Tuesday, 25 May 2021

Corkscrew Minds - Creativity and Business Analysis

There is an old adage in systems development:
  • Analysis is about Discovery.
  • Design is about Invention.
From which follows - that Analysis is mainly about logical objective thinking (what is).
Design is more about creative thinking (what may be).

Like many things in business (and life generally) things are not always that clear cut, but this does serve us well as a broad principle.

So this leads to an interesting question - is there a place for creative thinking in Business Analysis?
I personally thing that the answer is "Yes" - but feel free to disagree.

Another principle of Business Analysis,  that I believe in strongly:
  • Problem.
  • Solution.
  • In that order.
  • Not the other way round!
So should Business Analysts focus purely on analysing Problems in a logical and objective way, leaving Solutions to creative designers?

If you will allow me, a short but relevant digression into history.

During World War 2, British leader Winston Churchill identified a need for "corkscrew minds".
People with the ability to think creatively and challenge convention. People who could analyse problems and come up with highly innovative solutions - "game changers" if you will forgive the cliche.

Churchill believed that one strength of the Germans was their ability to think clearly and logically. But he also believed that this was a potential weakness. It could lead to thinking too much in "straight lines" and missing potentially powerful and potentially war-winning solutions. It could also leave them open do deception. So recruiting creative thinkers to support the British war effort  was a deliberate policy.

One great example of this was "Operation Mincemeat" - a cunning and devious scheme devised by British Intelligence in 1943. It aimed to fool the German commanders into thinking that the allies next target for invasion was Greece rather than Italy. It involved fake documents, a convincing "back story", a submarine and a dead body - and it worked! It is beyond my scope here to describe this further, but if you are interested you can read more - here:
Wikipedia - Operation Mincemeat

Another example, arguably far more important, was the breaking of the German Enigma Code at Bletchley Park. This included the development of Colossus, the world's first programmable digital electronic computer - which then led to the development of Information Technology as we know it today. Many corkscrew minds were involved - but one who stands out is the Alan Turing, for me one of the "greats" of IT history. You can read more about that - here:
Wikipedia - Bletchley Park

Both of these involved using both creative and logical thinking to analyse problems as well as for devising potential solutions. Hence - Corkscrew Minds were needed.

Moving rapidly forward to 21st century business problems (or opportunities if you prefer!) -
a combination of both creative and logical thinking may be the best approach.

Analysis for a project starts with understanding the business environment and the business requirements that arise from this.

On the surface this may seem straightforward - after all you can just ask the people in the business how thinks work and they will tell you. You can then ask them how they want it to work in the future and they will tell you.

But in practice this information is often "buried" or "hidden". Businesses are often complex, so that no one individual can explain, at least in any useful detail, how it all fits together and works. Requirements are often not fully understood at the required level because nobody has fully though through what the real problem is and what exactly they are trying to achieve.

Hence the tremendous value that you, The Business Analyst, can bring to a project.

Your job is to:
Facilitate and Investigate - work with stakeholders to draw out a full understanding of business processes, business data and business requirements.
Analyse and Prioritise  - work across and drill down to help the business draw up a full picture, at the required level of detail, of the way forward.

There are a number creative Business Analysis techniques that can help.
Examples include:
  • Brainstorming.
  • Facilitated Workshops.
  • Rich Pictures.
  • Mind Maps.
Each of these involves a degree of creative thinking.

So to conclude - yes creative thinking does have an important place in Business Analysis.

If you have anything else to add to this - please comment - creatively!

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