Monday
Mar052007

When Minds Collide. Abrasive Creativity.

If you take conflict out of a novel or movie, you'll  have a snooze fest.  Protagonist and antagonist.  Hero and villain.  I worked at Disney for a while and came to appreciate both Walt and Roy Disney.  Walt was the idea guy.  Roy was the money guy.  Take Roy out of the equation and you don't have Disneyland, Disney World or even the studio.  The dynamics of creativity bring a lot of diverse people to the table.  If the fate of your company depends on mowing down an orange grove and mortgaging your studio to pay for an "amusement" park, your primal instinct would be to  put your younger brother in a straight jacket.  But, it worked.  They call it creative differences.

 Some people are abstract thinkers -- they need to learn about something before they experience it. For experiential people, it's just the opposite. Some individuals like to work together to solve a problem, others like to gather and process information by themselves.  Both are equally valid. But real world commerce makes strange bed fellows.

Creative disputes become personal and the creative process breaks down.  Typically, managers have two responses to this phenomenon. According to Dorothy Leonard and Susann Straus, "managers who dislike conflict or value only their own approach (I'm the boss) actively avoid the clash of ideas.  They hire and reward people who resemble themselves."  It's called comfortable clone syndrome.  Everyone begins to think alike because that thinking works in that organization. 

But managers who value co-workers with a variety of divergent thinking styles often don't understand how to manage them.  "They overlook the fact that people with different styles often don't understand or respect one another and such differences can fuel personal disagreements," says Leonard and Straus.   The detail guy dismisses the visionary.  The individualist considers the time and emotional energy of a team an utter waste of time.

 

Gerald Haman of Solution People, Inc  uses a wonderful technique to illustrate diversity thinking and how to make it work.  In fact, teams without diversity thinking do not thrive in an innovative organization.   The bottom line:  to innovate successfully, you must hire, work with and promote people who are unlike you.   You need to understand your own preferences so you complement your weaknesses and exploit your strengths. 

 

The  key is to depersonalize conflict and that table is set by the manager or leader.  It's a wonderful paradox.  Creative abrasion can be very productive.  Now I think I'll go to Disneyland. 

 

For more information on Solution People visit www.solutionpeople.com 

 

Sunday
Mar042007

Killing Creativity

Creativity RIP?  Advertising agencies should be the bastion of creativity.  But it's on life support in some organizations because it's a step child to other business imperatives -- profitability, productivity and corporate think.  Most managers believe in the value of new and useful ideas, but creativity is undermined unintentionally (and intentionally) everyday.   As a creative director, I have been on the front lines of this conflict for over 20 years.

In most agencies (and companies) new ideas are not met with open minds but with time-consuming layers of evaluation and rush to judgement.  According to Teresa Amabile, a Professor at Harvard Business School "paying attention to motivation -- specifically intrinsic motivation -- a passion for a certain kind of challenge -- is the most potent lever a manager can use to boost creativity and the future success of a company."

 So what's the problem?  I have seen managers come back from business seminars with a renewed sense of a company's purpose and renewed passion for creativity.  Think Tom Peters.  But typically these fired-up managers cool down once they are back in the "environment."   They will see an in-house brainstorming session as a balance sheet disaster. I have a 5-step process that can save some ideas casualties in the creative killing spree. 

1.  Sign a contract to yourself.   "I will embrace creativity and become it's champion in this organization"  Keep it visible.  Frame it.  Mean it.

2.  Give people the freedom within the company's goals.  Tell them which cliff to climb but let them decide how to climb.  Give them a goal, but don't change the goal midstream.

3.  Match the right people with the right assignments.  Create teams that have diverse thinking perspectives.  Homogenous groups typically create "me too" thinking.

 4.  Allocate appropriate amounts of time and resources.  Organizations routinely kill creativity with unreasonable deadlines and over inflated expectations.

5.  Let people know what they do matters.  A genuine pat on the back has more currency than you know. 

Ultimately, fostering creativity often requires that managers radically change how they build and interact with work groups.

My thanks to Teresa Amabile and the Harvard Business Review. 


 

 

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