The one with the lion’s den and no christians

A few weeks ago I found myself waiting around in a hotel. I was meeting some colleagues and found the drinks point and was contentedly making a cup of tea. In the same lounge were 4 people who were obviously having some kind of work session talking animatedly about their plans.

In blatantly eavesdropping on their conversation I heard mention of the ‘whack pack’ a cheap and easy tool I’ve seen used to try and give people stimulation for creativity (think De Bono’s hats) at which point I started to pay more attention. Eventually my eavesdropping became interruption as I engaged them in conversation about what they planned to do.

One of them went on (with obvious signs of excitement) to share how they planned to take a large group of employees at a certain management level within a financial institution and ‘make them more creative’. It seems the institution in question wanted to increase innovation and encourage entrepreneurship within their organisation and the response was a 3 day training course on creativity. The course, I must admit, sounded like it would be fun and the people were clearly passionate about giving the participants a well planned programme but I left their conversation thinking how much time and effort they were likely wasting.

For me this illustrates the disconnect between learning & development and organisational development and where well intentioned L&D practitioners waste passion, time, effort and money on interventions that in generating change and traction are about as much use as a chocolate fire guard.

Most organisations, as they should be, are set up with the governance and processes to successfully operate the activities that deliver their business outcomes. In most cases neither the governance nor the processes are set up to adapt to people from around the organisation coming up with great new ideas about things that could be done better or should be done differently. Firing up a whole group of employees with the tools and motivation to ‘be more creative’ I would liken to chucking them into the lion’s den with a complete absence of Christian support.

It is my belief that to successfully drive innovation within an organisation it is not creativity that needs to be addressed (walk around your business tomorrow and ask if anyone has any ideas – there’ll be loads) it’s how the organisation successfully considers those ideas, turns them into plans, funds them and executes them into sustainable change that is the challenge in being more innovative. In other words how does the system adapt to the change required that requires focus not the impetus for change.

In carrying out my project research most of the intrapreneurs I talked to hardly focused on the generation of ideas or discussed a shortage of ideas. It was how they successfully got them through ‘the machine’ and sustained personal commitment and organisation support that received the most focus.

I would get down on bended knee, or at least ask with some emphasis that in considering any similar significant investment in learning that L&D practitioners think not just about the Daniels but also think with some care about the lion’s den and realise that unless both are addressed change is unlikely to happen.



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5 responses to “The one with the lion’s den and no christians

  1. Great post Rob, work needs to be far less about the buzzword of creativity, much more about how do we make it happen, and vitally, sustain it. ‘It’ meaning, ideas, possibilities, problem solving.

  2. This is more of a +1 to the post as opposed to constructive comment or challenge in any particular way.

    Something of interest comes to mind from a previous company I was working for. They were a highly creative organisation where innovation for our clients was the name of the game. Yet when they were looking to innovate internally, they fell foul of the same issues you’ve raised. Ideas were very forthcoming, forums set up for ideas to be surfaced, and even committees to help make them happen. Where things fell down was when business as usual started to happen, and the innovative idea became an annoyance as opposed to helping move the business forward. They still work to operate nimbly where they can, and they take useful learning in how to make it happen. The intent is there to be progressive and enough people in the organisation to keep it in that vain.

    On the flipside of that, the current organisation I’m in is a very heavily regulated and legislated organisation. Innovation for this environment takes a very different feel and approach. Business cases need to be made, pilots need to be carried out, consultation needs to happen, intelligence gathering needs to be happening, market research needs to take place, presentations to the board need to be done, key stakeholders need to be bought in – it’s a massive undertaking. It may take anything up to two years from the inception of the idea before that innovation is manifest.

    So, yes I agree. Purposeful L&D solutions need to be with the outcomes of the organisation at the forefront of our minds, no matter the desire for frivolous fun and breaking free of dogma.

  3. Hi Rob and Sukh,

    Similarly this is a further endorsement of a great post and also referencing other ideas/conversations I have been having recently.

    Is this approach endemic of the possible skills gap that we have in L&D at the moment. We are discussing someone who has (likely for a number of years) been focussed on; diagnosing need, designing a solution, delivering it then doing the best to evaluate it. What we are talking about here, in this approach, is something vastly different.

    We are talking about someone who has awareness of what the organisation has in place to foster, cultivate and action on creativity/innovation. Someone who knows the business well enough and connects at all levels to understand what the ‘machine’ is and how to navigate your way through it. Someone that can confidently and competently say to the organisation; “yes I can do some great creativity/innovation training for you. To make it a success, there is something else to do first. We need to work on your processes and practices to make sure (at a minimum) that the ‘best’ (whatever that means) ideas all can be realistically implemented.”

    Thinking back to the people that you met, or others like them, are they able to do those things?

  4. Hell yes. Continuous improvement is not an activity it is a state of unrest around the average and the adequate; where innovation has a point and creativity has a proper edge. It has a sustainable impact; a performance measure and actually effing happens. Talking shops; committees for this, that or the…other. Tosh. As are badly scoped/delivered comms, L&D and “change” programmes. Creativity IS hyped up bt these days however, a minor differentiation can make a difference (in tighter than ever margins) and so we need creativity to become improvements as quickly as possible. So another plus 1 and HT to all other comments. Not agreeing for agreeing’s sake here. I have fallen into the glamourous trap of ideas forums in the past; but I was always frustrated by the lack of executables and.products. Well said RJ and appropriately challenging for us all.

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