Killing creativity with half a pair of scissors!
11/09/2013 - "Killing creativity with half a pair of scissors!" by Donal Carroll

 Killing creativity with half a pair of scissors

A manager I once knew had a fairly limited repertoire, but was convinced of the opposite. Her thinking: every time her team experienced problems her stock response to them was ‘Let’s be creative about this…everyone is creative, aren’t they?’ Their response was, of course, equally ‘stock’, with little advance on any previous thinking. The manager’s eventual assessment was ‘My staff just aren’t creative’. This gave her a licence to ‘just tell them what to do…’ which she was more comfortable with. 

However, being ‘creative’ is clearly more than the manager’s seemingly throwaway directive. So what is it? As a colleague of mine says, one immediate problem is the term itself. If it is not handcuffed with agreed definition or approach, it can become, to clarity ‘what statues are to birdshit’, a convenient platform upon which to deposit any badly digested ideas. 

So how can organisations be ‘creative’? Well, contrary to the manager’s request, creative thinking alone won’t suffice. It’s like a scissors with only one blade; we need a second one to put any ideas generated by ‘creative thinking’ into practice. Let’s call blade two ‘innovation’. Think, for instance, if any creative ideas did emerge above, which ones would be ‘actioned’, get in to practice, and how?


Some guidance for organisations seeking to be creative

(followed by some quick examples of how it works in practice):   

  • Use (broadly) agreed business definitions, as a given: ‘Creativity = appropriate novelty’ and ‘Innovation = the successful exploitation of new ideas’ that is, new to you/your organisation. This way you can start the journey to meet your challenges anew, as a means to an end, rather than groping around in a definition fist fight

  • See creative thinking and innovation as a marriage of equal partners: see these  together as a managing innovation system doing 2 things: generating new ideas and executing them by providing a pathway into practice using the ‘best’ ones ie those you’ve selected, having evaluated them all.    

  • Recognise your organisational climate and culture: it may be possible to influence a closed culture –with endless permission-seeking and dodging the begrudgers.  However, longer term a sustainable creative climate (needed for continuous innovation) is unlikely without a transformed management model. Notice with the manager above, how control is the real agenda and everything feeds it. The more outrageous an organisation finds ‘creativity’ the more they need it! The ultimate test of a creative organisation is ‘democratising permission’ where all staff are productively engaged, continuously improve and transform practice –as challenges arise.  (For more on this see:  Managing Value in Organisations: New Learning, Management and Business Models)  


Some examples of creativity/innovation: 

  • 1 Every 134 days for 20 years, the police mistook me for a crook: This article is by Lemn Sissay, a Black English poet, on how frequently he was stopped by the police while driving, without cause. He had never committed any offence. This is unlikely to occur if you’re white, hence his take on racism.

  • 2 The London Borough of Greenwich: ‘The power of small’: an aftermath of the riots was shopsecurity shutters, a symbol of inner city crime and decay. Locals painted the faces of babies on them representing optimism and deterring vandalism 

  • 3 Nick Symonds US track athlete who auctioned the space on his arm for advertising, before the Olympics.

  • 4 Medellin: from being Columbia’s second city ‘drug capital’ with among the highest homicide rate in the world, to being the world’s most innovative city: investment in urban planning and transport in the poorest neighbourhood which is built on steep hillsides, included a network of lifts and cable cars and a £4 million immense moving stair way up the entire hillside, connecting residents to the city centre and metro, and reducing journey times from hours to minutes.

  • 5 Frock me! A sign advertising a vintage dress selling event, outside Chelsea town hall (London) And yes, there was a queue!

Unpacking the practice:

1 Creative language - arresting language! At a technical level, creative as this headline is, it still needs a route into ‘practice’ ie a paper seeking innovative ideas and writing.

2 Reminds us the idea generating (creative ideas) stage will always need to provide far more ideas than are used. In selecting the ideas eventually ‘actioned’, there is only an s between laughter and slaughter -so stay creative, otherwise different, divergent ideas get killed. 

3 No (h) arm done –I think Symonds was particularly interested in publicising charities

4 Imagine the resistance this idea faced before getting actioned. Generating creative ideas always involves risk precisely because traditional thinking has failed probably on multiple occasions. There are many creative problem solving techniques but the need to change the climate when generating, selecting and executing them is always present (For more see Managing Value  in Organisations: ‘Techniques –the straight and crooked stuff’)    

5 Again creative, attention-seeking language which met its purpose – to attract queues. 

So if you want to ‘cut’ old problems in new ways, you’ll need a fully functioning scissors – creative ideas and riskier pathways into practice. You don’t have to call it a Managing Innovation system but that’s what it will function as. 

Let us know what you think of this –and if we should carry more blogs on Managing  Innovation.   

** From The Open University Business School MBA on ‘Creativity, Innovation Change’ which I taught on for 10 years and served me well in consultancy over 15 years


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