Category Archives: organizational development

Creating the Environment

A few weeks ago, I reported on the launching of a creative environment survey at the organization where I’m doing a systems’ view exploration of creativity. The results are in.

Before discussing them, let me step back a bit and frame the context. The organization in question is one where creativity is the process and the product. The company is hired for its ability to translate learning and messaging content and objectives into engaging products and events. Clients come seeking strong creative ideas with robust, often highly time-sensitive implementation. This organization provides both the ideas and the execution. The projects are widely variable—in content, scope, media, and audience. There is a core team of creatives who have been associated with the organization for about ten years. This organization also pulls in other contract workers to supplement the specific needs of each project. During the development and implementation phase, long hours are not unusual. After a big push to production, there is often a lull to regroup or wait for the next big project.

Got a picture in your mind? Have something of a feel of what the environment might be like for creativity here?

Ok, so how might we try to actually measure the creative environment of this organization? Of the various organizational measures of creativity (such as KEYS, available through the Center for Creative Leadership), I used one which is currently in development. I’ll call it Survey X (highly creative term, I know…). Survey X measures employee’s perceptions of sixteen dimensions which contribute to the creative environment. The results offer a snapshot in time of these perceptions. Two things to note here: perceptions are not reality, but are a reflection of or reaction to individual experiences, and can shine a light on important organizational dynamics, issues, successes and challenges. Second: it reflects a moment in time, which means that the implementation of changes can produce new results relatively quickly. As, of course, can the decision to not implement change…

The dimensions include such aspects as Idea Time, Dynamism, Synergy, Resources, Idea Support, etc.

The results from the survey data for this organization indicated the possible existence of two sets of opposing characteristics (all of the dimensions interrelate, of course; but these two pairings seemed particularly strong). The first: a high level of Dynamism, energy, project variety on one hand appears to be in a state of creative tension with a reported lack of Idea Time. How might the dynamic pace (stimulating to creativity) be reflected in or related to the lack of time available for the development of creative ideas? What happens when dynamism runs amok?

Secondly, the very strong sense of esprit de corps (reflected in the dimensions of Trust, Leadership, Sense of Belonging, and Synergy) appears to be in opposition to the low scores on Resources. This is an organization where resources are highly variable. How might the low scores on Resources be related to the high sense of esprit de corps? Might it be that intrinsic motivators are picking up the slack for the variable resource support? Does this pose a risk? Or does it speak to the strong internal value of the creative dynamic and sense of belonging here? Or both?

The lovely thing about Survey X is that it uses a framework of Appreciative Inquiry to explore these dynamics. One fundamental precept of AI is that we can learn as much if not more through our successes, no matter how small they may seem, as we can through focusing on “problems.” By asking “when was there a situation when there was plenty of Idea Time and the Resources were fully supporting the team?” a chain of reflective thought is engaged. Stories emerge of times of success and positive experiences. This informs how to move toward having more of these moments, instead of focusing on their lack or absence.

In this case, the stories led to the identification of elements which had not been immediately apparent in the data: communication, feedback and mentoring.

By increasing the attention on these three elements, we expect to build in more Idea Time, through clearer communication and building up skills in understanding client perspectives, which will ideally lead to fewer false starts in idea development.

The Resources dimension is a bit harder to resolve purely internally, as it is impacted by project flow. However, communication comes in again, in terms of acknowledging and supporting the value of the esprit de corps. This is one of the company’s strongest assets, and gives it the flexibility to staff up with trained, highly skilled talent on demand. By communicating the value clearly, we expect to be able to honor the individual contributions which contribute to the esprit de corps, hopefully helping the organization to continue to maintain stamina and loyalty in the face of fluctuating resources.

In a nutshell, the results of this survey point to implementing some key internal communications strategies, along with coaching and mentoring to strengthen client communication and understanding. Costs should be minimal, and the benefits will including making more efficient use of Idea Time, thereby building in a margin for incubation and idea testing; and reinforcing to the team the value of their contributions in creating a workplace with strong intrinsic motivators.

The next step will be to consider how the results of the creative environment survey connect with the team FourSight profile, and how the process tools of Creative Problem Solving might be used to move the desired changes forward.

Creative Environment

I’m exploring how creativity works within a creative organization (see Pulling Back the Curtain for more info).

In creativity studies, we can investigate how creativity manifests through looking at “the 4 P’s:” the Creative Person, the Creative Product, the Creative Process, and the Creative Press, which refers to the environment.

