Who Killed Creativity? How Can We Get Creativity Back?

The places: Investigating the corporate creative crime scene – (published in HRM Asia)

Imagine you’re walking towards a park bench to eat your lunch. Suddenly your phone buzzes with a secret ring tone, alerting you to the fact that you are about to sit next to a registered sex offender, or maybe even a murderer. This is not a scenario from a horror or science fiction movie. The technology has been around for a while. It’s already possible to download an iPhone/android app that tells you how many criminals there are within a set radius of where you are. In the UK, a group called Charity Crime Stoppers has compiled a map of ‘hotspots’ where Britain’s most hardened criminals live, and they have found that perhaps unsurprisingly, the busy cities are the top hotspots. Police use these stats when deciding where to allocate resources and focus on prevention and education programmes.

In the same way, as described in our book Who Killed Creativity?… And How Can We Get It Back? we have identified that there are creativity ‘killers’ – blocks to creative thinking or disablers – that can lurk in different areas of the organisation. It may be time to identify where these crime scene ‘hotspots’ may be so that we can adequately deal with them. Where creative thinking is shut down, it’s difficult to consider new ideas, but if it’s encouraged, a culture of innovation can readily be established. One financial institution we have worked with, for example, has publicly stated they are keen to change the way their organisation functions. As identified by the programme architects, the types of influential values that will set these behaviours and establish a positive cultural change include trust, transparency, accountability and empowerment. Where these values are not encouraged, or where destructive competition and distrust dominate in the organisation, creative thinking cannot survive.

Through surveying up to 10,000 of our seminar participants over a number of years, we have identified some of the potential creativity killer crime sites – and how creative thinking can instead be rescued in these locations:

Potential crime scene 1: The Boss’s Office

CEOs and other high-level managers are generally struggling to keep up with increasingly volatile and complex business environments, and they need to focus on bottom-line business issues. A recent IBM study has revealed that fewer than half the 1,500 global CEOs surveyed believe their organisations are prepared to handle the massive shifts in the way business needs to be run. Creativity is undoubtedly needed here at the leadership level, but with the need to conform to such broad expectations there is often simply no room and no incentive to think creatively.

To rescue creative thinking in the Boss’s Office: Leaders need to learn to make clever decisions fast, and this involves disciplined creative thinking. The top-performing organisations are 54% more likely to respond swiftly with new ideas to address the deep changes affecting their organisations, so this is a critical leadership quality needed for the future.

Potential crime scene 2: Accounts/Finance

‘Accounting’ and ‘creative’ are not often used in the same sentence. The accounting department must be ‘precise’ and rigorously ‘correct’, so it must follow rigid systems and procedures within set guidelines. And it must diligently serve the key purpose of profit. Creative thinking is need in all areas of the organisation, including in accounting – where there always needs to be creative thinking about how things are done. And yet the expectation is that thinking should be ‘correct’ rather than ‘creative’.

To rescue creative thinking in Accounts / Finance: The Accounts or Finance department needs to move away from simply being the number crunchers of a number of years ago – they need to focus on thinking about how they can proactively align with the organisation’s strategy to ensure it is supported by the right resources.

Potential crime scene 3: Executive Offices

As the corporate culture is often shaped from the top, it is important that creative thinking is encouraged at this level. Executives can end up being exclusive in language and approach, and as a result can alienate others in the organisation and can end up being out of touch with what is really needed in the organisation. Their constant busyness and perceived need to focus on the ‘urgent’ over the ‘important’ can also meant they may unwittingly block creative thinking.

To rescue creative thinking in the Executive Offices: In all organisations, the executive offices will need to acknowledge, embrace and actively promote creative development – particularly considering their language and approach. They will also, in turn, need to be adequately supported to ensure that they have the time and the space to be innovative themselves.

Potential crime scene 4: Research and Development

We expect the R&D department to be an incubator for creativity (and sometimes even that it will be the only place creativity thrives). But disablers such as apathy and insulation can still easily strike here. One problem with keeping R&D as a separate department is that it can be divided into the ‘rainmakers’, who come up with most of the creative ideas, and others not assigned this role, who can be overlooked and not encouraged to develop creative ideas.

To rescue creative thinking in Research and Development: To build a truly creative environment in the R&D department, the R&D team will need to have the opportunity to follow through on innovative ideas and see them to completion – and they will need to be open to input from other areas of the organisation. Innovation cannot be occasional or erratic; rather, it needs to be systematic and purposeful.

Potential crime scene 5: Sales and Marketing

S&M are often creative in their sales approaches and marketing ideas, but time and time again they hit a brick wall when it comes to execution. When the finance department puts the pressure on to meet financial targets or to cut spending, inevitably the enthusiasm in S&M is dampened and creative ideas die.

To rescue creative thinking in Sal es & Marketing: Creativity has the opportunity to thrive in the S&M department. The S&M team need to learn how to work with others effectively to sell their creative ideas internally. They can certainly start by using their skills and a persuasive and integrated process to sell the need for creativity within the organisation!

Potential crime scene 6: The Training Room

The traditional linear ‘training’ approach can kill creativity because people stop searching as soon as they have found the ‘correct’ answers. So the curiosity that should spark an ongoing love for learning is quickly snuffed out. Like an old house that has been gathering mementoes for years, our minds will become cluttered with useless information, and we will not have the mental space or energy to break out and explore new ideas.

To rescue creative thinking in the Lecture Room: Where organisations continuously transform themselves through wisely facilitated open learning opportunities, individuals benefit and the organisation flourishes. Learning to focus on ‘intelligent failure’ (learning from setbacks, and growing through them) rather than being ‘correct’ will motivate people to learn and propagate creative thinking for life.

What are the potential ‘creative crime scene hotspots’ in your organisation, and how can creative thinking be rescued there?

Catch Andrew Grant ‘live’ at the HR Summit 2013
Andrew Grant is the CEO of Tirian and co-author of the breakthrough new book Who Killed Creativity?… And How Can We Get It Back? Delegates attending his presentation at the HR Summit will be taken through an interactive game-based ‘crime scene investigation’ where they can test their ideas against the latest neuro-scientific and psychological research to discover how creative thinking and innovation can be killed at all levels throughout the organisation. They will also discover that it’s possible to rebuild an innovative culture in the Asian context, and learn how this workshop game can be used back at the workplace to get critical traction on this topic.

In his role as a keynote speaker, Andrew has been in high demand internationally including delivering the opening keynote at the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) Global Leadership Conference, and sharing the stage with other internationally recognised names such as Stephen Covey and Jonas Ridderstrale. Andrew has co-authored over 30 corporate educational resources, simulations and programmes that are used by Fortune 500 companies and are sold under license worldwide. He has been featured in a number of international media including BBC, Reuters and ABC TV, Fast Company and the Wall St Journal.

See on site HRM Asia : Investigating the corporate creative crime scene


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