain at a given point in time.

          1. What I’m uncomfortable with is that you’re making it an externality: at some point, because the market, integrated wins over modular.

            I’m unconvinced:
            1- as I said, the definition for integrated seems very random, or not even that: Includes all Apple does, excludes all the rest, disregards contemporary non-integrated success stories and integrated failures. That’s PR, not analysis.
            2- I’d argue it’s not modular vs integrated, it’s smart and motivated vs dumb and complacent. MS would have had no issue getting Intel to tweak a CPU, or someone to mold a battery, if they’d only stopped focusing on getting Windows XP, Word and Excel on phones and flippables. Metro proves they could even have had a nice Mobile OS. Google managed to pivot Android from RIM-like to iOS-like in 6 months, MS took 9 years… Nokia/Palm/RIM were vertically integrated. Android wasn’t. What gives ? Was the Mobile market mature 6 yrs ago when the dice stopped rolling hence the win for modular ?

          2. I think we need to talk about what integration (in the sense of mutual/collaborative tweaking) is good for, and what it’s bad for.

            Integration is good when the simple sum of the components does not result in a good enough product. This is likely to happen early in the lifecycle when component makers have not yet created products optimised for the specific device.

            Modularity happens when component makers realise the specs they should target, and the technology allows this to happen. Modularity results in economies of scale, competition etc. and drives costs down. Modularity gives you a cheaper product, and if the product is late in the lifecycle, sufficient quality for the majority of the market.

            Both can be successful. A company can be integrated in some parts of the value chain, and modular in others. Integration is also relative to competitors in the market.

            Whether Integration wins or Modularity wins is, as you note, external to the company and governed by the maturity of the market. What a company can do though is to influence the market. For relatively integrated companies like Apple, their imperative is to delay the maturation of a market as long as possible.

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