Squeezing the creative juice out of business

How many times do you hear the word ‘innovation’ mentioned in the same breath as ‘growth’ or something bearing on the change agenda?

It’s axiomatic that to imbue an organisation with a mindset whereby they stop doing what they’ve always done, they have to stop looking in the rearview mirror or at a competitor, and embrace an open mindset. Of course, it’s easier said than done.

For me, the missing component (not the sole component) is creativity.

Let me be more specific.

We’re all accustomed to the brainstorming session or idea generation, but how often have you been allowed a free reign so far as the medium, the external influences (how many companies are willing to bring in an external facilitator?) and the dissemination of ideas?

If I look back on my 30 years work experience, I don’t recall a single occasion where creativity was allowed a free hand. Oh sure, there were loads of SWOT, PESTEL and competitor analysis, but no one really wanted to open up the floor to the creative genius that lay within their midst.

It’s no accident that my strapline is Awaken the Genius. I fervently believe that if you want your organisation to evolve to the point that the moribund discussions about service, price and employee engagement are of assumed provenance, you need to allow your people the opportunity to open their (creative) genius to the internal market and all other interested parties.(As I’ve made clear before, I’m in the Seth Godin camp when it comes to the definition of art. So far as I’m concerned, art doesn’t apply solely to drawing, sketching or doodling. It goes much deeper. It means to do your best work by coming alive to who you are, not one programmed by industrial workplace circumstance or the culture that exhorts you to fit in and not stand out.)

From a practical perspective, this means allowing everyone a free reign to tackle a project whichever way they think best. Flipcharts are good but what about introducing mind-mapping, sketchnoting, improvisation or poetry?

You might think I’ve lost the plot with the last suggestion. But I’m deadly serious. For me, poetry has been one of the brightest spots in my life. It opened up my creative self to the point where I couldn’t hold the torrent of ideas and designs back (my drug of choice up to now has been calligraphy).

Let’s take a topic like client service. Imagine you asked everyone to sketch out a poem describing a happy client or perhaps one that needs convincing of your particular brand. You could ask them to write it in a particular style if you wanted to make the process easier. Or, if poetry wasn’t your thing, you could invite them to draw out their impression of a happy client compared to a disgruntled one—smiley faces, selfies and stick men/women wouldn’t be frowned upon, promise. The thing is you want people to experience more deeply the issue that needs fixing.

I can already picture the perennial naysayers making a hasty exit (”Don’t waste my time!”) but it’s their loss. It might be a generalisation too far, but my experience of people who always like to sit in the corner, arms crossed, barking out negative expletives, is it’s nearly always the same people who when pressed for a bit of creative juice revert to the usual trite sayings they’ve been trotting out for the last decade (boring).

The point that I’m getting is that if we want to see change in an organisation (think ‘Why’ and ‘How’ before ‘What’), and not one that is always predicated on making great gobs of money, then we have to be prepared to open up the dialogue and process.

I know so far as my consultancy practice is concerned, I feel increasingly that being the outsider it’s my job to come up with the original idea that either shines a new light on something or allows people the freedom to express the previously unexpressed. If I’m honest, those moments are rare. In the main, I find most of my time is spent in the “you can do better” camp, which never feels right. Instead, I think people have to get used to the idea of uncertainty or certainly not knowing all the answers, and that’s where the creative jolt comes in. I know from past experience if all I do is introduce the same process of old, guess what, I’ll get the same predictable response. (Even if you don’t bring me in to your organisation to try my hypothesis, why don’t you introduce something radically new to your idea generation.)

In the future, I can see me throwing out the baby and the bath water, ripping up the agenda and saying I don’t know the answer but together, if we apply our creative genius, I feel positive that something brilliant will emerge.

In case you’re wondering, I intend to introduce into the mix a little bit of poetry, sketchnoting and improvisation when I do next get the opportunity to go beyond the tried and tested. It’s not that I’ve got this long CV of accolades that I can refer to as the golden key but, instead, it’s something that I feel instinctively drawn to in my own work to move me away from the traditional consultant who takes someone else’s methodology (e.g. Good to Great, Excellence or ReWork) and tries to make it their own.

None of us really know what lies ahead but for me I refuse to accept that a little bit more creativity couldn’t go a long, long way in tapping the genius employee who you forever covet: ”If only they were 80% engaged and not 30%”.

Long live creativity and all its forebears.