Earlier posts have described moments of the creative process in action; others have explored where the creative person and the creative process intersect, though looking at the FourSight Breakthrough Thinking Profile. Now we’re digging into what the environment for creativity is like at this organization.

While you might assume that creative companies (those that generate creative products of some sort) would have an advantage over “non-creative” companies, this is not necessarily the case. Ever known a production company where everyone is continually stressed out on short deadlines? How about PR/advertising agencies where people are afraid to share ideas out of lack of trust? Or arts organizations that are chronically short of funding? All of these things—idea time, trust, resources, and many more—contribute to the creative environment.

With Pulling Back the Curtain, we’re lucky to be able to test-drive a survey of creative environment which is currently under development. I’ll keep the name secret for now, but will tell you that this survey measures sixteen different dimensions of the environment that impact the perceptions employees have of “interactions, events, policies and procedures” within the organization. The survey takes an “appreciative inquiry” approach: what has worked well in the past, and how might you have more of that in the future?

We sent the surveys last week. By next week the study authors hope to be able to start gathering the data, and piecing together a picture of how this creative company stacks up in terms of creating an environment that supports and invites creativity.

Does the daily arrival of baked goods contribute to an “abundance mentality?” How about the personalized production badges—are they supportive of a “sense of belonging?” What will the “just set up your computer anywhere” office design say about how organized the environment is? We can’t wait to find out!

Pulling Back the Curtain

What does creativity look like inside a creative organization?

How might it be possible to get a snapshot of the internal creative workings of a company that generates creative products (artistic productions, biotech breakthroughs, education/training programs, advertising campaigns, etc.), to see both how they do it, and how well they’re doing? Could we lift up the lid and take a peek at the inner workings? Examine internalized strengths and hidden blind spots? Take a stab at a recipe for creativity in creative companies?

To answer these questions, I’m embarking on a consultative exploration of a creative organization, a company that creates learning environments and opportunities for a variety of applications, from team-building, to exhibit design, to educational materials, to branding, and more.

I’ll be taking a look at this organization (for which, full disclosure, I have worked as content designer and trainer/facilitator) from the perspectives of their internal creative process, their creative climate, the creative preferences of the core team, and the development of a creative product. Throughout, I’ll be bringing in elements of Creative Problem Solving as a sort of process guide and framework for skill development. The specific project I’ll be observing is the concepting phase of an exhibit design for a small museum.

I’ll be posting regularly here on the process of observing a process… and the creativity that manifests in the creation of creative products. Something of a hall of mirrors? I’m seeing it as peek behind the curtain. Names will be changed to protect the innocent. I expect later in the project I’ll be able to give you some more information as to what, where, and when, for those who are curious. The “how” will be on full display throughout.

What do I expect to find out in all this? Well, the first major insight will come at the end of this month, when I present the findings to the team on their FourSight profiles. FourSight measures preferences for different phases of the creative process: clarifying the situation, coming up with ideas, developing them, and implementing them.

Is a company whose stock in trade depends on coming up with strong ideas full of people who love to ideate? Does a company which also develops and implements great ideas attract people who love to do that, too? Where are the strengths, and where are the blind spots? We’ll know that next week.

I’ll also be posting episodic snapshots of the organization’s creative process in action. Look for these under the category Pulling Back the Curtain/Diary of a Process. Also see the program page Pulling Back the Curtain for a quick program overview.

If you work for a creative organization (and even if you don’t) I hope you’ll find it to be an interesting journey. Please stay tuned…

IBM Global CEO Survey: Leadership, Complexity and Creativity

The recent version of the biennial IBM CEO study brings good news about creativity. In the fourth study of its kind (the series began in 2004, in a very different world), the research team surveyed over 1500 global CEO’s in face-to-face interviews, exploring their goals and challenges. Researchers analyzed the data, identified the standout companies (defined by their ability to expand operating margins over both the long haul and in short term crises), and from this extracted three best practices for how to “stand out in a complex world.”

At the top of the list is the finding that thrills the hearts and minds of creativity wonks like me: “Embody Creative Leadership.” In the words of the study, “CEO’s now realize that creativity trumps other leadership characteristics.”

