Custodians Of Creativity

“Keep your ears open. A good idea can come from anyone. Walt Disney used to solicit the custodians for their opinions because he knew that everyone has the capacity to be creative…”  -Steve Spiegel ‘The Imagineering Way: Ideas To Ignite Your Creativity’

The more we study, discuss and gain a deeper understanding of creativity and what it is, the better chance we have to see its revival in our organizations. And while it remains necessary to gain a clearer understanding of what it is, it is just as important to uncover what it’s not.

Especially, if we are trying to engage and scale it on a mass level.

Which requires awareness, since there are many ingrained and pervasive ‘myths’ that continue to swirl about and orbit the creative cosmos. Myths that mislead and misinform our mindsets and thinking around creativity.

Too often, we believe and buy-in to these myths that circulate and revolve around creativity.

Such as, for something to be creative, it has to be completely new and original. What we fail to realize, is that, while seeming new and novel, nothing is ever truly new or original. Everything, at some level, is a remix. Ideas build upon ideas, percolating and mixing to create what we deem new, novel and original. Or, how we still sustain and hold up the idea of the ‘lone genius’ myth. That picture that we’ve burned into our mind of the sole scientist, holed away in a laboratory, inventing the next new thing that will change our lives. Whereas, in reality, what we’ve come to realize, is that creativity is less a ‘lone’ act, as much as it is a social and collaborative one.

It is the intersecting of ideas and thinking, where much of our creativity and innovation is born.

Which is just the tip of the iceberg, the myths do little to stop there, just as we continue to believe that creativity comes from a type. So we sell ourselves on the idea that there are only a select few that are creative types. Ones we can go to for ideas and thinking that will keep our organization creative and innovative. The ones who keep us on the cutting edge. Which is unfortunate, for it is in these environments, that creativity becomes a ‘is or is not’ proposition.

The problem with this thinking, is, at some level, everyone of us is creative.

When we believe that creativity is a ‘is or is not’ proposition, we limit the ideas and overall capacity of the organization to not only engage, but to infuse and become more creative at scale. The ‘is or is not’ proposition allows only certain ‘types’ to share their ideas, their thinking, and their creativity.

Boxing in organizational creativity to just a select few.

We will never effectively bring creativity and innovation to scale in our organizations if we continue to hold tight to myths that not only limit, but have the tendency to diminish and disengage it. We have to be willing to engage the thinking and ideas of everyone, at all levels of the organization, not just those we deem as the creative types. Especially, if we are ever to bring creativity and innovation to the scale necessary and needed in our organizations.

“The ‘idea’ is held in such high regard here, and therefore, so are the people who come up with those ideas. We cherish the dreamers, misfits, and oddballs who populate our hallways.”  -Christian Hope ‘The Imagineering Way: Ideas To Ignite Your Creativity’


Mesmerized: Seeing Beyond The Chalk Line

“When you come into an organization, you bring with you an arcane potency, which stems, in part, from your uniqueness.”

“But if you are hypnotized by an organization’s culture, you become separated from your personal magic and cannot tap it to help achieve the goals of the organization. In losing connection with your one-of-a-kind magic, you are reduced to nothing more than part of the headcount.”

-George MacKenzie ‘Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace’

In ‘Orbiting the Giant Hairball’, author George MacKenzie shares this fabulous story of a summer his father spent on his uncle’s farm. And how, one Sunday, his father and his cousin feigned a bout of sickness to stay home from church and have a bit of fun. At which point, to shorten the story, his cousin asked…

“Do you know how to mesmerize a chicken?”

From which the cousin quickly disappeared into the chicken coop, only to quickly reappear carrying a fine white hen. With the author’s father watching intently, the cousin took a piece of chalk and drew a line on the porch and then held the hen’s beak to the chalk line. And…

“After a moment or so, the boy slowly removed his hands. The chicken stood motionless, beak to the chalk line, hypnotized. My father hooted with glee.”

Unfortunately, much like that hen on the chalk line, when we are not aware, our organization’s can do the same thing to their people. They just hold your beak down to a different type of line. A company line. Towing that company (chalk) line can effectively eradicate curiosity, diversity, inquiry, imagination, individuality, and creativity. With your beak to the line, you will eventually lose what is effectively and uniquely you. Or as Gordon MacKenzie warns…

“If you are not careful, you will be hypnotized by this line.”

