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Can Your Business Afford to Take a Gamble With Creativity?

In a recent piece carried by Thoughts & Ideas, ‘Why Does Success Always Start With Failure’ I looked at creativity in terms of Business Innovation and Leadership.

And other pieces in the past few months have also been looking at the ‘6 Weapons of Influence’, ‘Transformational Change’ & ‘Wicked Problems’.

In this piece though I want to start by looking at Brainstorming versus Individual Creativity, because I believe that how we recognise, understand & harness creativity in the workplace, is another key driver that governs and strengthens the capacity to innovate, manage change and create agile, Super Performing Organisations and Businesses.

1st though perhaps we need to reclaim the term Brainstorming as some of us will be old enough to remember when, for a while at least, you were ‘Thought Showering’ instead!

A Proper Pedigree

The fact is there is a proper pedigree behind the technique and a very good reason for keeping & using the term, ‘To Brainstorm’. For as the concepts’ originator Alex Osborn simply put it, the process is, “to use the brain to storm a creative problem and doing so in commando fashion, with each stormer attacking the same objective”.

It will also probably come as no surprise that the process was born and nurtured in the world of advertising.

Alex Osborn was a partner in the New York Advertising Agency BBDO & his celebrated idea was first promulgated in Chapter 33 of his 1948 (& surprise) best seller, ‘Your Creative Power’.

In fact it was the success of this book that started the trend for a range of Management and Business ‘Self-Help’ & ‘How To Do It’ books being authored during the 1950’s & 1960’s by luminaries from this sector.

Including David Ogilvy (described as the Father of Modern Advertising) whose, ‘Confessions Of An Advertising Man’ was hailed as being important because, “It’s not just about advertising, it’s also about how people think and behave at the sharp end of business”.

Osborn’s Chapter 33 was entitled, ‘How To Organise A Squad To Create Ideas’, &, he wrote that when any group works together, the members should engage in a ‘Brainstorm”.

For Osborn, Brainstorming was central to BBDO’s success and his book outlined the essential rules for a successful Brainstorming Session. The thing that he believed distinguished Brainstorming from other types of group activity was the absence of criticism and negative feedback, &, he said in his book, “Creativity is delicate, a flower that praise tends to make bloom while discouragement often nips in the bud”.

Brainstorming was predicated on a no-judgments approach to holding a meeting.

It provided companies with an easy way to structure their group interactions and it became the most widely used creativity technique in the world. It gave rise to detailed pedagogical doctrines, such as the Osborn-Parnes ‘Creative Problem Solving Process’ which is still used today by Business Consultants.

And when people want to extract the best ideas from a group they still observe Osborn’s cardinal rule — “Censure Criticism (whilst) Encouraging the most Freewheeling Associations”.

Arguably, Brainstorming is then the ideal, feel good way to boost productivity, but does it actually work?

The scientific evidence would suggest not!

Based on the findings from empirical tests dating back from the late 1950’s and conducted by such august bodies as Yale & Washington University, the control sample of individuals would always roughly come up with twice as many solutions as the Brainstorming groups under the same conditions and the ‘Solo Solutions’ were independently judged to be more ‘feasible’ & more ‘effective’.

The conclusion drawn was that rather than unleash the potential of the group, the process of Brainstorming made those in the group less creative.

The interesting paradox subsequently thrown up by all of this however for both myself and many other practioners & business, organisational, people and change management commentators, is that like it or not, human creativity has increasingly become a group process and many of us work better creatively when teamed up!

To appreciate and understand this is then important in how you structure for creativity, the capacity to innovate, and ultimately to be both organisationally robust and agile — Not only responsive to your market, customers, stake and shareholders, but also to be on the front foot and ahead of changing demand, new pressures, challenges & targets.

So, what People, Process & Structural changes should you be considering to ensure you have the best market position, optimum capacity and capability, and a true competitive edge?

I would suggest the following:

  • Have a Powerful Engagement Process & Committed Local Sponsors: To overcome resistance, build commitment and stimulate creativity, you need to engage powerfully and bring people together in a Purposeful Way: In addition, you want your middle and front-line managers to model the behaviours that will drive forward creativity & innovation and they will be critical in connecting the creative thinking done to the organisation’s values and goals;
  • Recognise that Behaviours are the Key to Organisational Success: These include both Relationship Behaviours and Task Behaviours: There will be clusters of each already operating in your organisation or business, &, both clusters are important for creative, innovative and High Performing Teams;
  • Engage both Relationship & Task Behaviours: Relationship Behaviours include adaptability, communication, innovation, creativity and personal leadership: Task Behaviours include decision making, people development, planning, results focus, vision and strategy (All traits which regular readers of my writing will recognize as being characteristic of a ‘Thinking Performeror ‘Strategic Activist’);
  • Actively Develop your Thought Leaders, Thinking Performers & Strategic Activists: Model respect for talent and achievements at every level; Offer frequent public thanks; Praise those who meet high standards while helping poor performers improve; Emphasise personal responsibility; Reward initiative; Make Brainstorming a habit; Provide opportunities and resources for continual learning and growth;
  • Remove Silos, Inert Boundaries & ‘The way we do things here’ Mentality: Convene conversations across groups; Involve diverse cross-cutting teams in problem solving; stress ‘Common Purpose’ & communicate inspiring goals larger than any individual or group;
  • Help Everyone to Raise Their Emotional Intelligence: In previous pieces I have looked at the importance of Emotional Intelligence in Super Performing organisations, &, in particular, the work of Daniel Goleman: Another EI guru is Richard Boyatziz who found on questioning 2000 Supervisors & Managers on 16 Attributes which distinguished ‘Superior Performance’, that all but two were Emotional! High EI, coupled with excellent social skills are as important as creativity, innovation & expertise in driving forward the organisation, so encourage employees not to bite off more than they can chew — to be clear about what the pay-off for them will be in every situation — to focus their energy on making the most of their strengths, before looking at their weaknesses — & becoming tenacious in seeking feedback from everyone around them; & finally
  • Think Relationships, Think Communities, Think Networks, Think Pattern Management: Organisational adaptability and agility come from the little creative contributions of the many, not just from the big ideas of the few & a Leaders role is now in Today’s World, not so much to “Hold a mirror up to the organization” as to, “Honour emergence in a complex adaptive system”: Create the optimum opportunities for lots of frequent but small creative inputs which can be communicated and acted upon quickly through nurturing a ‘Community of Practice’: And nurture relationships through abundant social communication to create what the social anthropologist Robin Dunbar would call ‘Social Glue’.

Paul Mudd is the author of ‘Uncovering Mindfulness: In Search Of A Life More Meaningful’ available on Amazon and www.bookboon.com; the ‘Coffee & A Cup of Mindfulness’ and the ‘Mindful Hacks For Mindful Living & Mindful Working’ series. He is also a Contributing Author to The Huffington Post and a Contributing Writer to Thrive Global. Through The Mudd Partnership he works with business leaders, organisations and individuals in support of change, leadership excellence, business growth, organistional and individual wellbeing and well doing, and introducing Mindfulness. He can be contacted at paul@themuddpartnership.co.uk and you can follow the continuing journey uncovering Mindfulness on Twitter @TheMindfulBook and at @Paul_Mudd

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