#265 from Innovative
Leader Volume 6, Number 3
the Creative Organization
Smyth is director of Synectics Ireland Ltd., Dublin.
Previously, he was managing director at General Motors
manufacturing plant in Ireland.
He can be reached at (353) 1-6619244.
They say that the
definition of a prodigy is what every parent thinks their child is
until they begin school! The
joke here is supposedly on the adoring and illusion-filled parents
who are apparently overestimating the capabilities of their dear
But maybe the
shoe should be on the other foot, and it is the school that’s
wrong. Maybe, in fact, they are all out of step except our Johnny!
If so, it turns out to be a bad and tragic joke.
There is a lot of evidence to support the theory that much of the innate
creativity in children is knocked out of them around the age of 5,
about the time they commence school.
The arguments in support of this theory are very strong as
“getting it right” becomes the thing to do.
“Getting it right,” of course, means that the child’s
answer or solution should match that of the teacher or some other
expert or textbook. It
does not involve or
encourage one to come up with a new answer or one’s own answer.
The natural desire to be accepted and to please confirms
this tendency. As a
result, creativity and spontaneity suffer or die.
The prodigy has passed away.
Prodigious performance disappears.
Performance, Creativity and the Business Organization
If any prodigies
survive this onslaught—and some undoubtedly do—they have a yet
bigger hurdle to cross: the
bureaucratic organization. At
the mention of “bureaucratic” you will breathe a sigh of
relief saying to yourself, “I know who he is talking about;
it’s those big public institutions or megabusinesses.
I’m OK.” But I am
talking about you and you and you and
me because all business organizations are bureaucratic.
Now you are really annoyed at my arrogance and you are
right, I am
About one percent
of us are not
bureaucratic. But it
is only one percent, and before you include yourself among those
chosen few, ask yourself how many things you
have changed in your organization to have earned that privileged
unless you have made some radical changes, you can be sure you are
operating a bureaucracy which is about giving power to the system
and permitting and expecting the system to do a lot of the
managing in your organization.
All this means is that your earlier education has done a
good job to have you easily fit into the system.
The few remaining prodigies will have further pressures put
on them to conform and “get it right.”
Of course I am
exaggerating again, but there’s too much truth in what I’m
saying to ignore the critical messages and lessons that stare us
in the face on a daily basis as we fit people into boxes, offices,
organizational charts, clearly defined roles and strict operating
procedures and policies. All
of this falls under the heading of managing, and this is
supposedly a good thing and the more of it we do, the better it
supposedly is. But is
it? Of course it’s
necessary and a good thing to have managers, for without managers
who would control things and who would live up to and deliver on
the promises and commitments on which our own
plans and our own
promises and commitments were built?
This is how the system works and, good as it is, it’s not
good for creativity nor for the few remaining prodigies.
But what if
we’re greedy and want both?
What if we want to be able to promise and deliver and, at
the same time, safeguard and encourage the prodigies, both the
apparently dead ones, as well as those still alive?
This is an entirely justifiable request and an equally
feasible one; but it means taking some risks, having a lot of
confidence in ourselves and in others, and in operating
differently in the following seven areas.
Exciting Vision Shared by All
Before you skip
to the next one with a “well we’re OK here,” just three
truly exciting is your vision?
For you? For
others in the organization?
If you have
difficulty with any of these questions, you have some important
work to do. That work
will make a huge difference to the drive, energy and desire to
create new things and new ways of doing things.
On a coaching
program I run for many companies around the world, I get people to
perform a very simple exercise around bouncing a tennis ball.
In three minutes I can destroy their performance, and I do
so by behaving as a normal manager.
I simply tell them how they’re doing.
This establishes me as superior, and them as inferior. By doing this, I easily wreck their confidence and destroy
because they are used to
being treated like that. Through
this tennis ball game, I clearly show what we do to people by
establishing ourselves as superior and, by definition, them as
inferior. When this
continues down the line, we end up with a lot of inferiors.
We need to take a
serious look, then, at the way we manage people.
Perhaps, we should see ourselves as coaches, mentors or
supporters rather than as managers.
We have to get away from practices that do terrible damage
to people’s expectations of themselves as creative human beings.
the Scottish comedian, says the Queen of England thinks the world
smells of paint because wherever she goes, that place has been
painted a few hours or days before she gets there!
The same must be true for most senior managers.
Staff find out what they want their bosses to see and hear,
then they show them and tell them that this is how things are!
And, worse than this, we believe our own stories!
removes the need for creativity, because all is well and everyone
plays the game. If
it’s true that times of war and difficulty are fertile ground
for creativity, then nothing much is going to get grown or get
created if we are living in a dream world.
We need to allow honesty, permit people to say things as
they are without fear or reprisal. We should reward those who tell us about the mess we’re in.
People love challenges, and all kinds of prodigies will
come back to life—if we feed them a dose of challenges.
build walls around themselves—real ones and psychological ones.
The latter are more dangerous.
They are built with the bricks of past successes, plans to
which we’re fiercely attached, fear of failure, beliefs in our
own cozy presentations, and cemented with internal rivalries,
competition and dynamics. We
need to tear down these walls and sit down among ourselves, and
with our customers, to create an exciting future we all share in.
In a company I
worked with, equipment performance and machine up-time is
critical. Some weeks back, a maintenance union representative told
me, “The more often machines break down, the longer it takes to
fix them, and the sooner they break down, the better it is for me
since I get extra overtime pay.”
He wasn’t boasting.
He was pointing an accusing finger at a system that rewards
behaviors that are the exact opposite of the desired ones.
If we want people to have a real and passionate interest in
the business, and want them to give their all, then we have to
take a look at how we reward them. Ensure
that the welfare of the organization and everyone’s own welfare
are closely linked, and to be seen as closely linked.
For creativity to
thrive, it’s important that synergy, teamwork and sharing take
place. Einstein is
supposed to have said that three or four people tackling a problem
together are the equivalent of a genius.
Why then do we create barriers between people?
These barriers include departments, functions and empires.
It’s a form of bureaucracy of course and, while it may be
very worthwhile in many cases, it’s imperative to build
alternative ways of working that will bridge these chasms.
Ideas will come together, mate and produce exciting
concentration and infatuation of the child, with a new toy or the
car keys they just grabbed, with that same child fidgeting,
distracted and bored at school.
How can we create that same infatuation and concentration
around adult work? We
need to determine people’s areas of interest, and try to arouse
once more the genius in them.
Yes, there is
work to be done, but it should be fun work.
Create the best of both worlds—promises delivered and
people freed up to create exciting products, services and futures.
Prodigious people producing prodigious performance!