Creativity & Dishonesty

Paul Sloane in his latest post ‘ Start your meeting with a lie‘ refers to a paper by Scott Wiltermuth of Marshal Business School that proposes that dishonesty leads to creativity. He substantiates it by saying that both dishonesty and creativity require the ‘established rules to be broken’. Fair enough. The dilemma is, of course, how can you legally & ethically allow dishonesty to make your workforce more creative.

This reminded me of an old theory I had read when technology was not this pervasive and it was just entering our lives – not everyone had a mobile phone and even those who had would use it judiciously. Theory said that criminals and fraudsters are the first and the best users of technology. The way they apply technology innovatively is beyond the comprehension of the inventors of the technology as well. In fact, if the creators knew these possibilities they would probably work towards stopping them. The number of frauds committed using pre-paid SIM card, of course, led to the whole identity tagging to the SIM cards when they are issued, but then criminals are smart enough to circumvent that problem as stealing mobile phones is not a big deal. Anyway, for this discussion, this just supports what Paul Sloane is proposing that yes indeed the law breakers ( to whatever extent they break the law) are the most creative users of tools available to all of us. What makes them creative is of obviously limitless possibilities that they have the laws and regulations do not restrict them.

Can these limitless possibilities be created in a corporate setup without compromising the moral/ethical/strategic standing of the organization? Can you let some of your employees break the rules and expect others to follow them to the T? Can you contain the chaos that ‘not following the rules’ would lead to? Do you believe in ‘method in madness’ and expect that somehow things will take care of themselves?

This led me to question why do we have so many and so rigid rules in organizations? Now that I work independently, I find it ridiculous to sign at N no of places before I  am allowed inside and then wearing a batch with number prominently displayed? All this when I can enter any junk as my data in the register and when the security guard is too busy listening to music on his mobile phone. Why are employees who will never face a customer made to wear uncomfortable formal wear? I even know companies that have penalties for not following the silliest of the rules. Is this all not leading to make everyone say’ Let me just follow and do what they tell me to do’? Can organization start by easing up rules that are downright ridiculous that serve no other purpose except bring boring uniformity in the system? Can anything kill creativity like boredom does? Can you start by eliminating processes and rules that take up employee time and effort and yield no business results? Do you realize how they might be alienating the employees?

Education Vs Learning

There is a limit to education, learning is infinite.

I have been having various debates with various people on the topic of education and learning, so thought of putting my thoughts together on this topic. Lot of people today blame everything on education – wherever a person fails as per the standards of the society – we promptly say – needs to be educated, or he / she is not educated enough. Incidentally the most profound lessons of life I have received have come from people who may be called near illiterates.

A friend even suggested to a child needs to be taught how to cross the road or which side of the road to walk on – and my question to him was – what would this child do in a place where the road rules are reverse or conventions followed are different? Are you again going to give him a course on road rules and limitless other rules to follow in the new place. Or can we let the child observe, learn and adapt as required. In a lifetime of 60 years or so, how many things can one get educated upon? Or, in the face of need, or for interest what is the limit of your learning.

Education to me curtails my power of observation as it asks me to listen and believe what is said the text book or what the experts say. It discourages me to question and asks me to believe because many before me have said so. It gives me limited exposure to a subject – for example in a B-school education everything must fit in the 5-6 existing models and later in life when things do not fit in these models – they either try to force fit things or say it can not work. Purpose of education should be to tell me the work people have already done – so that I do not re-invent the wheel but to tell me that wheel exists and there are so many uses of wheels that have already been invented, now go ahead and devise new ways to use the wheel or invent something better than the wheel. This can happen when I am left to learn by observing, by questioning and by experimenting. Education need to empower not limit. Though the stated intention of the education is the same, but the way it is implemented, it ends up limiting the thought process and giving students the feeling that few things that they have been taught are cast in stone.

I would not condemn or criticize the education system, but I would recommend taking responsibility of your own learning. Take formal or even informal education as a starting point to pursue lifelong learning. I personally discovered the joy of learning way after my formal education was wrapped up and to me there can not be a bigger joy in life than learning. Let it not be limited by what you have to learn to pass those exams for those degrees that somehow testify what you know.

What is your Curiosity Quotient

In his blogpost How to build curiosity stamina? Dr Vinay Dabholkar talks about the curiosity of leading innovators of the world including Einstein and Jamshedji Tata. In fact I remember reading Letters of JRD Tata where he keeps looking for lessons from around the world that can be adapted in his businesses. It was nothing but his curiosity on how the other businesses are doing the things better than his businesses or a curiosity to learn from everyone he came across. From Dr Dabholkar’s post I learnt about his hunt for the right soil to setup a steal plant and how he persistently did that on the sideline while we thought he was running his multiple businesses. He also shares some practical tips to build your curiosity stamina.

This led me to think that while we keep reading about all possible ways to generate ideas, selective right ideas and then work on creating successful businesses from these ideas, there is not much popular literature on ‘Curiosity’. We need to have ample stamina for curiosity both as individuals as well as as organizations.

