Creativity and Holistic Thinking in Management Consulting Part 1

Updated: Jun 1, 2019

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Management Consultants are called in to organizations to solve problems by finding the most logical solutions to the challenges faced by the business. We are the fixers. In an environment where innovation and differentiation not based on price are the keys to survival, creativity is the real currency. My perspective is that creativity is a business asset for two key reasons: it enables a more holistic thought process to find better business solutions and it creates a better employee and end-user experience.

In part one of this two-part series, I will examine how strategic creativity and holistic thinking can lead to better business outcomes.

In many organizations, creativity is generally not considered a business asset. And depending on the stage of the organization’s growth and the type of change that’s happening in the industry in which it operates, creativity may be an important bridge to reach the next stage of the business cycle.

Creativity is not a four-letter word

In traditional business environments, creativity is often like a four-letter word, relegated to the proverbial kiddie corner rather than welcomed into the corner office. To me, it comes down to just that – thinking.

The traditional management consultant typically comes from an industry such as finance or economics where linear thinking is highly valued whereas creative thinking is non-linear. What’s the difference? Consider linear thinking as a thought process that follows a step-by-step progression where a response to a step must be elicited before another step is taken. In other words, one identifies a problem, chooses a starting point as a solution, and works out the logical steps to reach it.

The danger with this is that sometimes the solution that is considered may be one of many alternative solutions or may not be the solution at all.

In contrast, non-linear thinking can be thought of as a thought process that expands in multiple directions, rather than in one direction. It is based on the concept that there are multiple starting points from which one can apply logic to a problem. Rather than deducing that if x is happening, the solution is y, one focuses on the actual challenge and potentially finds several solutions.

The true value of management consulting

Creativity and holistic thinking in management consulting enables consultants to be more open to solutions that may not be the safe, logical answers but can ultimately be gamechangers.

How to we activate the creative side of our brains? Put the mouse down and step away from your desk! Get into surroundings that are new, explore different industries and meet stimulating with an outlook that differs from your own. Attend conferences on business innovation such as the Vanity Fair New Establishment and any number of the Bloomberg summits or conferences on leadership, business trends and design. Question your logic and look at familiar environments with a new lens. The ability to bring novel ideas and open new conversations to actionable solutions is where the true value of consulting lies.

Deductive Reasoning and Inductive Reasoning 

As management consultants, our job is to hone in on the challenge of an organization, understand it and present recommendations to resolve it. There are two main thought processes that can be employed to accomplish this task deductive reasoning and inductive reasoning. Deductive reasoning is more top-down in its approach, using a theory as the foundation of the thought process whereas inductive reasoning is more open-ended and exploratory, using observations as the foundation for the theory.

The process of creative thinking is an inductive one and can lead to solutions that may otherwise be overlooked. As a consultant, the ability to use both deductive and inductive reasoning can create value for clients. 

Starting from the Bottom

For example, consider an organization that provides consumer products or services but recognizes that it must further differentiate itself to remain competitive and relevant.  

If one starts with the theory that the products or services need to be of more value to the consumer, this could be based on price or design. Let’s assume that the decision is to design a better product or service. Great. What’s the next step? Using a more creative approach to identify how the organization could increase its competitive edge would start with really observing all aspects of the organization’s operations with an open mind. 

In the case of improving the design, it could mean thinking beyond the actual deliverable to get to the heart of the design process – the people. Does the organization have a well-designed workplace? Are employees empowered to control their own spaces and maybe even their day as the work dictates? A 2014 article in the Harvard Business Review provides empirical evidence that workplace design and the ability to control how their space feels influences creativity. Moreover, employee autonomy can in positively impact productivity, motivation and performance. 

Creative Thinking Leads to Short and Long-Term Client Solutions

In this example, taking a different tack to find the solution identified a connection between the employee experience and a design-based competitive edge. That is, if employees are in an environment that encourages creativity and are empowered to control their own space and time, then they are more likely to be creative and more productive to boot. The result of this improved employee experience is potentially a better designed consumer experience; not just for the end product or service but also for the customer service that leads to the deliverable. 

In the end, the holistic application of the creative thought process of a management consultant can not only lead to short-term gains through better designed deliverables and end-user experiences, but also to long-term gains due to better designed internal processes and employee experiences. 

So management consultants, don’t be afraid to bring your creative A-game to your next project.

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I'm a strategic marketing communication consultant who works with premium brands to tell compelling brand stories, guide perception, drive engagement and build loyalty to win hearts and wallets. Find out more about me at, follow me on Twitter @royanndean and Linkedin.

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