Dan Gregory, CEO of The Impossible Institute, talks with AHRI CEO Lyn Goodear about fostering creativity at work.
Lyn Goodear: You’ve mentioned people don’t really mean it when they say ‘change is as good as a holiday’ and that it would be confirmed if we asked them to replace their annual leave with change.
Dan Gregory: In virtually every category I work in, I see companies wanting their people to be more agile and innovative, and be able to solve problems in ways we haven’t seen before. We need to start cultivating a greater flexibility in the mindset of our people so they can handle change.
LG: You say people tend to think they’re either creative or they’re not, that we tend to box ourselves very quickly, and one of the challenges we face as employers is creating that permission for everyone to be creative, whether they believe they are or not. What do leaders and managers need to do to ensure that permission is there and taken advantage of?
DG: Rather than seeing creativity as an innate talent, it’s actually a skill that needs to be cultivated. When you broaden the definition of creativity to being flexible and agile, which are critical skills in any role, that’s what we need to develop.
For people in the HR profession, it’s about identifying talent, but also thinking, ‘What does our professional development have to look like now? What does training have to look like now?’ There’s a great quote that says the people who’ll be successful in the future aren’t the ones who have the capacity to learn information, but those who have the capacity to learn, unlearn and relearn. I think that’s very true.
LG: You have suggested much innovation ‘happens in the gaps’ in a workplace. Can you give examples?
DG: At The Impossible Institute we’ll go into companies we’re consulting with and start by doing organisational and cultural audits, where we look at where those gaps are. The biggest gap we see is when individuals, or even entire departments, have KPIs set that are in opposition to others within the same company. In other words, the metrics and measures have been set up so the only way for one department to succeed is for another to fail, sometimes catastrophically. Which just seems crazy.
If we think about the way we’ve engineered the architecture of our organisations, the way we lay out where people sit and the way they interact with each other, we have accounting in one part of the building, marketing in another and production in yet another. Sometimes they won’t even be in the same building. Those are critical gaps.
Sometimes you also end up with one department being critically aware of an issue that affects an entire organisation, but that issue and information doesn’t get shared, so you don’t get solutions being generated.
We encourage organisations to look at where the gaps are and set collaboration performance indicators [Co-PIs™], which are measures that encourage collaboration. It’s very easy to say, ‘We want the organisation to be more collaborative,’ but if it’s not measured and rewarded, the truth is that people just don’t do it. Unless it’s measured and rewarded, the implication is that we don’t value it.
It’s one of the interesting things the advertising industry learnt very early on. In the 1960s, Bill Bernbach, one of the original ‘Mad Men’ in New York, pushed for creative teams where there was a copywriter working with an art director, working with a strategist. So you ended up with these different skill sets working together in a complementary way. That revolutionised the advertising industry and it’s one of the things that’s critical to innovation.
If you’re going to solve problems in new ways, you need that level of collaboration. One of the things that makes collaboration critically important is that it helps you avoid what I call ‘conceptual blindness’. In other words, you can be really good at your job, but that often means you can’t see any other way for that job to be done. Your proficiency actually gets in the way of any kind of innovation.
Dan Gregory will be speaking on 10 December at an AHRI Breakfast Club event in Melbourne on how to build a culture that thrives on change. Registration closes 3 December.
Image © Ian Butterworth.