Tag Archives: creativity and innovation

Are you your organization’s ‘poet’?

“We’re going to miss this man, America. Whatever his flaws, he’s been more than our president. Time and again, he’s been our national poet.”

Frank Bruni said this of President Obama in a recent New York Times opinion piece.

It set me thinking.

When unease ripples through your markets, when anxiety overtakes your organization, when your employees are either confused or believe the organization is not going in the right direction, how do you, as a leader, act? How do you energize your team?

Do you take the role of an organization ‘poet’?

Huh, you may ask. But I mean business. Literally and figuratively.

The ‘poet’ leader has a fierce, tough-minded optimism that lifts the spirit of his people. She has deep convictions, is resilient, and battles change and adversity with creative ideas. He creates positive energy in negative environments. She believes in the future and motivates purposeful performance through well thought out optimism.

Before the second ‘huh?’ escapes your lips on the seemingly oxymoronic phrase ‘well thought out optimism’, hit the pause button. There is a simple but powerful flow to this philosophy that lends it its power.

It starts with a vision of success for your organization. It is a conviction that defines something special. It is a passion that inspires others to stand with you. It goes beyond being the best. It makes you want to be the only ones doing something unique, and doing it in the unique way you do.

This philosophy spells uniqueness not as ‘exclusive’ but as ’care’. Colleagues, customers, partners, vendors…they all matter. As does conduct – both as an organizational credo and as traits of its individual representatives. Care and conduct places meaning above efficiency to weave an emotional connect into the fabric of corporate culture.

The flow of this philosophy creatively looks to the future by rediscovering the past. The ‘poet’ acknowledges that the past is a treasure trove of history, which can create momentum and confidence if not looked at with regret. Through rediscovery he ignites innovation in reinventing the future, even as he is consistent in his priorities.

The ‘poet’ thus starts a movement to take on what is possible. He does not debate why it cannot. She changes her organization’s climate in testing times to enrich its culture. They are resilient, not just to bounce back but bounce forward. They develop a unique perspective of the future. In seeing opportunities that others do not, they display both initiative and humility to tap into the collective intelligence and genius in their organizations.

Fittingly, the New York Times article was titled ‘Freedom from Fear’. Amidst challenges, doubts and fears, the poet leader talks calmly, authentically and forcefully about ‘what we can do’. They personally renew themselves to re-energize their employees. That is why the classic line “I have a dream” was a poetic foundation to historic change. Imagine if it had been “I have a fear”!


A little slack in your calendar does not make you a slacker!

“I really don’t care as to how much time to you can or not give this project”.

The smooth tone of my boss was dangerous – it popped up all my red alerts. Oh, oh! What was coming next?

“Just let me know how soon can I have this report”

 And this is the truth. The unvarnished truth, if I may be allowed to be dramatic. Nobody, I repeat nobody, really cares about your capability or capacity to do work. These are irrelevant till their main concern is addressed. Throughput – that is all your managers and bosses care about, my friend.

How quickly can you get the work done?

How long need I to wait?

Tick tock, tick tock…

Even Henry Ford found this out the hard way. He thought that he could squeeze more productivity out of his workers by increasing their schedules to 60 hours a week. Short-lived exultation, that was! The burst of productivity lasted only about four weeks as they began producing less than their counterparts who worked 40 hours!

How many times have you whizzed through your maze of drowning work after a relaxed sleep, or a workout at the gym? How many times has a “Eureka” stroke of genius struck you as got up from your claustrophobic space surrounding your desk, walked around the office to the pantry, or relaxed on the chair opposite your friend with a joke before coming back to your laptop screen?

Believe me, this is a powerful realization and acknowledgment. Don’t trick yourself into believing that you will be more productive if you can do more, or work at it longer. This is exactly the reasoning behind traffic signals – filling a road to capacity with cars ain’t gonna take anyone to their destination quicker. Break it up, mon ami, break it up!

And that is why you should recoil at the pretty sight of your calendar neatly boxed in to capacity with “to do” lists – meetings, calls… Empty spaces on your calendar are not sitting ducks to be filled up with some ostensible productive work (pray, who defines the meaning of productive?). They are your havens of sanity refreshers that actually multiply your throughput.

