The whiteboard and butchers paper are filled with good ideas, action plans are drawn up, responsibilities allotted, and then nothing happens.

There’s the drift back to the status quo while opportunities for innovation languish.

It’s a familiar experience for many executives—but at a time when innovation and the need for fresh thinking are needed like never before it’s a lost opportunity according to creative leadership consultant Dr Ralph Kerle.

With a background in the creative arts, and formerly an associate director of the Sydney Theatre Company, Kerle has latterly been working with corporations to address the issue of executive creativity and particularly CFO creativity which he sees as the missing link in enterprise innovation.

He himself ran many corporate ideation workshops but for years; “I had never had a CFO in the room. There would always be a point at the end of the discussion where we needed a budget and have it signed off.” He says that in 85 per cent of cases the workshop ideas would go nowhere because the processes and funding were absent.

When corporations bring the CFO into the workshop however, there is the opportunity to drive ideas forward, to conduct risk analyses and find the funds for experimentation.

Working recently with Lend Lease which wanted to apply executive creativity to help rein in costs and grow revenues, Kerle learned that the CFO had been handed the responsibility for the success of the initiative.

“They decided to empower their financial leaders around the globe. The premise of the ideation programme was that all the players in the workshop were CFOs and we had goals and purpose for the workshops.

“If we came up with some ideas they had to be implemented.” The goal of the programme was to save $5 million costs, and drive $5 million additional revenue.

“What would normally happen in the ideation process is that we would encourage people to go to the limits of their thinking for a big hairy audacious goal. What was happening (at Lend Lease) was while the ideation was being done they were also doing the numbers at the same time – that normally never happens in ideation – the numbers come out at the end.

“People sitting at the table were all able to think from a financial perspective simultaneously as the ideation on product and services - and all had control of significant budgets. They had the power to sign off on the ideas if they wanted to.”

Kerle says that the CFOs around the table were able to apply their organizational experience and understanding, and also exercise their entrepreneurial muscle by thinking creatively about what might be possible, and finding business models that might enhance and grow the company.

“There are two sorts of CFOs - those that will remain financial controllers all their lives, they are not the creative types.

“On the other side a lot of CFOs have a really good grasp on entrepreneurship particularly assessing risk, looking at numbers and working out financial business models - and they are the sorts of people that will become CEOs.”

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