The IT Creativity Challenge
Founded in 1995 by Ted Hellard and Michel Clairo, Critical Mass began as a CD-ROM development company. Hellard, called upon Mercedes Benz with an idea of using Hellard’s golf CD-ROM. He was instead asked to develop a web presence for Mercedes Benz. Mercedes Benz signed with Hellard, moving Critical Mass in a new direction. Today, Critical Mass has 500 employees worldwide with locations in Calgary, Toronto, Chicago, New York, London, Amsterdam, and Costa Rica. Critical Mass is a successful digital marketing agency specializing in designing websites for “the world’s most admired customers” (Critical Mass. 2009). Omnicom Group Incorporated owns 54% of Critical Mass. Keeping up with the ever-changing Internet environment has proven to be a challenge for Critical Mass. Gordon Burk, senior vice president and managing director, identified what he believed were two issues preventing Critical Mass from growing: • Exorbitant Salary Levels
• Geographically Widespread Talent
This paper analyzes the business strategy and creativity challenges of Critical Mass. The analysis will be from a CIO perspective and will sequentially identify Critical Mass’: • Environment and Culture
• Business Level Strategy
• Corporate Strategy
• Structure and Control Systems
Problems will be identified in each section and recommendations, aligned with CIO Best Practices and marketing principles, will be made.
Critical Mass: Case Analysis
Rapid changes in the Internet environment forced Critical Mass to take an in depth look at current business strategies in an attempt to improve their position in the marketplace. Successful with large name clients, Critical Mass is still not as well known as its competitors, remaining a modest player in its market.
Environment and Culture
Environment and culture of an organization has a direct impact on creativity and innovation. For Critical Mass, creativity and innovation is the company’s core output. The environment and culture developed by Critical Mass was intended to spur creativity and retain talent. Critical Mass went above-and-beyond in its dedication to stimulating creativity via work environment. From laid-back work environment, casual dress policy, the interior of their building (digitized graffiti reproductions on the wall, futuristic–style office equipment) to the many perks of the work environment (exercise area, hairdressing salon, “the hive”), Critical Mass believed that they had provided all that was needed to create and sustain creativity. Another effort to reward employees, as well as drive momentum was the celebration of achievements. Upon signing a new client, the company would celebrate in an effort to build enthusiasm and bolster the team. A kickoff meeting followed in an effort to continue building enthusiasm. Employees were encouraged to be competitive and to bounce ideas off each other. Ongoing contests were held to reward specific accomplishments. Beer camps, a casual workshop intended to interact while discussing new ideas were provided for employees.
Although the intent is in line with every thing I have read on how to stimulate creativity, all the efforts seem haphazard with no measurement as to effectiveness. Not everyone participates in the events and those that do are not always on target with the intent (discussing opera at the beer camp). Contests are narrow in scope, excluding many from participating. Employees must dread celebrations for signing a new client when they know that it follows with a new set of responsibilities.
Identify intangibles worth managing. Measurements of the intangible benefits derived from cultural and environmental efforts must be made. For example, the cost of the beer camp versus the value of the benefits (ideas) derived would allow management to determine if this type of incentive...