Creativity Is the New Productivity

on October 26, 2016

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.