This is a short series from people who want to share their Creative Practise. It’s been interesting to read interpretations of what this means for people. Also, I made clear I was happy for these to be blatant plugs as long as that didn’t detract from the story.
This post comes from David Richter of Octopus HR. Thanks, David!
I’m not creative, not naturally anyway. Which is odd because I work in marketing, a profession that conjures up images of hyper social hipsters dreaming up arty ad campaigns for trendy new products. This is not who I am. I asked for slippers for Christmas and I’m naturally shy. Strangely enough being shy led to one of the most creative outputs for my employer in the past year. Let me explain…
My company Octopus HR develops HR software for SMEs. We’ve got a few hundred clients across a wide variety of industries. Having a diverse client base is great, it mitigates risk by avoiding over-reliance on one sector. The one major downside with operating in multiple industries is that our marketing budget is spread quite thin when it comes to building our brand. Being recognised as the established “market leader” has a lot of benefits. It makes it easier to defend against new market entrants. It becomes quicker, easier and cheaper to win new customers because you’re perceived as less risky. We don’t have the resources to build a market leading brand for our HR systems across every industry, but by focusing our efforts on one particular niche we could feasibly build a market leading brand in one industry.
After a quick bit of analysis it turns out that, while we’re not a massive brand in the legal sector, we have at least established a strong beachhead among HR professionals working within firms of solicitors. A beachhead we could build upon with the right marketing.
Rather than start advertising our existing HR software in a few extremely niche HR in law publications I wanted to build an HR system so specifically tailored to solving their needs that law firms would be clamouring to meet with us.
I started reading up on the people management requirements from the SRA, the body that governs solicitors in the UK. This gave me some hypothesis about the people management issues that law firms were likely to be facing. A good start but, when it comes to creating a new product, a few hypotheses are not enough. I needed to understand what makes them tick, how they spend their day and how painful each of these potential issues are to them. There were no facts inside my office only educated guesses, so I got outside. I invited myself along to account management meetings that were being held with our clients in the legal sector. This is where my natural shyness comes in.
At this stage most marketers would have come up with hundreds of features and started waxing lyrical about what we’re going to build. But that’s not me. Because I’m shy I don’t talk much, especially when I’m meeting someone for the first time. When I am talking I’ll probably be asking you another question because I want to get you talking again. I listen and not just with my ears. I’m happy to sit on the outside of a group, quietly observing everyone else. I’ll pay attention to your body language. I’ll know if you’re just being polite or if you’re genuinely excited when you say something that’s been suggested is a “good idea”.
The end result of all this has been that we’ve identified about a dozen common HR admin issues that law firms face that currently nobody else is solving. This spring we’ll be releasing an HR system specifically created to address these needs. It’s not going to change the world but it will make the lives of everyone working law firms a bit easier.
The process I went through certainly isn’t the archetype of creativity. But it must be creative because it has led to us developing useful functionality that nobody else has thought of, either because they didn’t care or they simply didn’t ask the right questions. At its core creativity is about combining existing information in new combinations. By getting out of the building, meeting our clients, asking the right questions and actually listening to what was being said I simply maximised the information available to me that could be combined in new ways.