From a recent issue of Management Intelligence...
The Motivation for Creativity
Why should anyone seek to be creative? Creativity is full of risks and uncertainties. There is the risk of failure. There is the need to persuade others. There is a need for political skills. It is much better to sit quietly and do what you are supposed to do.
If things are going well, who needs creativity? If things are going badly, then there is no time for the uncertainties of creativity.
If you set out to be creative - and even if you use the powerful tools of lateral thinking - you cannot be sure of a result.
There is a further problem. Every valuable creative idea must always be logical in hindsight - otherwise it would have no value. So it is assumed that logic could have reached the idea in the first place.
This is totally untrue in an asymmetric patterning system like the human brain. But how many people know about asymmetric systems? So executives expect only 'blue sky ideas' from creativity and these are then deemed impractical.
If we regard creativity as an inborn talent which some people have and others do not have, then we just look for creative people.
If we regard creativity as the 'skill' of using information in a patterning system like the brain, then everyone can develop the skill of creativity. To be sure, some people will achieve a higher degree of skill than others - as with any skill - but this is not the same as being naturally creative. People who are not naturally creative might develop a higher degree of skill than those who are naturally creative.
Confidence is a key factor in creative effort. Those who have succeeded in having creative ideas in the past are much more willing to make a creative effort. They know from experience that new ideas are possible. They have experienced the joy and achievement of having a new idea.
How do you build up confidence if school does not encourage creativity, and the workplace does not expect it?
Most people do what is expected of them. The rebellious few do not. That is why we usually associate creativity with a rebellious nature. But it does not have to be like that.
To get creativity into an organisation you must make it an 'expectation'. At the end of every meeting, the chair person must allocate the last fifteen minutes to 'anyone who is exploring a new idea'. If no one has anything to say, they are told they are not doing their job.
A creative 'Hit List' of areas which need new thinking is produced and made visible to everyone. Executives are expected to work on items from this list - either as individuals or as assigned teams.
The effort to have ideas is key. If new ideas are an expectation, then people will make an effort to have new ideas. Their confidence will grow and eventually there will be a creative organisation.
It is also important to learn how to be creative. There is a need to learn the formal skills of lateral thinking which make creativity available to everyone.
The Challenge of Change
'The simple and perfectly satisfactory mobile phone of only a year or two back has been superseded by a device that still makes phone calls and sends messages, but also plays music, takes photographs, calculates, handles data, and so on. The proliferation has made it impossible to take a rational decision on which wonder is the 'best buy'.
The whole process of buying has become more complex and requires more skills from the buyer. What applies to consumers is also changing management. Simple solutions do not exist. Outsourcing provides an excellent, not to say chilling example.
The logic of buying in services from outside suppliers may seem irrefutable. Why should an airline pose as a catering company when outsiders are clamouring for business - firms whose concentrated skills promise better quality for lower costs?
Promises, promises. No doubt that sales pitch was swallowed whole by British Airways before handing its in-flight catering to Gate Gourmet. The practices of the supplier, as many hundreds of miserable would-be passengers can testify, led to a strike whose support by BA's own workers brought the airline to its knees and lost the customer £40 million.
Placing your key business processes in the hands of dedicated partners may seem the easy way of coping with burning need to make full use of revolutionary advances in IT; and to do so, moreover, while making significant savings. But it's deeply irrational to expect these economies.
Gate Gourmet and all those IT outsourcers are driven towards reaping their due rewards either by squeezing costs or lowering quality or both.
Recently the way in which intelligent people are stultified by absurd norms was brought home to me by a roleplaying exercised arranged by Extensor. To illustrate the effectiveness of its methods, Alistair Schofield got the participants to act as employees of three different companies, each having to cope at speed with a different, difficult business situation.
The executives were divided into Tops (the boss class), Middles (who must seek to serve both superiors and subordinates), and the Bottoms (who carry out the work, but have neither control nor influence over its design).
The role-playing ran to type. The Tops didn't relate to the other two tiers, and the Middles didn't relate to their subordinates. The plain commonsense of working together to achieve sensible and agreed ends only came to the fore when a fourth party, the Customers (played by observers), exercised their final power to force the Tops to begin to lead.
Extensor uses the succinct, five-point Kouzes-Posner model as a leadership tool. How does your organisation rate against the five criteria?
Does the leadership...
• Model the Way? (being clear about personal values; setting the example and planning small wins)
• Inspire a Shared Vision? (envisioning the future; enlisting the support of others)
• Challenge the Process? (searching for opportunities; experimenting and taking risks)
• Enable Others to Act? (fostering collaboration; strengthening others)
• Encourage the Heart? (recognising contributions; celebrating accomplishments)
If all five elements of leadership are present where you work, congratulations. But even one negative is not allowable. The absence of any one positive could well vitiate all the other four.
Emotions connected with status and the fears created by hierarchical management muffle the natural drives to achieve and improve. As Schofield observes, "Management hierarchies have been the traditional way of organising companies since the Industrial Revolution, when the process of management was exclusively 'top-down'.
"But although this predominantly top-down approach is no longer appropriate in today's fast-moving environment, where decisions need to be taken at all levels in the organisation, it is proving very resistant to change."
Schofield's hierarchs can't see beyond existing businesses. They have no criteria to guide their choices. They judge progress largely on financial metrics and underfinance their inadequate ventures. Small wonder that they fail. To succeed, go thou and do otherwise - obey the Five Elements.