Which is often the very reason that many of our organization’s lack the creative and innovative thinking that we have deemed vital to success in the 21st century. We are not really interested in providing autonomy, searching out diversity, engaging in new ideas and thinking, because…

Towing the company line is about uniformity, standardization, consistency, which leaves little room for autonomous, creative, innovative, free thinking and thinkers. Often leaving those who challenge the status quo, to either have their beak pushed down on the line, or move to the fringes and serve as outliers.

In the future, it will continue to be increasingly difficult to build creative and innovative organizations, when we neither want or embrace the people and thinking that leads us to that goal.

Which is a great reminder for the next time someone has the courage to challenge the status quo…

“So, whenever you feel your head being pushed down onto an organization’s cultural chalk line, remember the challenge is to move out of the way, to choose not to be mesmerized by the culture of the company. Instead, find the goals of the organization that touch your heart and release your passion to follow those goals.”

Gordon MacKenzie ‘Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace’

Facing The Inhibitors Of Creativity And Innovation

It is only in our willingness to persist in the face of fear, judgment and the unknown, that we give opportunity for our creative and innovative ideas to be realized.

Whenever we are engaging creative and innovative ideas.

Whenever we are doing truly creative and innovative work.

We will often find ourselves slowly and subconsciously creeping back to what we’ve always known, what we’ve always done. Not for any lack of passion or joy around the work. Rather, because there is an overwhelming uncomfortableness in doing this work. Especially, when it is new and never been done before. An uncomfortableness that happens on two on two levels: the individual and the environmental (the inside and the outside). All of which, revolve around the three inhibitors of our creative and innovative nature.

Fear     Judgment     Unknown

And because of these inhibitors, we question ourselves into paralysis, eventually diminishing our creative and innovative inspiration.

Should I do this? Can I do this? How will it be accepted? Is this even possible? Why am I even putting myself out there like this? What will others say? What will others think? Who am I to try this?

And on and on the wheels turn, eventually sliding us back into the comfort that we had scratched and crawled to pull ourselves out of.

Keeping our creative and innovative ideas and work to ourselves, never sharing or exploring because of…

Fear     Judgment     Unknown

And so we become a little less creative, a little less innovative. As individuals, and as organizations.

The problem is, these three inhibitors are not going away. They will always be here with us (inside and out).  So then the question becomes, how do we remain creative and innovative in the face fear, judgment and the unknown?

According to Jonathan Fields, in his book ‘Uncertainty’, he provides us with the following research, “Remarkably, eliminating the possibility of evaluation of others makes ambiguity aversion disappear entirely…” And vice a versa.

For which he adds, “We’ll create with abandon, make bolder choices, lean into uncertainty, and take risks far more readily if we know that whatever comes out of that effort will never be revealed to others. The moment we introduce the element of exposure, judgment, criticism and the potential for rejection, most people run for the certainty fences. And in doing so, they become less willing to push boundaries, take risks, and choose less-certain options that often yield the greatest opportunities.”

Which gives us some insight into how to begin to solve our (inside and out) aversion to being more creative and innovative. And it begins by curbing our critical voice. Inwardly and outwardly. The voice that is quick to evaluation of others, as well as our own, ideas and work. That critical voice that stifles our natural tendency towards being more creative and innovative.

And while this will not fix all of our ills, it is a starting place. A beginning towards building up more creative and innovative individuals and organizations.

“Fear of judgment stifles our ability to embrace uncertainty and as part of that process delivers a serious blow to our willingness to create anything that hash’t already been done or validated.”  -Jonathan Fields ‘Uncertainty’

Reference and quotes from…

Fields, Jonathan. Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance. 2011. Portfolio / Penguin.

Creativity, Innovation And Disruption?

“It was-is-what I was made for: disruption of routine.  Not pointless disruption.  Disruption with purpose.”  -Gordon MacKenzie ‘Orbiting the Giant Hairball’

There has been much talk in recent times in regards to creativity, innovation and disruption. While many definitions abound in regards to these terms, we each still seem to have our own internal idea of what they are…and what they’re not. And the goal of this piece is not to try and define them, but to maybe get you to put on a different lens and approach them from another perspective.

I believe we’ve come to see the three words not only working in unison, but in that exact order.

Creativity  Innovation  Disruption

Creativity comes first. It is where ideas are spawned, those moments of insight when we’ve persevered through, where all the dot-connecting and cross-pollinating of ideas and thinking has led to something new, something novel, something wonderful, something we want to share with the world.

