Wednesday, November 17
In the last few days I've spoken to people from several organisations who suffer from an interesting obstacle to creative thinking: They don't think they're allowed! It's not the corporate way.
This obstacle is caused by more than just the doctrine that analytical thinking is all-important; rather it's part of a corporate upbringing which places no value on creativity, but values time highly. In this kind of environment, any avant garde modes of thought will be seen as unproductive wastes of time, and are unlikely to get a fair trial.
People in this kind of situation (and lots of us have been there!) need to unlearn patterns of behaviour that have formerly served us well. In many industries, and especially in technical or mechanical work, we earn our spurs early on via a dogged commitment to logic and analysis, at the expense of other more open-minded approaches.
But this kind of constraint really isn't good for anyone. It bores and weakens individuals, and it commoditises the output of the corporation.
So we must learn to engage our powers of thought again, and I find a growing movement of important thinkers throwing themselves at this kind of agenda. For example:
1. Lynda Gratton's book "Hot Spots" (see bibliography) points out that ambiguous questions are much more likely to ignite hot spots of energised, innovative behaviour. We won't stimultate creativity with closed, narrow or prescriptive challenges, which tend instead to result in "dehydrated conversations".
2. Chris Guillebeau’s latest article (see links) is a powerful tract on being yourself, and resisting the corporate forces of homogenisation.
3. Bob Anderson's document on leadership tells us that "most of us would be genuinely shocked if we learnt how much of our behaviour with others comes from a place of fear in us" and "we speak up at meetings or remain quiet in front of our colleagues and bosses, hoping to look brilliant or avoid looking foolish".
Mindless adherence to best practice doesn't just harm creativity—it can also harm our analytical thought! We all know that three-year olds ask "why?" ad infinitum. But do any of us do that at work? Not often, I'd guess. Instead people tend to worry about looking stupid, or decide their curiousity has had sufficient free-rein when they think they spot a familiar pattern.
So I suggest we each develop our own principles for work, and always try to be true to them. If you believe in creative thinking then I hope you'll develop a principle to support that commitment.