How accountants can use creative thinking at work
When we talk about ‘creative thinking’, the accounting profession is probably not the first industry that comes to mind.
There’s a view that accounting firms are purely engaged in rigid compliance work with zero room for creativity. This view can even trickle down to accountants themselves.
However, accounting isn’t exempt from the professional advantages of creative thinking and hiring creative people. Accounting can certainly benefit from the opportunities inherent in creative thinking.
The rise of soft skills
So called ‘soft skills’ have risen in importance when assessing employee skills in the hiring process. What are soft skills exactly?
According to LinkedIn, “Soft skills are the essential interpersonal skills that make or break our ability to get things done. We think of them as foundational and every professional should be working to build them.”
While experience and hard skills like cloud computing and business analysis remain vital, attaining and nurturing soft skills should be a function of every accounting practice.
The role of creativity in the workplace
Creativity is one of these soft skills which is intrinsic to developing innovative solutions to problems.
Creative thinking requires an openness to innovation, the capability to formulate fresh solutions, and is linked to mental flexibility.
When the nuts and bolts of accounting or business advisory is put to the side, the ability to be creative sits at the heart of solving client issues, connecting ideas and visualising inventive solutions to a business’s challenges.
Soft skills such as creativity are fast becoming one of the most sought-after attributes when hiring new staff. This remains true even when you consider the persistent focus on relevant ‘hard skills’.
As we gradually see the day-to-day work of accountants move away from data entry and compliance toward business advisory services, creativity in accounting is becoming increasingly prized. This is especially true when hiring new staff.
According to the 2020 LinkedIn report on ‘the skills companies need most in 2020’, creativity was the most sought after soft skill for all employers. In the top five soft skills list we can see its primacy:
- emotional intelligence
When hiring new staff, it’s wise to look past the hard skill base and find creative attributes as well. This has become particularly important as we see software and automation gradually chip away at the work of an accountant, leaving skills like creativity as a key differentiator.
Creative business advice
The crux behind creativity lies in a person’s ability to create meaningful connections. When you investigate the work behind providing advisory services, it’s truly a creative problem-solving endeavour.
Being able to think flexibly and creatively when providing business advice improves the following:
- advising businesses on new business models
- new ways to save capital
- inventive growth strategies
- opportunity identification
- better ways to streamline cashflow
- entering new markets
- new ways of doing business
Creative practice direction
Not only does creativity come into play when it comes to client work, it’s also a key ingredient to reimagining how a practice operates. It can form new ways to work and affect the future direction of a practice.
Envisioning new ways to communicate, fresh marketing ideas, and strategic direction all require creative thinking.
If you don’t hire and nurture creative people, these important aspects of running a practice will inevitably suffer.
Ways to nurture creativity
Are there ways you can nurture creativity and innovation in your accounting firm? Absolutely. To create an atmosphere which promotes creative thinking, consider the following:
- Create a business environment where brainstorming is encouraged. Creativity often arises when an open team environment combines with shared space and input. This can mean regular sessions with a whiteboard where new ways to solve client issues can foster. Instead of siloing client work with the employee in question, brainstorming in a group can help unlock new approaches.
- Diversity of talent is another key ingredient in fostering creativity. When you build a team that has a strong level of diversity when it comes to skills, experience, backgrounds, age, and gender, you create a natural business environment where different opinions stimulate new creative directions and thinking.
- Inviting suggestions and feedback is another technique at your disposal. Many times, an employee may have a fantastic idea for the trajectory of the practice, a new way to work or a method for assisting clients. However, you may never know about it as it’s much easier for that person to stay silent if you don’t have a frictionless method of gaining feedback.
- A stimulating physical environment will naturally stoke creative juices. Creating an office environment with greenery, evocative colours, art, and open spaces will always assist creativity.
- Encouraging exercise, team activities and social downtime also help to boost collaborative creativity. By prioritising social and recreational activities in your team culture, then conversations, stimulation and new perspectives can form.
- There are endless educational resources out there from online learning to coaching that can be deployed in your practice to breed creative thinking and new creative techniques. Seek out some of the best fitting resources and upskill your team’s creative IQ.
While automation, new software solutions and artificial intelligence will all continue to transform the core work of accountants and business advisors, creative thinking will remain as an irreplaceable attribute that can never be automated. This is why the importance of flexible thinking in accounting should never be overlooked – it’s what separates us from a software tool.
APS is a division of Reckon, an ASX listed company. We develop the software used by the best Accounting Firms in Australia and New Zealand to run their business’ and advise their clients.
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