Which inevitably leads to innovation. A willingness to put that idea out into the world, into action. Sometimes it is just a small tweak that improves what we do, and other times, it is life-changing and mind-bending idea that rearranges how we think and do.

At which point, it becomes disruptive. Disruptive in that it changes, changes what we buy, what we use, and even how we do things.

Creativity  Innovation  Disruption.

And yet, maybe we need to disrupt this order of things…

Maybe we need to rearrange this order of things and look at it from another perspective, with another lens. Maybe, just maybe, we need to move disruption from the end to the front of the line.  Maybe, just maybe, disruption needs to come first. Maybe, just maybe, we need to see it a bit different.

Disruption is not just about markets and products, it’s about our thinking, our ideas, and our mindsets.

Before we can get to creativity. Before we can move towards innovation. We have to be able to disrupt our own thinking and the way we look at things.

Which does not come naturally. It is rather difficult, and sometimes even painful. We have to be able to give up old ways of thinking, in order that we make room for the new. It is that unlearning, that deconstructing to make space for the new, not the new itself, which we always tend to struggle with and fight against.

Which means that disruption not only requires an openness to the new, but an intentionality. And a willingness, a willingness to explore the ‘new’ and the disruption of thinking and ideas that comes with it. To be able to change course when necessary. To remain agile. To experiment and take chances.

So maybe, just maybe, we need to see it as…

Disruption  Creativity  Innovation

“Our creative genius is the fountainhead of originality. It fires our compulsion to evolve. It inspires us to challenge norms. Creative genius is about flying to new heights on untested wings. It is about the danger of crashing. It is amorphous, magical, unmeasurable, and unpredictable.”  -Gordon MacKenzie ‘Orbiting the Giant Hairball’

Are You Building Creative Teams Or ‘Yes’ Clubs?

“We’re drawn to the image of the lone genius whose mystical moment of insight changes the world. But the long genius is a myth; instead, it’s group genius that generates breakthrough innovation. When we collaborate, creativity unfolds across people; the sparks fly faster, and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”  -Keith Sawyer Group Genius

The most creative and innovative organizations, from Pixar to Ideo, understand that the strength and sustainability of their creative and innovative output is based on their ongoing ability to raise the capacity of their individuals to work fluidly in diverse and collaborative teams.

They understand that their creative and innovative ‘genius’ lies in the team, not the individual.

Even if we buy into the concept of the lone genius whose creative and innovative ideas have revolutionized and disrupted industries and thinking, we eventually find that there are collaborative forces and teams at work in the background. We find that this lone genius has built a diverse and strong team that drive the creative and innovative output of the organization.

It is only when we fully believe and invest in the idea of the lone genius, that we diminish the creative and innovative capacity of organization.

And when we buy into the myth of the lone genius, we often fail to not only invest in the growth and capacity of our teams, we effectively wring out the very diversity that makes those teams the creative and innovative hubs of our organization. Instead of creative and innovative teams, we create ‘yes’ clubs, that in effect, are thee only to support the ideas and thinking of that lone genius. Fan clubs to feed their ego.

The myth of the lone genius eventually subtracts, what truly creative and innovative teams multiply in organizations…

It is not only in ideas that collaborative teams excel over the lone genius, it is in action, as well. Truly creative and innovative teams are geared for action. They live and work in virtual beta, ongoing idea sharing, spark new insights, leading to new ideas, experimentation, and eventually new ways of thinking and doing.

Whereas, with the lone genius and the ‘yes’ club, action is non-existent, or limited at best. Very seldom are ideas and insights shared from the team, rather the team waits on the lone genius for the next idea, the next insight from which to determine where they will take action. Everything rests on the thinking and ideas of one person, eventually limiting and eroding the capacity of the team and the organization.

While the lone genius can spark and lead creativity and innovation in an organization.  Eventually that one spark will fade away…

Investing in diverse and collaborative teams provides a multitude of sparks. Igniting an ongoing flow of new thinking and ideas that continually spur the organization forward in creative and innovative ways. Leading to action. Initiating change and growth from the collective capacity of the whole, over the limited output of the one.

“Collaboration drives creativity because innovation always emerges from a series of sparks – never a single flash of insight.” -Keith Sawyer Group Genius