Monday, December 29, 2008

We just aren't very creative

There are some lies we tell ourselves that eventually we come to believe or hold as truths. An example of these is that my clothes keep shrinking, rather than I am gaining weight. Or that I was a better athlete in high school or college than I really was.

When we join corporations, we instinctively seek out and adopt the mistruths that the organization holds about itself. In many cases we know these "truths" aren't really true, but we grasp them anyway, because like the emperor with no clothes, it's easier to hold on to the lie than to buck the system.

In reality, in just about any firm there are a vast number of people who have great ideas about how to change the status quo, how to implement new processes and services, how to create great new products. The problem is that they've been told that their focus is on the quarterly result, and not on introducing new risk or new changes to the organization. Then, after a few years the management team slaps itself on the head and exclaims that no one in the organization is innovative or creative, since there have been no new or interesting ideas presented. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even the people who have great ideas are unwilling to risk presenting them, and then they get branded for a lack of contribution!

People don't lack creativity, corporations and corporate cultures do. Most organizations create significant roadblocks to creativity and innovation, and stop most change in its tracks. After a while, any employee could be forgiven for thinking that they aren't creative or innovative, since those capabilities aren't valued and are rarely if ever used. However, that does not mean that a firm and its employees aren't creative. When properly unleashed, any firm can be creative. Need proof? Let's look at accounting, one of the most conservative industries. There were a number of innovative and creative accounting techniques used by Arthur Andersen and Enron. Obviously this is an example that did not play out well for those two firms, but it demonstrates that innovation can happen in very conservative, regulated industries, as well as those we generally think of like Apple or Google.

So, the next time someone in your firm says that the folks in the firm just aren't very innovative or creative, tell them that's not true and demonstrate how creative you can be, when allowed to be. Your teams may need training and tools to fully exercise that creativity, but I can assure you there are many more ideas, and much more creativity, in any firm than is currently being exploited. It's the expectation and the culture that are holding creativity down, not the lack of capability in the people.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 1:41 PM


Blogger Zane Safrit said...

Exactly. Everything in your post is so, so, true for organizations of any size.


Happy New Year!

12:37 PM  
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