CREATIVITY, CATCHING ALL THE IDEAS
We are often asked the question about the source of people's creativity.
Is it inherited? Can it be nurtured? Clearly, there are natural-born
creative individuals just as there are talented athletes and singers.
But, people by their very nature, can be creative. Look at children;
they have a natural predisposition to be creative.
But what happens to this natural creativity? Most of it is taken away
and suppressed by our education and management systems. Most people
are trained to complete the task at hand. Children are mostly taught
that this is the way things are done. They are not taught to ask questions,
but to follow orders.
Some of us are starting to challenge the suppression of thought and
claim our creative birthright. Remember, everyone is creative!
But why should we care if people are more creative? It's fairly simple:
Creative people tend to be more motivated because they've achieved something.
They've discovered a better way of doing things. By successfully finding
solutions, people are more motivated to work. And the more motivated
they are, the more productive they are. And the more productive people
are the more satisfied and motivated they are. Isn't this what we want,
more productive and effective people?
But before we can increase creativity in people, we have to figure out
what is affecting their creativity.
First, you need to determine whether or not the people in your organization
have the necessary resources, knowledge, skills, and abilities to get
their jobs done. Are they hard pressed to find enough resources to complete
their jobs? Do they have the experience and ability to allow them to
If you decide your people don't have the resources, knowledge, skills
and abilities, then you need to decide how to get them further education
Next, look at people's attitude toward doing things differently. How
receptive are they to change? How often do people ever say "We
can't do it that way because...," "It costs too much money,"
"We've always done it this way," "They won't let me do
it that way" or "It's too hard." These and similar expressions
are killers of creativity.
What can you do? When you hear people using one of these excuses, stop!
Here are a couple of suggestions to turn those negative statements into
- » It may be hard to do it, but here are some ideas how we
can do it.
- » It's expensive, but let's see how we can still come in
- » Let's see how we can increase the budget.
Once you convince people to think positively, an entire new realm
of possibilities emerges.
Thinking positively also involves an aspect of risk-taking. Do you
allow or even encourage your employees to take risks? What kind? To
what extent? To what dollar amount? There are people who've had creative
circuits running through their brains but were afraid the boss would
penalize or criticize them if they spoke up. Sometimes when the money
crunch puts the squeeze on units, employees are afraid of losing their
jobs; they hold back and resist the temptation to be creative and
As a leader, when you witness these occurrences, you have an opportunity
to chime in and encourage "appropriate" levels of risk-taking.
For example, when you hear a supervisor reject an idea because it
sounds too absurd, simply ask, "What's the worse thing that could
happen if that person acted on his or her idea?" As the supervisor,
you need to encourage more risk-taking and more creative thinking
on the part of your employees.
So once you've assessed the availability of resources, reviewing your
employees' knowledge, skills and abilities and you have started to
encourage risk-taking and positive thinking, you can move on to noting
individual and group motivational levels. Find out why people are
or not. For those individuals who aren't motivated
aren't motivated enough
don't hesitate to find out the reasons
and obstacles that prevent them from being highly effective employees.
Remember, high levels of motivation, energy and enthusiasm are related
to increased levels of creativity.
Next, you should focus on the work environment. Have managers and
supervisors created unnecessary and possibly restrictive levels of
rules, regulations and procedures? If so, you've just identified more
obstacles to thinking and behaving creatively. An atmosphere like
this can stifle people by decreasing their risk-taking behavior.
You also need to determine if your employees fear stepping out of
the box to come up with new ideas? Do they fear questioning supervisors
and managers? Do they fear losing their jobs or receiving negative
comments or evaluations from their supervisors? If so, you've discovered
yet another threat to creativity and innovation.
Finally, ask yourself just how often you seek opportunities to recognize
and praise your employees. Most people praise their pets much more
than they praise others in the workplace. Simple statements such as
"Nice job," "Well done," "Nice try,"
"Great improvement" or "I'm glad you're trying"
are extremely powerful inducers of a positive working environment
and a more creative and satisfied workforce.
Some of our organizations still come up short, but a greater number
of people will overcome these barriers and take a crack at being more
creative and challenging the status quo if you implement only a few
of these suggestions. People will dazzle you with their ideas.
The things we fear most in organizations
imbalances are the primary sources of creativity.
Margaret J. Wheatley
Wall Street Journal, "Peter Drucker's Legacy Includes Simple Advice:
It's All About The People," Scott Thurm and JoAnn Lublin, Pages
B1 & B3, November 14, 2005 (www.wsj.com).
Newsweek, "How To Jazz Up Innovation," Linda Stern, Page
E4, November 14, 2005 (www.newsweek.com).
