12 Essentials To Creating A Culture Of Creativity

Creative companies will win the battle of the 21st century, of this decade, of the next week, for that matter.

What is creativity?

n early November 1997 when, sitting with a corporate client in his New York office, he said – in an aside from the matter at hand while gazing out the window into space – “We need more creativity around here.”

After a long pause during which I realized I wouldn’t know how to answer the question, “What is creativity?” I asked him that question. Another long pause and then his answer: “I don’t know, but I’ll know it when I see it.”

Thus began my ongoing quest to understand creativity: extensive research, vast readings, live experimentation, inventing and delivering a graduate leadership course on creativity, and practical application with clients.

What resulted was enough material to write a book – which I might still do – but much more than I can fit here. So, the practical thing for now is to offer you 12 ideas that, as years of study have shown, are essential in building a culture of creativity that creates a creative environment in which the creative process fosters creative thinking that leads to innovation.

Creativity and Innovation

To be clear, let’s define the difference between creativity and innovation, two terms that are often interchanged, almost always incorrectly. Creativity is a trait – whether personal or organizational – that leads to something new. Innovation is that something new. From creativity comes innovation. Innovation is applied creativity. Innovation is what creativity looks like.

One prerequisite

One assumption is being made here: that there are in your organization creative people and that they are not there by accident but by design because that’s what you’ve decided your organization will be like. With that, here are …

12 Essentials to Creating a Culture of Creativity

1. Always engage in mind stretching. Seek exposure to things beyond your current level of understanding, both business-related and not. “The most beautiful experience you can ever have,” declared Albert Einstein, “is to gaze at a mystery.”

2. Say “what if?” A lot. If Einstein hadn’t asked what his peers called a childish question – “What would it be like to ride on a beam of light?” – we might still be waiting for someone to discover that E = mc2.

3. Break all the rules. Have you ever read The Apple Manifesto? “Here’s to the Crazy Ones” says, among other things, “They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. ” Right. They’re Apple.

4. Set unreasonable expectations. Boeing’s willingness to build jet engines for commercial use, and Airbus’ willingness to build a plane – the A380 – that was too big to be built in any one factory in the world and too big to take off or land in any runway in the world (at time of initial idea) are well-known stories of success when others wouldn’t dare.

5. Be ready to abandon your expectations. In 1957, Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavaness were making a textured wallpaper with tiny air bubbles, a product that went nowhere. By 1960, they had formed Sealed Air Corporation and were making bubble wrap. They changed their expectations – and the world along with that.

6. Stretch your definitions. Those in the telephone business 50 years ago who saw only phones are gone. The ones who saw more? Look in your pocket.

7. Create a cause, not a plan. When Jack Welch became CEO of GE, he quickly said of their 17 companies, “We’re going to be # 1 or # 2 in every business we’re in, or we’re getting out of the business.” It didn’t take long for all GE employees to know why they were coming to work every day.

8. Listen to new voices; embrace new ideas. Welch again. Nobody encouraged cross-pollination of ideas and talent more than he did.

9. Let talent prevail. John Wooden always said he’d rather have talent than experience. Know a more successful coach in history?

10. Reduce the risk of experimentation. Then reward it. 3M allows their senior scientists a lot of unstructured time while pursuing new ideas. Failure is not feared because out of it comes successes like Scotch Tape, Masking Tape, Post-It-Notes, and thousands of other successful products.

11. Create dimension, not disagreement. Lou Gerstner took over IBM in a time of internal strife. What he created was IBM Global Services. His book “Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?” tells the classic story.

12. Act like a cell – divide, divide, divide. In the nineties I worked on a consulting team that designed a section of Johnson & Johnson’s online onboarding system. When it worked for one of their 180+ companies (at the time), it was applied to all.

Implementing all twelve at once might be a stretch, but picking one is a good start.


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