We talk a lot about creativity and innovation. In seminars, conclaves, and think-tank sessions, we proclaim -- creativity and innovation matter the most! CEOs try to convince their organisations, sometimes requesting, sometimes cajoling, and a few times almost impelling the people-- "There is no other way but to think out of the box".
This appeal for innovation gets a worthy place among the core values of the organisation; and trickles down the hierarchy through newsletters, special events and bulletin boards.
Now, let us see how it gets translated in the workplace:
Creative quotations appear in the corridors. Pledges are read. And then everyone embraces creativity, but on 'their own' terms. Conditions* apply. Managers encourage creativity in speeches, but when it comes to the evaluation of real ideas, they reject ideas that can disturb the status quo. The subtext, if we listen carefully is:
"Buddies! Think out of the box, but keep in mind the box should not be disturbed! We welcome new kinds of solutions as for as it doesn't disrupt things around here. Now go and be creative!"
Which means, the old business assumptions do not change, attitudes remain the same. No one gets the gumption to challenge anything. Employees are experts at 'not rocking the boat.''
The same old thinking continues. It leads to the same old-- dried and decayed--solutions. Then, the next level of managers review these solutions, and conclude, "This won't do. Innovation is our core value. We must be creative. Go 'add' some creativity to it".
The team huddles in a room -- How to be creative, without rocking the boat? How to add something creative to the solution?
They tweak the project title, add colourful visuals to reports, summon the advertising agency for premium Power-Point templates. When the deadline hovers on the head, that's all one can do.
I call it the 'cherry on the top of the cake creativity'. Which means, putting creativity into the game at the end, not as an inherent part of the solution but as decoration.
The effective way:
Creativity must precede everything else. The new point of views must be applied in defining and refining the problem itself. That's when the paradigm shifts. Anything that is an afterthought won't be the leap the CEOs are looking for. The 'creative cherry' on the top of the same 'old cake' doesn't change things much.
As a leader, insist on a fresh thinking approach from the beginning. Ask your team to define and refine a problem. re-frame the problem in different ways. It will open up new thinking directions. Team will get energized. New solutions will emerge.
Let us remember, truly creative leaders don't fear to challenge the old assumptions. They ask disrupting questions..
They welcome 'unsafe' suggestions. They put the creative juices in the recipe of the 'Creativity Cake'!
They want to disturb the box!