“Innovation, creativity, vulnerability…”​ (Do companies really want this stuff?)

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The question I have for organizations is simple: Do you really want more creativity, innovation, and vulnerability in your workplace or are you just giving lip-service to a kind of change that you have no intention of implementing?

Sure you’d like your employees to have more buy-in with your company’s brand and mission statement. And no doubt it’d be far better to get your people to feel enthusiastic about coming to the office, rolling up their shirtsleeves, and getting down to work. But you’d be making a big mistake —actually two of them— if you 1.) think enthusiasm is possible without giving people creative freedom, and 2.) if you think that creative freedom ever comes about as a result of a pep talk, or a even a hike in pay.

Here’s the thing to remember, creativity demands experimentation, (I hesitate to use the more popular term failure, as in, “fail-fast”). Experimentation often means delays, added costs, and people coming forward with ideas and solutions that may sound absurd. (Encountering absurdity is one of the costs {and occasional, benefits} of creative freedom). Absurd —as in say, creating a business around people paying for rides in family cars instead of taxis, or people renting rooms in private homes instead of paying for hotels. The list of “absurd” ideas goes on and on, from hamburgers made on an assembly line, to, asking people to pump their own gas. Give the smart people you employ —and you know as well as anyone how bright and capable they are, you pay them their high salaries and fund their insurance plans after all —a little leeway and they’ll come up with all sorts of ideas that can move your business forward in ways you could never have dreamed.

But let’s be honest, what many employers want most of all are people who will do the exact opposite. They want people who will draw only within pre-existing, pre-established procedures and guidelines. In fact, very few employers actually want a group of creative, initiative-taking leaders; their companies just aren’t set up to change at that kind of rapid pace. But the problem is the world is changing fast —lightning fast, faster than any of us know.

Let’s say you’re heading a company that’s invested overwhelming amounts of time and capital to create systems and processes to streamline and cut costs; and yet all around you, you can see how rapidly those very systems become outmoded. What’s needed is a new way, not only of looking at your business, but truly, a new way of seeing the world.

Human beings by nature, have a penchant for creating permanence, for maintaining order, and for limiting chaos. The artist (or those with an artist’s sensibilities) knows that maintaining the status quo, or relying on some technique that endeavors to push back against ambiguity and uncertainty, is anathema to the creative process. A masterful artist, that is, one experienced in the process of stretching him or herself to find new ways of looking at solutions (even if those ways include looking into past precedents) has become inured somewhat, or at least is not overly-pained with the idea that creative work, true creative work, never comes with a roadmap, and that rather than there being a linear path to a goal that can be charted out on a white board, real innovation is non linear, and at times even nonsensical. But it’s in that “nonsense” that new ideas are allowed to gestate.

Gestation, the slow formulation of an idea or a thing brings to mind the well-known analogy of a seed, and while perhaps it’s quaint to some, it is very apt in this discussion. Before a seed can germinate it must first decay. And while the seed, which hasn’t yet been planted is perfect in its way; it’s not until it’s been buried —tucked out of sight, as it were— and begins to decompose, that its real strength is revealed. In other words, the creative mind must lose sight of its goal again and again. It must be allowed to experience moments of deep frustration and inertia. Only after traveling into the darkness of doubt and fear can anything of value be born. And so how does any of this relate to companies and their need to keep pace in a furiously changing world?

Leaders who truly want their organizations to grow and to prosper must examine their tolerance for ambiguity, for risk, and for experimentation. I’ve seen too many companies whose main belief is:

We need a means of maintaining the way we’ve been doing things.

Rather than:

We need a means of interdicting the fears that prevent willingness to change.

And while some companies may use terms like creativity, innovation and vulnerability —only the strongest, most sustainable companies know that the costs of actually implementing those ideas are always worth the expense.

Peter Himmelman is a Grammy and Emmy nominated singer-songwriter, visual artist, author, film composer, entrepreneur, and rock and roll performer. He is the founder of Big Muse, a company, which helps unlock innate creativity. Clients include The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, The UCLA School of Nursing, 3M, McDonald’s, Adobe, and Gap Inc. Himmelman is also an alum of the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern. His latest book, Let Me Out (Unlock your creative mind and bring your ideas to life) was released October, 2016 and is available on Random House Tarcher/Perigee

“There’s deep wisdom here along with very practical tools for translating our ideas into the real world.” — Arianna Huffington

Follow Peter Himmelman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/peterhimmelman

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