Interview with Ashish Babu, Chief Marketing Officer for Europe & UK at Tata Consultancy Services.
Do you need a different kind of creativity as a senior leader compared to when you started your career? If so, how is it different?
That was the reflection that came out of my discussion with Ashish Babu, Chief Marketing Officer for Europe & UK at Tata Consultancy Services.
Tata Consultancy Services is an IT services, consulting and business solutions organization that has been partnering with many of the world’s largest businesses in their transformation journeys. It is recognized by Brand Finance as the fastest growing brand of the decade by brand value, and among the Top 3 brands in IT services globally. It has over 453,000 of the world’s best-trained consultants in 46 countries with revenues of US $22 billion.
Ashish Babu has been with the company for 12 years and his career in the company has taken him from different positions in India, the UK and Netherlands. Having worked at TCS for more than a decade. He is a history major who works with colleagues who are mostly engineers. He has been given lot of freedom in TCS to develop new ideas and learnt the engineering rigour to scale to create business outcomes. Ashish has been working himself up to more and more senior positions and I asked him how his creativity is different now that he is a senior role compared to when he started all those years ago.
He gave three examples of what we came to call “Senior Creativity”:
1) When you are young you are often more focused on getting “your” idea out, to use your ideas and suggestions to position yourself, and get yourself noticed. You are also more prone to sell your idea as you might not have the credibility, the position, or the reputation to make sure your idea gets the attention it deserves.
In a senior position, you are more focused on having the right people develop an idea. You learn to think more about what the idea needs in terms of people, resources, and attention than to think about how you could scale idea to create business impact and outcomes.
Ashish Babu said: “When I was young, I was trying to impress people with how creative I was, to show that I was a thinker.” As he matured and climbed the ranks, he started to focus more on making sure the idea became successful to create business impact.
“Persistence and visionary leadership are also very important ingredients. Creativity can be a very personal thing, but unless you can unleash it it stays siloed. To unleash it you need to paint a vision – that vision will at the best only be understood by a few and acted on be even fewer. But you must keep on pushing until you get to a critical mass of understanding and action. When that critical mass has been reached it becomes more effortless. It may be that when we are younger we give up on an idea that could have had great impact if we just had been more persistent.”
So in short: From “Look at me” to “Look at the idea”.
2) When you are in a junior position you are trying to see how you can make your small idea grows into something big. You are focused on nurturing your idea into growing into something much bigger.
In a senior position you know that you can make ideas grow, so you are now more concerned with making sure that you pick the right idea for that growth – an idea that will have the most impact.
Ashish Babu: “When you are in a senior position your canvas is bigger, so your ability to make an impact is bigger. That forces you to think differently about what kind of ideas you decide to pursue. Your playground changes, your scale changes.”
Or in short: When you are young you think output. When you are older you think impact.
3) When you are young you try a lot of ideas and see what sticks.
When you are in a senior position you stick what you see.
In a junior position, you can more easily take risks and try things out in the hope that one of the ideas that you launch will become a success. But as your responsibilities grow you must be more responsible and measured.
Ashish Babu said to me: “I used to have a boss who would tell me, “Ashish, you need to stop shooting from the hip.” and then he added” “Now in my position, I think differently, but this more responsible way of thinking doesn’t stop me from being creative, it just lets me be creative in a different ways.” Creativity is still there, but with bigger roles comes bigger impact and with bigger impact comes bigger risk and rewards, so in a more senior position, you need to make sure you invest in an idea that is in line with where you see the company destined.
So in short: From shoot from the hip, to aim from the eye.
I asked Ashish Babu to give me an example of creative thinking from a Senior Creativity point of view and he told me how TCS Europe had used the insights that “stories from clients” were one of the strongest ways to communicate what TCS is all about. Having clients give testimonials about how wonderful TCS is works much better than saying it yourself. Ashish and his team then decided to partner with TEDx Amsterdam and asked in return to learn about storytelling from the best speech- and communication-coaches from the TEDx. (The TED.com organisation has many experts in helping speakers fine-tune the message of a speech.)
Some colleagues were sceptical about going to the clients of TCS to suggest to their clients that they should take storytelling classes. These people were afraid that the clients might take it as an insult, but it turned out that all the clients loved it. Everyone wants to be a storyteller and, in every role, they are convincing someone about of their ideas. The clients managed to improve their ability to communicate a message in a strong way in an engaging way. And TCS benefitted from that by those same clients now being able to strongly communicate why they loved TCS stories. The result: Powerful testimonials from the clients of TCS.
The idea of giving storytelling lessons to clients might not be an idea that would have excited a junior Ashish Babu, where the focus was not on him, not even on his company. But the older Ashish Babu knows that the role of his marketing is to create impact for the brand and then was an idea worth exploring.
How has your own creativity changed as you travel towards more senior positions? What does your Senior Creativity look like?
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