Tag Archives: creativity

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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The one where I scare myself on purpose

So you all remember the Baz Luhrmann song “Everybody’s free to wear sunscreen”? The one that starts “Ladies & Gentlemen of the class of ’97, wear sunscreen”. Good.

Awesome, isn’t it?

The words are taken from a column published in the Chicago Tribune in 1997 by Mary Schmich and there is a line that is very relevant to what follows…

“Do one thing every day that scares you.”

Now aside from looking in the mirror first thing in the morning my day to day life is not what you would call scary. I am not a soldier on patrol, a surgeon performing ground breaking operations, a homeless person scared of not having the means to eat or a fireman running into a burning building… I work in L&D. On the scary scale my life gets to challenging regularly but not often scary.

So with this in mind on Saturday I attended an Improvisation Workshop. 12 random people in a venue in South East London all having volunteered to spend the best part of a day jumping off a cliff…or so it felt.

My reasons for being there were various and included:

  1. Checking it out as an approach to use in the organisation
  2. Improve my personal ability to “think on my feet” and advocate this for my team
  3. I am not very good at turning down a dare
  4. Do one thing every day that scares you

Without going through everything we did I have to say it was a blast.

Firstly, it was a really great bunch of very supportive people who, without individual ego, wanted everyone else to get as much from it as possible. Secondly, apart from being supportive they were a really interesting bunch which made lunch full of interesting conversation. Thirdly and for me most importantly, I faced my fear and really really really enjoyed it.

The control freak in me had a bad day. When you don’t know what’s coming next and there are very few rules of engagement, thinking through the situation and tailoring what you express in all forms of communication, verbal and non-verbal, is very difficult. The result of this was the voice in my head wasn’t a happy camper and spent most of the day yelling – but I wasn’t listening…for once.

The guy who ran the whole thing is called John Cremer (and I’ve stuck his details below) and I was fortunate enough to meet him when we were fellow participants on a training course recently. John is by trade an improviser. He uses the tools and skills of improvisation in both business and non-business settings. In a business context he does conferences, public speaking, team events but primarily uses his abilities to help people understand how they can be more creative. He’s also a pain as he sent me an e-mail with the details of the workshop with only a few words and a link. The few words were, “I dare you”…

His rules for improvising are short and simple (and he doesn’t give a handout!!) and they are:

  1. Listen
  2. Say yes
  3. Commit

The first one is simple. I am really not going to talk about active listening, focussing on others etc etc etc here – promise.

The say yes thing probably needs a little further explanation. This isn’t a Danny Wallace “Yes Man” type of say yes. This is more an “accept what you are given” and rather than saying “yes, but…” to it (which reduces options and feels negative to the other person) say “yes, and…” to it and open up more options through the collaboration between the individuals.

The final point – commit, in simple terms is ‘you’ve got to be in it to win it’ and the best bit is its improvisation so you can’t get it wrong. When this was discussed on Saturday it made me think of this blog by Neil Morrison which highlights how often people stay within their functional boxes and don’t get in there, instead sitting on the sidelines watching the business go by…

Despite spending the first hour with blood pressure  that would have made a physician blush the day was great and I am considering having a go at further workshops but not just  yet…

The main thing I’ve come away with is a distinct impression that the rules for improvisation that John professes could be very interesting when applied more broadly but given the constraints and politics of organisations how many people would really apply them?

As for something scary for today….well that’s easy. I am going to try and make my departmental budget balance!

P.S. Picture the scene, man sat on chair, woman stands at his shoulder. There are 11 people watching… One of those watching says “and your first line is ‘don’t leave me’” GO!

John Cremer

Work stuff:                         http://www.johncremer.co.uk

Linkedin:                            http://uk.linkedin.com/in/jcremer

Non-work stuff:               http://www.themaydays.co.uk/

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