Improvise or become institutionalised

I read in a blog on the Harvard Business Review website that creativity is the most important skill to have to navigate an increasingly complex world.

So, is this a problem? Aren’t organisations around the world creative? Yes, a few rare organisations are, but when an organisation stops being creative they risk becoming a stuffy place where development takes forever.

Your organisation has become old and has a mind-set of “Yes, but..” and is not willing to learn anything new. New, fresh ideas are not seen as valuable assets and the organisation is not listening to its employees or its customers. It has become institutionalised.

When I am teaching creativity, one key element is how you handle new idea, and how you and your team, organisation and the whole ecosystem work together. I have heard things like “We have tried that before and it didn’t work” many times and what that really means is that the people who tried it then could not do it.

Do you think according to the same pattern? Are you just slightly improving on what you have? Well, to be great and to stand out today you need to do things differently. Doing things differently means that you have to open up the creative resources you have within yourself and your organisation.

You are responsible for your own creativity

You have your personal creativity, your teams’ creativity, organisational creativity and the creativity of the ecosystem in which you work. Creativity takes many shapes and forms and is present at all stages of your life.

You are personally responsible for feeding your creativity, and it can help to review what helps you to get into a better flow. Team creativity can be tricky. Ask yourself, how am I handling new ideas? In a kind way or are you rude to the ideas?

Can your organisation welcome creative thinking in a better way? Or, are you stuck in old patterns?

How is the ecosystem around you working? Is it a structural problem that needs a creative solution that you must tackle? Is the ecosystem you are working in holding you back and do you feel that it’s impossible to innovate and bring new creative solutions to the table?

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How creativity works circle. You, team, organisation and ecosystem.

Dare to say yes and handle ideas kindly

When you dare to say yes to new ideas and you are starting to use the creativity principles, you are unleashing an enormous amount of power. Dare to improvise with what’s on offer. How can you make the most out of the opportunities you have around you? I have said it before, but “Yes, and….” are some of the most powerful words in the universe.

There are many good processes that you can use to get this flow working better. Here are some examples:

  • Treat new ideas with respect, then they will transform into the most beautiful creatures you can imagine.
  • Give each other a lot of positive feedback, every day.
  • Have regular team meetings so people can share what they are doing and update each other on projects.
  • Stay in an alert state of mind as often you can. When the auto-pilot is on you are not breaking any patterns.

The organisational life-cycle

You can compare the life-cycle of an organisation to that of a human. When a start-up is born they are curious and hungry.

Baby stage
The baby is finding its way around, exploring and having fun. You don’t know what to expect at this stage and every week huge amounts of progress and learning takes place. The first years are fundamental and you are developing the organisational culture and the culture you are creating will follow the organisation as it grows.

Then, in the next stage, the organisation becomes a teenager and is slightly more resistant to change. It is still finding its own style and learning how things work. Teenagers are cheeky and will not listen to “experienced” adults’ warnings. They do things the way they feel is right and then they like to relax and hang out with their peers online.

Adult life
Later, the organisation becomes an adult. Adults know what they like, and are less likely to change. If anyone wants to change something in the organisation it will take time and the change will be met with resistance. They are likely to adapt to the digital solutions that are available, but they are not sure how to make the most of them.

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Becoming an oldie
Some organisations reach the stage of being an oldie and they know what they like for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They are not likely to listen to new ideas and the whole organisation is at risk of being left behind, something that some people are often painfully aware of these voices are not heard internally. These organisations have not embraced any innovation or change lately and are struggling to explore new markets.

Companies and their creativity stage as baby, teenager, adult and oldie.

Workshop output sharing

I always do this exercise when I run my creativity workshops, I ask the participants to categorise different companies. This is how it can look:

Nokia, Cisco, BP, Microsoft, Philips, Blockbuster (video store in the UK that went bust Jan 2013)

Marks & Spencer, British Airways, General Electric, IKEA

Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Twitter, Expedia, Top Shop, Virgin Atlantic, Ryanair, easyJet,, eBay, Skype, PayPal

Startups and entrepreneurs

Teenagers love technology and great leadership

The most successful organisations in the world are in the teenage category. Often someone in the workshop points out that they are all using technically advanced systems, which is true. The businesses in the teenage group are always using advanced internet technology, but that’s not the whole story.

All companies in the world have access to advanced technologies and everyone can explore creativity and the creative leadership style. Creativity and great leadership are free. It doesn’t cost much to explore that. But, to manage a company that explores digital opportunities requires investment. I used to have a Nokia a few years ago and their digital platform for apps, called Ovi, drove me crazy. It didn’t work at all. My next phone was an iPhone and the user experience between these two phones was remarkable. Nokia didn’t invest in a good platform and the iOS and Google Android platforms are both miles ahead of Nokia.

The companies who are teenagers have one thing in common and that is that they are changing how business is done within their ecosystem. They are leading the way that, later, others will follow. They are trying out a new style, a new outfit, using the latest technology and they have cool and inspiring leaders.

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One of the teenage brands that I am a loyal customer of is Amazon. I have been buying books from them for years and now I can instantly download Kindle eBooks from their store. I also buy various other items and gifts from their vast web-shop.

They have turned thousands of people into publishers by giving users the ability to self-publish a Kindle eBook. And, they are opening up their platform to millions of businesses to sell their products on.

Amazon is embracing the ability to build a business relationship with anyone and it’s open to and for the world. There is no discrimination or selective process. They embrace openness.

Facebook has also opened up their platform to be used by any business in the world. Anyone can set up a fan page or a group and start interacting with their customers. Through API, developers can integrate their products into Facebook and get more interaction between the websites.

Some companies that are doing this through APIs are: The Guardian (a UK newspaper), Pinterest, Eventbrite, TripAdvisor and Goodreads.

“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.” Steve Jobs, as quoted in ‘Fortune’ 1998-11-09.

How was that? Does it make sense? Please provide feedback by emailing or comment below!


Sofie Sandell is the author of the book ‘Digital Leadership – Dare to be creative, it’s easier than you think’, to be published soon. 

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