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Tom Cairns


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How tough is it to be creative?

Saturday 04 August 2012 at 4:33 pm

I occasionally listen to radio personality Larry Elder.  He will often read a comment or play a sound bite and at the end of it say, "really."  His "really" is a challenge as if to say you have got to be kidding...really?  I had a similar reaction after reading "What Chief Executives Really Want" in Bloomberg BusinessWeek.  IBM's Institute for Business Value asked 1,500 chief executives what was the most important leadership competency for the successful enterprise of the future.  Their response was "creativity."  I did not say, "really". 

The CEO's went on to define a creative leader as someone who disrupts the status quo, disrupts existing business models, and disrupts organizational paralysis.  I still did not say, "really".  The CEO's went on to say their organization's needed fresh thinking and continuous innovation at all levels in the organization.  Still no "really", the CEO's went on to say they expected the business environment to get more complex and to that more than half of the CEO's doubted their ability to manage this escalating complexity.  Stop, more than half the CEO's said they can't disrupt the status quo, change their business model or get their organization moving, REALLY?

Come on, how tough can it be to challenge the status quo, change the way of doing things, and motivate people?  It's clearly not that easy but it is also not impossible.  We first must understand what it means to be creative and for that we need a brief review of grammar.  Trust me coming from me it will be very brief.  The word creative is an adjective and we all know that adjectives are used to describe the quality of the word they are modifying i.e., creative leader or creative bookkeeping.  The definition of creative means the quality or power to create from one's own thought or imagination.  That's where most people bog down.  They believe that imagination and original ideas only happen once in a lifetime to people like Steve Jobs, Walt Disney or Henry Ford, but that is not the case.  Fast Company publishes a list of the 100 Most Creative People in Business and you may be surprised to learn that not everyone who is creative runs an internet company some are founders of the National Kidney Register. 

So how can we challenge the status quo, change the way of doing things, and motivate people.  One way is to keep asking why.  One of the first words little kids learn after mom and dad is why.  They are curious and it's annoying but if you are patient they learn a lot and so do you.  Two, everything new is a variation of something old.  New products or services are often the extension of an existing product.  Think about the TV series CSI and Law and Order.  Three, NIH, which stands for not-invented-here is similar to two, but is taking a practice found elsewhere and applying it to your situation.  Some people may refer to this as a best practice.  An example of this is applying supply chain management to humanitarian relief or disaster recovery efforts.  Fourth, think inside the box.  All sporting contests operate within boundaries.  The key to success is mixing up the plays and executing better than the other person.  Lastly, get out of your comfort zone.  Most people don't like change and I am one.  However, when I review the changes that have occurred in my life I realize some were initiated by me and some were not.  Guess which changes worked out the best?  The answer is both, it is a trick question.  Now, don't get carried away because we do need to operate within comfort zones as well.  The challenge is be comfortable being uncomfortable.  Finally, you are creative but you just don't know it.


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