And for all ye resource management analysts, please don’t make the fatal mistake of assessing employee productivity through their calendars. That gives you merely the theoretical production capacity, not productivity – and certainly not throughput! 100% utilization of capacity is the biggest mythical loser – any ops expert will tell us that once a system exceeds 65-70% of maximum utilization, the only thing that increases is the cycle time. Never the productivity!

You need slack in the system, in your calendars and in your minds. That does not make you a slacker. It does not mean that people do not think about their work outside of their scheduled work hours or during their breaks. The truth is exactly the opposite. When I am not intentionally thinking about work, I actually spend time unintentionally thinking about it. I am in my boundary-less creative zone where I do not box myself in with the constraints of my work zone – and so reach the solution sphere quicker sans the annoying pull of ‘that’s-how-it-is-always-done” gravity!

So go ahead, grant your mind a work schedule with generous doses of ‘Do-Not-Fill’ blocks. Use your calendar not to plug empty gaps but to actually prevent you from taking on more commitments than you have the time to handle. And get ready to see your productivity soar!

Enter…the corporate artist

“An arts degree is now perhaps the hottest credential in the world of business.”  So quoted Harvard Business Review a few years back.

Interesting don’t you think? Dare we imagine organization leadership to be as much a stage for artists as for management executives?

Think about it. Is there really an unbridgeable gap between what can be imagined and what can be accomplished? Can not the artistic idealism of originality complement and prevail over the hard-nosed pragmatism of replicating past patterns?

‘Create value’, scream managers, organizations and various business summits. The bugles call for greater creativity, commitment and innovation in the business domain.

But wait! Aren’t these what artists do – and do well? Suddenly, the dots seem to be already joined.

Take strategists and coaches. They exhort their members to set and manage unreasonable expectations. To an artist, this business parlance echoes her courage to make her leaps without a safety net.

Take the mantra of innovation that sweeps across the business landscape today. It acknowledges the truth that viable path-breaking options need to be invented, not replicated or tinkered for difference. To an artist, it resonates the assertive message he practises. Move over, traditionalists – make way for my bold brush patterns of creativity!

Or look at the confidence of discontinuous and disruptive change that laughingly threatens the established practice of continuous improvement to define business success. This is what the creative artist does. No incremental enhancements for him He goes beyond re-jigging the how. She invents a new what.

The truth is, creativity and innovation are design efforts, not analytical tasks. And they are the ‘raison d’etre’ of artists. Maybe it is time for organizations to encourage artistic powers of their employees that they have hitherto been unwelcoming of. Maybe they should allow their artists to exercise the indiscipline of ‘out-of-the-box’ thoughts and actions without the burden of collecting evidence to bail themselves out.

Collaborative teamwork. What corporate professionals strive so hard to make a science of, an ensemble of artists transforms it effortlessly into a spellbinding masterpiece. It is interesting to know that even as early as 2003, Sloan Leadership courses at MIT had arts-based components, including ‘Leadership as Acting: Performing Henry V’. University of Chicago’s leadership exploration and development course has MBAs create and showcase a film. Wharton’s MBA program has a compulsory workshop on “Leadership through the Arts” facilitated by an internationally acclaimed dance company.

And what about the ability to improvise? To respond to unpredictable problems and opportunities as they arise? Artists unfold spontaneity in stepping both up and down to rein in individual brilliance from overshadowing collective success. And in doing so, they create a sure atmosphere of trust that each is looking out for the other and the team.

Yes, it is time for the corporate artist to step up and be allowed to step up. What can be a better vote of confidence for this claim than the following endorsements by two successful business stewards?

“You need to let the artists explore and create the next great thing, which they will do reliably if you permit it.”

Eric Schmidt, Chairman & CEO, Google

“Creativity is the one irreplaceable human skill in an increasingly automated world . . . the only sustainable source of competitive advantage.”

                                                                                                                                           Ivan G. Siedenberg, former Chairman & CEO, Verizon