What do successful leading edge technology and high end fashion apparel companies have in common? Answer: The need for creativity.

I need some help here because there is a difficult compromise that is hard to identify.

For both the above mentioned types of companies to perform, they need highly original designers to come up with stunning new ideas year in, year out. They also need extremely creative marketing people to find new ways of targeting and attracting their public. The problem is that by encouraging highly creative working environments, the net result can be that everyone ends up trying to be creative and having their own say, even on matters that are obviously way outside their area of expertise and responsibility.

In the good old days companies used to have an ‘ideas box’. (This was usually strategically placed by the exit to the canteen). The assumption was that during the lunch break, employees would eagerly discuss business opportunities and exciting new ideas would be materialize. The employees would then scribble them down on a napkin and, as if by magic, wonderful things would emerge such as: a whole new product range, or, a new way to assess staff performance that everyone would agree with and support.

In reality, after three months, the only thing you were likely to find in the ideas box would be a very old sandwich, a cigarette butt and, just possibly, a badly written request for a longer lunch break!

When I punch in an equation into my desktop calculator, I do not want it to be creative, so why is it that we encourage all our staff to think and behave in this way? Being ‘creative’ (= questioning the way our bosses and colleagues in other departments do their work) is obviously more fun than carrying out the tasks we are expected to perform to justify our take home pay. But I see it far too often. In some companies 'creativity' is like a contagious disease. So much so, that they become extremely inefficient.

After listening to 'creative' ideas we far too often feel depressed, simply because even in the unlikely event that the idea might be a good one, we instinctively know that it has no chance in hell in getting through.

I gave a training course last week on assigning tasks to people. The course also included modules on ‘finding peoples’ hidden agendas’ and ‘motivation’. What came to the surface is that a good manager needs to be extremely creative in the way they motivate people to take on and execute tasks, especially tasks that come in as extras on top of their normal workload.

As an interim manager, I make it my duty to realize genuine improvements, no matter who suggested them, and I do this by finding ways of empowering people to make a difference to the environment they find themselves in. However, I firmly believe that for a company to become really succesful, every manager should be encouraged to focus their creative energies on motivating others to do what they are best at (this sadly, too often, has very little to do with the job they currently have). In this way, companies become far more efficient and much more fun places to be in. We all know that when we are motivated to deliver, the hours fly by and we find more time to laugh and be creative in the way we solve the problems confronting us.

Most companies start out with good intentions by promoting creativity in the work place, but often end up in a negative spiral of criticism and general apathy. One of the secrets of good management is to listen to others and be receptive for new ideas, but listening is not the same as encouraging the moaning of wise amateurs that have no intent of trying influence real change. You can detect these people easily because they normally come out with statements like “If I were running that department, I would… (the word ‘would’ is usually followed with a radical idea that has obviously not been thought through, such as:’ fire half the staff and send the other half off for re-habilitation’, or ‘show them that financial control is not about knowing the numbers’).

Have a good week!