Cartoon: what big ideas do you have?

A Routine of Creativity

By Jeffrey Baumgartner

A reason many companies struggle to innovate is because they do not permit routine creativity. Most of the time, their employees are expected to follow defined processes to get things done. Then, once a year, those employees participate in an anticonventional thinking session run by a crazy guy like me or a brainstorm facilitated by a deluded creativity expert who has not yet learned that brainstorming does not actually work very well. For a day or two, the employee is encouraged to think differently, is invited to question stuff and is allowed to share creative ideas. Then, like a cold smack in the face, she is sent back to her desk where routines are to be followed unquestioningly, questions are discouraged and ideas that would change the way things are done are entirely unwanted. Whatever creativity lessons she might have learned during the special session are soon forgotten.

A Managing Director Who Disdains Creativity

A lifetime or two ago, when I was an e-business consultant, I sat in on a meeting with a company's business development people and the managing director for Europe. A number of the business developers discussed improving the invoicing system. It took weeks and sometimes months from the time a job was invoiceable to the time when the company actually sent the invoice. It was so bad that clients were complaining about the slow invoicing process and asking to be billed faster. During the meeting, the business development people made several suggestions for improving the invoicing approach, but the managing director shot all of them down saying that they did not understand the invoicing process and it was perfectly fine, thank you very much!

In other words, ideas for improving a fundamental business process were unwelcome, even if those ideas would have had a profound and positive effect on cashflow and customer satisfaction.

Now this company was rather extreme in its disdain for creative thinking and I understand it continues to be that way. Nevertheless, discouraging creative thinking in day to day processes is commonplace in many businesses that presumably want to be more innovative.

The Overly Clever Engineer

Consider the company that hired a creative engineer to tackle a complex problem. Halfway through her first day of work, she reports to her manager, "Here, I've solved it," she says and show his him the solution. He looks at her concept and sees that it solves the problem.

"Very good," he said. "Now go back to your desk and look busy for a couple of weeks."

"Why? she asked, surprised by his response.

"Because problems like this typically take a team of engineers a month to do. You did it in a couple of hours. That just makes the others look bad."

It is attitudes like these that discourage creative thinking on a day to day basis. And, without creativity, you have no innovation.

The Solution: Routine Creativity

The solution, my friend, is simple in concept: make creativity routine. Invite people to suggest better ways to invoice jobs and, if your business development people do not understand the system, then explain the system to them. Is that really so hard to work out?

When an engineer figures out how to solve a complex problem quickly, do not encourage her to pretend to take more time. Invite her to share her reasoning and methodology with the team so that they too can not only learn better ways to solve similar problems, but also so they can learn the value of applying creativity to problem solving.

Make it clear that every single process in your organisation is replaceable, provided the replacement has added value. Hug (in a businesslike way, of course) people who find creative ways to improve processes. Instead of asking colleagues, "How are you?" ask, "What big idea do you have today?"

That Powerpoint template you have and which you require everyone to use? Discourage them from using it and encourage them to design their own presentations while reminding them that the talk is more important than the slides.

In meetings, when someone has a suggestion, consider it carefully rather than reject it out of hand. When administrative employees find ways to administrate faster, jump with joy and compliment them profusely.

When direct reports' ideas are flawed, do not admonish them. Consider their ideas, compliment them and challenge them to improve those ideas.

Tell 'em What Needs to Be Done and Let 'em Do It

Most importantly of all, your managers must learn to tell people what needs to be done and let them work out how to do it − while making themselves available for coaching if needed − rather than telling them precisely what to do and how to do it. Moreover, when a direct report comes up with a great way to do something, invite her to share the idea with the team, if not the entire organisation. Indeed, consider setting up a tips and suggestions database on the Intranet where people can share tips and newbies can find those tips.

In other words, make creativity routine, a part of the daily working habits of all your employees, and your company will soon become much, much more creative. You will tap deeper into the potential of your workforce, they will be more engaged in their work and your company will innovate better.

Would that be awesome, or what?

Shameless Self-Promotion

If you need a little help making creativity routine in your organisation, I am here for you! I can organise workshops, followed up by advisory services,  for your managers that teach them not only how to make creativity routine in their work, but how to motivate their direct reports to do the same. If a more creative and innovative workforce would be a good thing for your organisation, get in touch. I am waiting for your call (+32 2 305 6591) or email ( or use the form.




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Jeffrey Baumgartner
Bwiti bvba

Erps-Kwerps (near Leuven & Brussels) Belgium




My other web projects

My other web projects 100s of articles, videos and cartoons on creativity - possibly useful things I have learned over the years. reflections on international living and travel. - paintings, drawings, photographs and cartoons by Jeffrey