As individuals we need to constantly take ourselves to places, people and situations that are new to us to keep our curiosity alive and kicking. If we are curious about a niche subject, we need to see the center as well as the periphery of that subject constantly. We also need to be curious about what others are doing in that space and how the space is moving. This would help us being persistent with our curiosity and embark upon some breakthrough ideas in our pursuit. In general we need to expose ourselves to worlds that are not like our world to be able to give an incline to our mind – to be able to see things in different light and to be able to expand the horizons of out thought process. To me mind, this is our personal and individual responsibility to keep our curiosity high.

As organizations, it would require that we do not come in the way of nurturing individual curiosity and if we can find a way to tap into it or convert it into a collective curiosity – there may be prizes waiting for us at the end of the tunnel.

Creativity & Discipline

We somehow tend to associate creativity with unkempt looks, clumsy desk and people who live on their own terms and follow no rules. In this HBR blog post The Daily Routines of Geniuses, Sarah Green picks up Mason Curry’s book Daily Rituals: How Artists work and summarizes the book for us. She demystifies the myth that artists do not work in a disciplined way. On the contrary, most of them follow strict disciplines and routines for their creative work.

In summary, she says most artists need a work space where there is no distraction and they measure their daily output which essentially means they have set targets for themselves and they like to track their daily progress against it. They all divide their time between the creative work and the other mundane work like answering the mails. They do not mingle the two as we tend to do in the era of e-mails when every new e-mail is a potential distractor for us and interrupts our work. So the time of pure work is no distraction work and this is usually 2-4 hours per day which I think is the limit of the human brain to do hardcore creative work.

Next, she talks about how most of them have a walking routine – that sometimes runs into hours together and this is their thinking and introspective time. This is what feeds their creativity and this is the time where they intuitively plan their work. For most of them, this is non-negotiable. A helping and understanding partner also helps these geniuses in their work by taking care of their day to day works and providing them time and space to do the work they are best at. Sarah is not convinced about the limited social lives of these people as they are often seen in public, but I think I know what Curry might have meant by that – they have no time – physically and mentally to engage in socializing, so they are kind of living in isolation.

I have personally interacted with many authors and most successful authors have a strict working routine that they follow to the T. Julian Cameron in her book The Artists Way talks about the rituals that can help blocked artists. She recommends creating rituals so that your creativity can flow.

Simple day to day creativity steps

There are big innovations and there are small day to day creative steps that we can take to improve what we already do, may be we can do it differently or may be there are better ways out there to do it. Paul Sloane in his article Ways to Improve Your Creativity at Work talks about seven simple steps that you can take for the regular work you do to be more creative and more productive.

Paul has put each step very simply and clearly, but if I synthesize them and put them in one sentence – it means go out at the intersections of what you do and what others do. Innovations and new thoughts happen at the intersection – so go out and meet people from other departments, other fields, other sections of society, other side of table i.e. your customers and clients. Book ‘Medici Effect’ talks about this in detail with examples of how some of the biggest revolutions in the history of mankind happened when people from different worlds came together and exchanged ideas.

To keep creative juices flowing, you need to infuse energy from places unlike yours, situations unlike yours, people unlike yours. Given our lifestyles and work lives, we need to make a conscious effort to do this, unfortunately it is not in built in our default designs.

Types of Creativity

Jeff DeGraff in his MIX Blog So, You Want to Be a Creative Genius? writes a beautiful compilation of Types of Creativity with a field guide to follow. It educates you on various sources of creativity and makes you think where do your potential gaps lie.

In my experience the biggest limitations comes from restricting oneself to limited number and types of interactions, both with people and environment. We tend to have same set of people around us all the time, we eat the same food, go to the same places. Traveling to destinations that are different from the ones we know opens up our mind to new horizons. Meeting people from different professions gives us different approaches to problem solving. Reading different genres of books tell us how different situations were handled by people in different environments. All this takes us at the intersection of our experiences and other’s experiences and that is where most of the new ideas and innovation happen. This is not something difficult to do, all we need to do is create more and more intersections in your life whenever and wherever possible. It can be as simple as having one lunch in a week with a new person. If you notice a lot of business leaders do this all the time, they use their informal time to meet new people and listen to them. You can try to see a new place every quarter or at least every year if not more.

Read through the other types of inspirations also in Jeff’s post, but what I mentioned above is the least you can do.

Gary Hamel on Organizations for Humans

Gary Hamel talks about organizations that are fit for humans in his video at Managament Innovation Exchange. 
I have always liked Gary’s work, specially when talks about Innovation. Though I do not agree completely with what he says about humanizing organizations, I do agree that we need to go back to being human. The age of industrialization tended to make humans into machines, where they would come out with a predictable output, almost killing their creativity. Now the world is not necessarily getting de-industrialized, but there is an emergence of more democratic spaces both for creativity and for its expression. Spaces like internet are as democratic as you can expect it to be. We do not know about tomorrow if it also get monopolized by the large or powerful organizations, but as of today it provides an almost equal opportunities to those who have access to it. 
Not sure how much the established organization work towards making their work places good for human creativity, and even if they do, how much time will it take for them to really achieve it. But go and experiment with your own creativity and express it.