Sunday, September 23, 2007

Practicing Creativity

Creativity can certainly be practiced as seen both in the arts and in innovation. But can it be managed? Pablo Picasso, co-inventor of cubism, once described the creative process as “I start with an idea and then it turns into something else”. I think this illustrates that whereas we cannot predict or direct the outcome of truly creative work, we can certainly promote, support and maintain favourable conditions for such work to be practiced.


I noticed that Sir Ken Robinson is one of the keynote speakers at the upcoming PDMA innovation conference in Florida. He is known for his work on creativity and for criticising higher education for its failure to include creativity as a field of practice. A similar argument can be done for organizations in general. The need to be creative can often end up in conflict with the need to protect and preserve current business and the latter of course always has much bigger room in the enterprise. Striking the right balance between creativity and discipline is a key management challenge. And repeatedly going through shifts from creativity (innovation) to discipline (development) is a key characteristic of the new product development organization.

Beside Sir Robinson, another well known creativity guru is of course Edward de Bono who has taught the art of creative thinking to numerous people.
His “six thinking hats” became famous and almost synonomous with creativity. In my opinion the de Bono system is actually more about “comprehensive” than just “creative” thinking. Even better in my view.

Here’s another October event on creativity and innovation: http://www.eccix.org/

Friday, September 14, 2007

Business Blindspots and Early Warning

Inspirational books should be read more than once. “Business Blindspots” by Benjamin Gilad is such a book. It was published over ten years ago and of course the cases described are not current, but the underlying issues are very much alive and well.
The first paragraph of the author’s introduction deserves to be quoted: “A blind spot is an area on the eye’s retina where no image is formed. By analogy, we all choose at times to turn a blind eye to aspects of reality which we don’t like, we don’t comprehend or we don’t want to see. In business, such behaviour results in lower earnings, faltering growth, loss of market position and other signs of deteriorating performance. At times, the consequence is nothing short of a competitive disaster.”
A more recent publication by Gilad is ”Early Warning”. I haven’t read it but if it’s anything like Blindspots it would be time well spent.

Gilad made an early observation that the difference between effective and less effective competitive intelligence functions was not so much in how intelligence - a special knowledge product - was gathered and produced, but in how it was used.
I think the same thing can be argued for knowledge in general. The difference is in how knowledge drives strategic decision making, how it facilitates successful innovation and how it is used in complex problem solving.
A few years back I met with Ben Gilad. I urge others to do the same if they can. Or at least pick up one of his books. In either case you will not be disappointed.
Here he is on the web: http://www.bengilad.com/

Monday, September 03, 2007

Labour Day and Bad Bosses

It's labour (labor) day in Canada and the US. CNN have been running a feature about "bad bosses". I was surprised to learn that 13 US states have been considering workplace legislation that would allow people to sue bad bosses. I don't think that's a very good idea. Not that there aren't bad bosses around, but just imagining the litigations and the resulting workplace atmosphere makes me reject the idea.
Years ago while working in the US I was surprised at something else. During an HR briefing to senior managers, I learned that the biggest cost item in employee medical benefits was "psychological health", i.e. stress, depression, burnout. And this was during an economic and business growth period when the company was doing extremely well. It certainly made me think.
A day off once a year for "the working man" will certainly not be enough. I think we must try to address the real problem - why "bad bosses" are appointed and why they are kept in place. Involving culture as well as human and organizational behaviours, this is not an easy one.
I think we have to work at it slowly, but deliberately. One company and one boss at a time...