At a glance
Updated 29 June 2023
By Johanna Leggatt
Most of us are familiar with the workplace phenomenon of stalled projects – the new campaign that is shelved, the crucial document that is waiting sign-off by seven people, or the brainstorming session that never progresses past the Post-It notes stage.
According to renowned marketer, entrepreneur and writer Seth Godin, good work will never see the light of day if finance professionals are paralysed by their fear of creativity, of getting something “wrong”, or of it not being perfect.
As Godin explains, instead of “shipping” work when it is “good enough”, we prevaricate and over polish. Then the CEO and the lawyers come in at the 11th hour, adding their own fears and anxieties to the mix.
The result? The project splutters to a halt.
“It's very easy to confuse perfectionism with perfect, particularly for people who work in industries where precision is rewarded, like accounting,” Godin says.
“But perfectionism is a never-ending trap; it is a way to hide, because a project or piece of work can always be a little bit more perfect.”
The challenge of creativity
Godin’s 2020 book, The Practice: Shipping Creative Work, aims to broaden our definition of creativity from flashes of inspiration to a steadfast commitment to showing up, to doing the work and, crucially, to putting that imperfect work out in the world.
“And we can't wait to be motivated to do the work,” Godin notes. “We do the work and that makes us motivated.”
Godin, the author of 19 bestsellers on business and leadership and a key speaker at CPA Virtual Congress in 2020, says yes: creativity very much applies to accountants.
“No one is born being creative or innovative, it is a skill,” Godin says.
“You can learn to be more innovative and more creative, but emotionally, it requires committing to not being able to prove that you are right and willing to be wrong on your way to being right.”
As Godin notes: “A lot of people who signed up for certain careers in finance, did not sign up for that”.
Instead, professionals play it safe and explain away a lack of innovation as appropriate caution, a commitment to due diligence.
Godin says, in their haste to avoid making mistakes, finance professionals commit a much bigger error, “the error of inaction”.
“I don't know very many reckless CPAs,” Godin notes. “What I see over and over again, on the other hand, is people who are chasing perfectionism, who are seeking to avoid engaging with interesting problems.”
Importance of creativity as a skillset
According to Godin, creativity is one of the most important 21st-century workplace skills, bringing enormous value to an organisation.
“If you do debits and credits without error, a computer is going to do your job really soon,” he says. “You cannot be a respected, well-paid person who simply avoids errors.”
What clients, customers and employers are looking for is somebody who's able to connect with other humans in a “surprising, delightful and irreplaceable way”.
“Who gets the fancy parking space and the employee-of-the-month sticker and the extra vacations?” Godin says. “It's not the person who has never made an error in their double-entry bookkeeping.”
Instead, it’s the employee who has great client relationships because great client relationships bring in new business, and crucially, these clients “tell you the truth”.
“And it's the truth that helps you gain insight into how you can help your client get to where they really want to go,” Godin says.
Cultivating ‘real skills’
The skills that will be in demand in years to come, therefore, are not likely to be automated hard skills that are easily replicated by artificial intelligence.
They will be the soft skills, or what Godin calls “real skills”.
“What we've discovered is that what people actually care about, what we hire for, what we promote for are the real skills, which means is this person, approachable, empathic, honest, consistent, loyal, are they creative?” he says.
“Do they want to make positive change happen around here? Do they add energy?”
Godin has spoken widely about the importance of being “remarkable” and claims this trait is especially necessary among client-facing accountants.
“Being remarkable isn’t about quirky stunts or flamboyant behaviour, it’s about creating a circle of trust,” he says.
As an example, Godin says if he were an accountant in the current environment he would start a weekly group therapy session for eight or 10 entrepreneurs to talk through fear issues, to help clients work “on” their business instead of “in” their business.
“If you have any competence whatsoever, you would fill your booking calendar instantly as a result,” he says.
Many Australians dream of being their own boss. While this can be a great way to innovate it can also be a trap, according to Godin.
“That leap you take when you work on your own is to figure out when you are going to spend time to work ‘on’ the business,” he says.
Godin notes that many self-employed workers spend all their time working in the business, while employees have more freedom to step back, take stock, and plan more creative, long-term projects.
“And so the important work is to say, ‘I have all the skills I need to start my own business, I believe that, so now will I make the choice to be a good boss of myself?’ ” he says.
Because if not you've simply hired the worst boss in the world: yourself.
5 ways to be more creative and innovative: top tips from Seth Godin
- Don’t wait for inspiration as there is no such thing as “the muse”. Turn up every day and do the work.
- Be remarkable. This doesn’t mean eccentric or odd but is based on building meaningful relationships with clients.
- Thrash out a project at the beginning so that you have buy-in early and the CEO is not asked to approve something when a project is about to launch.
- Guard against the error of inaction and worry less about work being perfect. Ship it into the world when it is “good enough”.
- Focus on “real skills” before technical ones: empathy, connection, humanity, trust, integrity and emotional intelligence.