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Making Bold Moves With Minimal Risk Requires Empirical Creativity

By Joey Havens

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This blog is the second in the series, Are We Really Choosing to Be Great?

Last week, I started a new series to evaluate us as individuals, as CPA firms and as a profession on our urgency to transform how we work and live. In his book Great by Choice, Jim Collins identified three attributes present in high-performing companies—companies that performed at least 10 times better than their peers. The first attribute, which was discussed in last week’s blog, was FANATIC DISCIPLINE—the uncommon discipline to focus on what you are great at and to avoid distractions.

The second common attribute that Collins discovered in his research of high-performing companies was EMPIRICAL CREATIVITY. Empirical creativity is a blend of creativity and discipline. This might be best described as companies that destroyed the “box” (status quo) based on continual experiments and observations. They make bold, creative moves from a sound empirical base. These companies constantly tried new things and changed course based on findings, mistakes, results and observations. They took risks to experiment, creating cultures of learning from mistakes. 

If we step away and look at our profession and most of our firms, we have very few of us that are building the next box. It has been noted over and over that our profession is driven by the status quo and some of the commoditization of our services today comes from the lack of innovation for so many years. 

So to help us test our current culture for empirical creativity, let’s consider these questions:

  • When a mistake is made, how often do we hear, “whose fault is this?”
  • Do we label team members as scapegoats when things go awry?
  • Are our “innovative ideas” really just enhancements of the existing process?
  • How much of our innovation is really copying best practices of another firm?
  • How often do we witness leadership encouraging risk taking and the concept of fail fast and fail forward?
  • How often do our team members hear, “just do it like last year”?
  • How quickly does our management respond to a new idea with, “that will never work”?
  • How many game changing experiments do you have going right now?
  • In the last 12 months, what is the biggest leap in innovation your firm produced?

The bottom line is whether our firm’s culture promotes risk taking and is supportive of mistakes and what can be learned. By nature, most of our firms are very risk adverse.

Let’s beat the competition by stomping the “box” and creating anticipatory solutions for our clients. It’s time to lead cultures that promote learn fast learn forward learn together. Let’s get serious about innovation through relentlessly disciplined creativity and skip the “more of the same in a different wrapper.”