In fact, there’s a lot to be excited about in the report. And some room for caution as well, that the recommendations don’t become too tweaked out of shape. Since the study has been released, for example, I’ve seen reference to the finding on creative leadership cropping up in other sources (including the recent Newsweek article on creativity in America). From what I’ve noticed so far, a couple of things are happening as the report is getting out into the world, which I think are worth exploring.

First, giddy perhaps with the quite public enthronement of creativity as the key leadership competency, many are not giving the question of the actual relationship between creativity and leadership as much air time. Second, the CEO’s surveyed identified the need for creativity in direct response to the issue of increasing complexity, which puts a particular criterion upon which creative approach is best suited in response. The third point, which is sort of a sleeper, perhaps, is that when one stands back to look at the three recommendations together (Embody Creative Leadership; Reinvent Customer Relationships; and Build Operating Dexterity), it’s becomes clear that the demand for creativity is in fact larded throughout the entire report.

Touching on each briefly here (look for other posts to come), let me pull out a few of the detailed findings.

Creativity and Leadership

Creativity is conceived of in the context of leadership values: in analyzing the comments of those CEO’s who mentioned creativity as key, a relationship emerged between creativity and integrity. I infer from this that the respondents believe that if creative leadership is to be developed, both leadership values and creative thinking must be nurtured. If we swing too far toward the C word without focusing on the L, then we may fail to achieve the very best outcomes. The opposite is also true.

Rapid business model change requires change leadership: According to the IBM report, those executives who listed creativity as the most important competency are more prone to innovate within their organizations, and a significant amount of that innovation is occurring through business model change. “CEO’s must be able to test, tweak, and redesign their core activities continually.” To succeed in this type of continual organizational change is to be able to persuade, influence, empower and engage others in a view of the future that is compelling enough for them to go along for the ride, over and over again. Thus, creative leadership involves change leadership. (For a great discussion on the link between creativity, change and leadership, see Creative Leadership: Skills that Drive Change, by Puccio, Murdock and Mance.)

Creativity in Response to Complexity

Since the word “creativity” can mean so many different things, to different people, for different reasons and at different times, I believe it will become very useful as this report continues to circulate that we be clear about what’s indicated, not only to put at ease those who fear the pink tutu, but also to point toward tools and methodologies which are designed specifically for the creative task at hand: dealing with complexity.

According to the findings, a majority of CEO’s believe not only that the level of complexity will continue to rise, but that they will continue to be unprepared to deal with it. From the executive perspective, it’s clear what’s at stake: how to solve increasingly complex problems, and how to seize or create opportunities in a rapidly complexifying environment. Creative Problem Solving and its variations are tailor-made for these complex, ambiguous situations. Knowing the nature of the situation allows for the best creative response.

Three-in-One

The IBM Global CEO study called out three recommendations for “capitalizing on complexity:” Embody Creative Leadership; Reinvent Customer Relationships; and Build Operating Dexterity. Taking a quick look at the second and third on the list, we see how the need for greater creativity is in fact evident throughout the whole report, and not only in the section on creative leadership.

Co-creating with the customer: the report uses the phrase “co-create” to describe the increasingly embedded level of relationship between customer, product and producer. Clearly, the value of creative thinking is not being reserved for the discussion of leadership capabilities; it extends not only to internal processes but to external customers and stakeholders as well.

Dexterity amid paradox: In the discussion of Building Operating Dexterity, the study authors acknowledge the pull between global and local, simple and complex, etc; they also emphasize the importance of being able to manage these, and other, paradoxes. While the point about co-creating with customers rather smacks you in the face with its link to creativity in general, this statement about paradox and dichotomy is a bit more subtle — but worth calling out. In the creativity literature, there is reference made to what creativity researcher Albert Rothenburg termed “Janusian Thinking” — the ability to hold opposing thoughts in mind, and to see what emerges from this relationship of paradox. Janusian Thinking is a creative thinking skill. When the study authors recommend developing the capacity to manage within paradox, they are, yet again, calling for creativity.

More to come

The IBM Global CEO study is obviously a boon to those interested in furthering creativity, especially in organizations. There’s a lot to unpack in the report (also a lot of data available at the IBM site). We can be very excited about the possibilities, but I also think it’s good to have an ear to the ground, being attentive to the distortions and over-simplifications that can happen with these kinds of attention-grabbing findings. The interconnectedness of leadership, change and creativity; the best practices and methodologies available as creative responses to complex situations; and the awareness of how thoroughly today’s organizations depend upon creative thinking are all sound points of inquiry in extending the findings.