Volume 12, Number 7
Great Ways to Crush Creativity
speaks and trains on lateral leadership (www.destination-innovation.com).
He is author of The Leader’s Guide to Lateral Thinking
Skills (Kogan Page, London, England, 2003).
As the economic
situation continues to squeeze, it is tempting to batten down the
hatches, cut costs, wait for the calm and pray that you’ll
emerge on the other side of the downturn with your company still
intact. A more
effective and more productive reaction is to start looking to the
future and to use innovation to improve your products and
processes. Many CEOs
recognize the value of staff creativity to generate ideas for new
business opportunities, but they fail to put in place training or
processes to make this happen.
Worse still, they are unaware that they stifle their
peoples’ creative potential.
Here are some of the most common ways to crush imagination
in your organization.
Mistake One: Criticism
reaction to any new idea you hear is to criticize it, to point out
some of the weaknesses and flaws which will hold it back.
The more experienced you are, the easier it is to find
fault with other people’s ideas.
Decca Records turned down the Beatles, IBM rejected the
photocopying idea that launched Xerox, DEC turned down the
spreadsheet, and various major publishers turned down the first
Harry Potter novel. The
same thing is happening in most organizations today.
New ideas tend to be partly-formed so it is easy to reject
them as “bad.” They
diverge from the narrow focus that we have for the business so we
discard them. But
there is no such thing as a “bad” idea.
Bad ideas are often excellent springboards for good ideas.
Every organization needs lots of bad, silly, stupid, crazy
ideas because within them there are concepts we can adapt to make
into workable innovations.
What is more,
every time somebody comes to you with an idea that you criticize,
it discourages the person from making any more suggestions.
It sends a message that new ideas are not welcome and that
anyone who volunteers them is risking criticism or ridicule.
Mistake Two: Banning Brainstorms
seen by some as old-fashioned and passé, but good brainstorms
remain one of the best ways of generating plenty of fresh ideas
and involving staff from all levels.
If your organization is not holding frequent brainstorm
sessions to find creative solutions then you are missing a great
opportunity for new ideas.
Your brainstorming sessions should be short and have a high
energy level. They
should have a clear focus and generate a large number of ideas.
They should be chaired by an enthusiastic facilitator who
encourages the flow of ideas and ensures that there is no initial
criticism or judgment.
Mistake Three: Problem Hoarding
There is a macho
concept that the VPs should shoulder the responsibility for
solving all the company’s major problems.
Strategic issues are too complicated and high-level for the
ordinary staff. But
people lower down the organization are often closer to the
processes or the customer, and they can see what is working and
what isn’t. They
have a pretty shrewd notion of what is going on.
If you involve them and throw down a challenge to help find
solutions, then you will find a rich source of new ideas and a
shared sense of purpose. You
will get better decisions and the staff are much more likely to
buy into initiatives that they have helped form than to accept
things handed down.
Mistake Four: Efficiency Over Innovation
It is natural for
managers to focus on making the current business model work
better. Every process
can be improved. But
if we focus entirely on making things better then we can miss the
chance to make things different and that is the essence of
innovation beats efficiency.
If you were making slide rules then improving efficiency
would not have stopped electronic calculators from wiping you out.
If you were sending messages using fax then you needed to
learn email rather than send more faxes.
If you made LP records then making them better and faster
was no protection from CDs. You
have to improve the current process while continually looking for
and trying out new methods of delivering value to customers.
An exclusive focus on efficiency is a dangerous blinker.
Mistake Five: Overworking
Often allied to
the focus on efficiency is a culture of long hours and hard work. The problem here is the belief that hard work alone will
solve the problem. Often
we need to find a different way of solving a problem rather than
just working harder at the old way of doing things.
We need to take time to look for new opportunities.
But as the creativity expert, Edward de Bono, says, “You
cannot look in a new direction by looking harder in the same
direction.” If you are focused on one way of doing things and working all
hours to make it happen then how can you find time to try new ways
of reaching your goals? If
you had been making gas lamps and you worked all day to produce
more lamps then you would have had no time to learn about
electricity and develop an electric light.
Our working day needs time for learning, fun, lateral
thinking, wild ideas and testing of new initiatives.
Mistake Six: “It Isn’t in the Plan”
“We cannot try
that idea because it is not in the plan and we have no budget for
that plan in great detail and then adhere to those plans are
placing themselves in a straitjacket.
They are limiting themselves to a vision of the world as
the planners saw it when they conceived the plan.
Markets and needs change so quickly that the view we had
last week can be out of date today. So how accurate can the plan we did last December be?
Corporate plans should be loose frameworks to be used as
guidelines rather than detailed route maps.
They must allow for sudden changes in market conditions,
new threats and opportunities, and for experimentation.
The plan should not become a bunker within which
unimaginative managers can hide.
Mistake Seven: Laying the Blame
A culture of
blame for failure is a sure-fire way to halt entrepreneurial
spirit in its tracks. Most
innovation projects will fail, but they are still worthwhile
because it is only by trying them that you can determine which
promising ideas are duds and which are winners. Edison had thousands of failures in his experiments that
resulted in the invention of the electric light.
When asked how he could endure so many failures he replied
“They were not failures, each one taught me a new way which did
Mistake Eight: Wrong Rewards
If your bonuses
are structured to reward well-established products and businesses
then chances are they are completely wrong for starting new
business lines. Typical
bonuses give percentages of quarterly revenues and contribution as
rewards for success. But
for its first few quarters, a new product or service may yield
little revenue and negative contribution.
You need different incentives for the team running an
innovation project. They
should be rewarded for reaching agreed milestones. They should be treated as entrepreneurs and given stock
options, or other rewards, linked to the longer-term success of
Mistake Nine: Giving Innovation Projects to Production Units
A common mistake
in larger companies is to give innovation projects to existing
line managers who are running the regular business as well.
It can seem a natural thing to do but it is generally
fatal. New products
or services are like delicate seedlings that should be kept in the
greenhouse until they are stronger and not left to fend for
regular business manager is too busy meeting his monthly deadlines
and targets to give the prototype business the attention it needs.
It is better to put the seedlings in the care of a special
department – sometimes known as an innovation incubator.
This department has different goals and objectives, it
works to a longer schedule, it is headed by an innovation director
who has clout in the organization, it aims to have maybe one in
three innovations be really successful and to learn from those
that do not succeed.
Mistake Ten: No Training
Can creativity be
taught, or is it a rare talent possessed by a handful of gifted
answer is that every one of us can be creative if we are
encouraged and shown how to do it. We were all imaginative as children but gradually most
people have their creative instincts ground down by the routine of
work. With proper
training people can develop skills in questioning, brainstorming,
adapting, combining, analyzing and selecting ideas.
They can rediscover their imaginations.
They can be the innovative engine your organization needs.