Business Week, "Mosh Pits Of Creativity," Joseph Weber, Stanley
Holmes & Christopher Palmeri, Pages 98-100, November 7, 2005 (www.businessweek.com).
Harvard Business Review, "The Office Of Strategy Management,"
Robert S. Kaplan & David P. Norton, Pages 72-80, October 2005 (www.hbr.org).
The Futurist, "Extra-Preneurship," David Pearce Snyder, Pages
47-53, July-August 2005 (www.wfs.org).
Winning, Jack Welch and Suzy Welch, Harper-Collins, New York, NY 2005
You could design a process to catch everything, but
overprocessing. You kill creativity. You kill productivity. By
definition, a culture like ours that drives innovation is managed chaos.
Alex Lee, President
In the October 2005 Harvard Business Review, William H. Starbuck, professor,
College of Business, University of Oregon has provided the background
and definition of bureaucracy. This is something we should all consider
as we write anything that affects people in our organizations.
"There's a long-standing tension in organizations between innovation
and bureaucracy. Excessive layers of management and byzantine processes
often shoulder the blame when a promising idea fails to make to market
or a nimble start-up thwarts a mature competitor. That tension can be
traced back at least 340 years, to an inadvertent collaboration between
two government officials in France. In 1665, with the French economy
in turmoil, King Louis XIV appointed Jean-Baptiste Colbert as his comptroller
general of finance. Colbert prosecuted corrupt officials and reorganized
commerce and industry according to the economic principles known as
mercantilism. To assure the populace that the government would act fairly
in monetary disputes, he demanded that officials abide by certain rules
and apply them uniformly to everyone. Then, in 1751, Jean Claude Marie
Vincent de Gournay became France's administrator of commerce. Gournay
was outraged by what Colbert had put in place and railed against the
multitude of government regulations he believed were suppressing business
activity. To describe a government run by insensitive creators and enforcers
of rules, who neither understood nor cared about the consequences of
their actions, he coined the term "bureaucratie." Translation:
'government by desks.'"
Thomas Kelley of design firm IDEO has a lot of experience in fostering
effective brainstorming. He suggests allocating a specific space for
innovation, well-stocked with sketch boards, maps, pictures and other
stimulating visuals, as well as an abundance of post-it notes, prototyping
kids, markers, story-board frames, etc. Practice the Zen principle of
"beginner's mind" and leave your preconceptions at the door.
"Don't judge, empathize." Seek out epiphanies through "vuja
the sense of seeing something for the first time, even
if it's commonplace. Cross-pollinate: hire people with diverse backgrounds
or even nationalities, create lots of opportunities for impromptu meetings
among disparate groups, host a weekly speaker series to get creative
juices perking, seek out diverse projects that stretch the firm's capabilities.
When it comes to brainstorming, sharpen your focus on one specific customer
need or process and go for quantity
encourage wild ideas and pie-in-the-sky
thinking. Number your ideas
a hundred ideas per hour is usually
a sign of a good, fluid brainstorm. Use props
write and draw your
concepts with the markers and giant post-its suck to every surface.
let that enthusiasm bubble over into impromptu prototyping
using foam core, duct tape, glue guns and other model building tools.
sometimes it helps to ask attendees to do a little
homework the night before or play a word game to clear the mind before
getting down to business.
October 24, 2005
Save Every Idea
In the years before he co-founded Aegis Living
an operator of
senior residential communities, CEO Dwayne Clark saved all the ideas
that were rejected by his bosses. He kept them tucked away in a "black-box"
file. Now that Clark is making decisions, he frequently reaches into
that black-box, which now serves as a cache of new ideas for jazzing
up his business and the 35 residential communities it operates. An idea
soliciting free products from suppliers to share with employees
helped Clark keep caregivers content in an industry known for high turnover.
Good leadership means knowing a good idea when you see it. Don't let
those fleeting inspirations slip away
the right time for them may
be just ahead.
Some thoughts from a few Dreamers
Thanks for the great articles and information on creativity. I like
many of the points you have made, in particular how we should provide
more training on creativity. How do we find this training? I live in
a small town, which not much available locally and with our continued
budget reductions, not much money for travel. Any suggestions would
In response to some of your articles that suggest we need to do more
with less; I caution you that the slash and burn approach is not always
the best methodology. While we can save money in the short run by slashing
our organization, I think that we lose the diversity of ideas and limit
the creativity of people. We are now cutting the Forest Service to a
new extreme. It is reorganization at all costs, not for what is best.
It just seems that people are being discarded without regard to the
long-term ramifications of the Forest Service. Corporate America has
taught us that the mind-boggling short-term success does not mean long-term
sustainability or the betterment of anyone.
If you are interested in learning more about creativity or wish to
share any experiences, please contact Karl Mettke at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank You For Taking Time To Be Creative?