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What We're Reading
"How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity." By Ed Catmull, Harvard Business Review, September 2008, Reprint R0809D. (click for purchase information)
"Creativity and the Role of the Leader." By Teresa Amabile & Mukti Khaire, Harvard Business Review, October 2008, Reprint R0810G.
(click for purchase information)
I recently watched a very provocative interview on the Bill Moyers Journal with Andrew Bacevich, the author of The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. I haven't read the book but he made the point that the US has gone from a production economy to a consumer economy. We no longer 'make' things, we are focused on buying things or as another guest pointed out, 'financial transactions' are our products. The implications of this are far too apparent and painful as we watch the free fall of the markets.
Bacevich's comments made me take another look at my own business. What is it I do to add value to how people live vs. create another 'thing' for someone to buy? While I won't go into my justifications for what I do, I do know that I am passionate about helping organizations become places that are attractive to work and I'm biased to think that fostering creativity is part of this. To focus on that, I'm recommending these two articles as thought-starters for you.
The Catmull article gives concrete examples of how to foster creativity in groups; the Amabile article summarizes the lessons from a two-day colloquium at Harvard on making connections between theory and practice. Consider using these articles with your organizations to continue the conversation on the current 'state of the art' and knowledge on this vital topic. For example, Pixar's "Operating Principles" are (pg. 71):
Everyone must have the freedom to communicate with anyone.
It must be safe for everyone to offer ideas.
We must stay close to innovations happening in the academic community.
The first two principles summarize why open dialogue and mutual trust is primary to creativity. The third one is especially interesting to me because it crosses a boundary that is often closed in organizations. The author puts it this way:
"Publishing may give away ideas, but it keeps us connected with the academic community. This connection is worth far more than any ideas we may have revealed: It helps us attract exceptional talent and reinforces the belief throughout the company that people are more important than ideas." (pg. 71)
This is an example of how Pixar 'lives' the first 2 principles and how they view the company as a community. Seeing themselves as a community implies the responsibilities of a community, where you not only take but you give back. Trust and respect for others are their key values along with the belief that 'lasting relationships' matter. People act differently when they believe they are in a lasting relationship. Think about this in terms of your own community. I saw a huge difference in the way people drive in Dallas (where I was recently and used to live) and the way people drive in Bend. With a population of only 75,000 in Bend, chances are you 'know' the person you yield to in the traffic circle. In Dallas, you have much less of a chance to 'know' that driver whom you allow to merge (or not) in front of you. What is the incentive to be gracious when people don't feel a connection? What is the incentive to create a relationship with a co-worker if you don't think they or you will be connected in the long term?
Amabile & Khaire's article then gives detail on the Leader's Role in creating that community. In their Manager's Guide to Increasing Innovation (alone worth the price of the reprint) they flesh out the following 6 points (pg. 107):
Remember that you are not the sole fount of ideas
Map the stages of creativity and tend to their different needs
Accept the inevitability and utility of failure
Motivate with intellectual challenge.
This article summarizes the best thoughts of leading theorist and practitioners in creativity so I feel comfortable relying on its conclusions. From my business's standpoint, I can offer a tool that will help you map the stages of creativity and tend to different needs.
Team Dimensions Profile on Sale!
The Team Dimensions Profile from Inscape Publishing offers an assessment of your talents within those stages. For example, I'm a Creator within this profile, which means I focus on "possibilities" compared to someone else, who might focus on analyzing data. I'm one of those people you want in the beginning stages of creativity because I'll come up with lots of ideas. I have less talent in the "Analysis" stage where we want to focus on the logic and action needed to move the idea to an actual product. I love this profile because it can easily show a team what the innate talents are on the team and what may be missing. It's another way to demonstrate how appreciating diversity enhances collaboration. I realize that a lot of people are nervous about the economy and this product is a way to refocus efforts on the creativity we will all need to succeed in challenging times.
So we'll make the Team Dimensions Profile the featured product this month (10% off during October). It's well worth your time to take this online profile and become more informed about how you may be able to map the stages of creativity and attend to them within your own team. I hope you enjoy learning more about your own unique talents.