Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Business of Creativity

I like reading other blogs. They give me ideas, for sure, but more than that, they illuminate areas of life I don’t usually contemplate. One of the regular sites I go to is The Good Typist. Recently Ms Typist was too sick to write. Instead she provided a link to an article, Inside the Box: People Actually Don’t Like Creativity. That led me to another article, one by Barry Staw which, in turn, led me to write this blog. And who knows were that will lead? Hence the beauty of creativity. This article, however, explores another aspect of this social construct.

Barry Staw, a researcher at the University of California–Berkeley business school, writes that most businesses, let alone individuals, choose not to be creative when faced with the inherent risks of innovative thought. For individuals this may include obsessive and anti-social behaviour, non-conformity and sacrifice.  For businesses the risks are slightly different and tend to be of greater magnitude because of the financial commitment.  Creative people tend to rock the boat as they push against traditional hierarchical infrastructure. This can make life uncomfortable for investors as well as colleagues who just want to do their work and go home.

Staw lists five reasons why most business managers shy away from creative innovation.

First, instead of the normal recruitment process in which people are brought in who have the skills needed by the firm and the values it admires, innovative companies must let down the barriers. They must accommodate those whose skills are more peripheral and whose goals are suspect.

I remember applying for work as a bank teller. I knew I was out of my league when the interviewer described their average client as anything but average. You know the kind: wealthy with high expectations for efficiency, service and kowtowing. Knowledge, however, does not always breed common sense. When the interviewer asked how I dealt with conflict I chose to tell him of an incident from my Downtown Eastside days—working with a strung-out cocaine addict who found offence in something I had said. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job.  His loss or, better said, the bank’s loss. I imagine the example I gave was not far off from dealing with a mulit-millionaire who finds a minute mistake in his service charges and wants his money NOW. An addict is an addict regardless of the substance.

Second, instead of socializing new members of the organization to absorb the values and cultures of the firm, the innovative corporation must encourage people not to listen, or listen to hard. There is nothing that kills innovation like everyone speaking in the same voice, even If it’s a well trained voice

This takes me back years ago when the first McDonald’s appeared in Kitsilano. Several of us from high school, possibly ten altogether, went in to apply for work. We sat in a group and waited for our turn to be interviewed. One by one, we got up, talked to the manager and got hired. Everyone, that is, except yours truly. Not sure what it was unless you count the moment when my sense of the ridiculousness interrupted the interview. The manager was telling me in an oh-so-very sincere voice about the cleanliness and all out wonder that was his McDonald’s when I started to smile. I tried to hide it but the damage was done. McDonald’s loss.  Just think, I could have been a millionaire corporate CEO now telling others how fantastic and healthy a QuarterPounder (with cheese) truly is. I’d smile while saying it, too.

Third, instead of issuing directives and policy statements and hoping they will be obeyed, innovative firms must encourage disobedience. In fact, those in power must go so far as to encourage active opposition. Innovative organizations are ones that harbor multiple perspectives and objectives ….

Irony rules the day on this one. I find the more rules, directives and policies, the more disregard there is: an unintentional boon to inspired creativity. I once worked for a company that loved issuing directives. These golden words would regularly appear on the bulletin board … or in the washroom stalls where they would certainly be read by a captive audience. Funny enough, these commandments from above usually resulted in what Staw desired out of creative organizations: disobedience. One policy read that because of employee abuse (and negative effects to customer service) coffee breaks would be reduced from fifteen minutes to ten AND if further abuse continued, would be omitted altogether. The outcome of this, of course, was total rebellion: coffee breaks lengthened to 20 minutes. Customers never noticed because the reason why the service was problematic in the first place was the cost saving practices of the company in cutting floor staff. Five minutes here or there made no difference what so ever. Excepting, of course, for the instigation of multiple objectives and extra time for creative thinking.

Fourth, instead of striving for lower cost and efficiency, innovative companies must strive for adaptiveness. They need to have excess capacity and personal devoted to seemingly meaningless ventures. Because innovation requires investing in losers as well as winners, adaptive firms must be prepared to follow several competing designs simultaneously, and move through a sequence of product alternatives before setting on a single course of action

One company I worked for was the champion of meaningless ventures and support for competing designs.  Unfortunately, the creative benefits of adaptiveness  was lost in this formula but hey, they got it two-thirds right. As a building supply/general store we sold spray bottles. And, as in most places, staff could not just take an item off the shelf for business use, a certain protocol was necessary. So, a request for a spray bottle was submitted to be used as a cleaning aid. Two weeks goes by. In follow-up I am told by the powers that be that “we are still pricing the sprayers for the best buy ... you should have two bottles before tomorrow.” Sure enough, two such bottles did arrive that afternoon… from another store. Need I say more?

Finally, to be truly innovative, firms must be industry leaders rather than followers. They must stick their necks out on unknown products and technologies, not knowing if they will be successes or failures…. They must pursue products that often appear more folly than wisdom.

I have a Hentemann cartoon sitting on my desk. It is a picture of Santa, in full regalia, sitting with his mom and dad at the dinner table. Santa’s mom asks: Don’t you think what you’re doing is a little strange?

The same question could be asked of me (and certainly some of my family and friends do ask it). On first glance, you see, what I do is a little strange. People come to my office and lie on my massage table. With my hands on or off their fully clothed body, I run energy while asking questions.  The method evokes a body-based response rather than a head-based one or, in other words, one the client thinks they should feel. A little strange, yes, but also, like Santa, quite magical in its effectiveness. Clients leave my sessions with a clearer picture of who they are, paths they want to take, and a sense of relief in coming home to themselves. The work does not yet provide me with financial success. For that reason alone it may seem like more folly than wisdom but I don’t really care. My BodyMind practice provides me with a deep satisfaction and gratitude in knowing I am doing some good in this world. Not so ridiculous, this folly.

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  1. Love your tales. Some I recognize! And rest assured you are doing some good in this world - definitely not ridiculous.

    1. Thanks Mizz Bonnie, but then again, aren't you another one of those Santa Clauses?

  2. Beautiful Jo - Ann. Your writing is engaging and resonates. Thank you.

    1. Wow, words like that definitely feed the soul. Thank you, Heather!