Artist-Entrepreneur Nexus

The knowing-doing gap infects the majority of us, at least occasionally if not frequently.   Sometimes, it’s a matter of exercising our will to push ourselves into action, but more often than not, the stumbling block transcends willpower. Recently, I came across a short article in a small town, advising artists to treat their artwork as a business enterprise. Self-promotion, learning different 21st century tools to market the art, attending to tax issues, hiring an accountant or bookkeeper, and so on. How can you refute such good-intentioned common sense suggestions? But, do artists really not know about business models? Is it as simple as a knowing-doing gap for artists?

The stereotype of the disorganized, haplessly head-in-the-cloud, constantly creating out-of-box artist is just that, a stereotype. But often there is a fundamental trait carried by artists who are truly creative, as they generally have different brain structure from others. The distinction between left-dominated and right-dominated brain function is not a myth, and artists are by and large right-brain dominated. While I don’t know what percentage of people are comfortable moving from left brain to right and back to left constantly, without “thinking” about it, I do know most people have one side dominating over the other side most of the time. Natural inclination does not preclude learning, understanding, and functioning well in areas that do not come to us easily. The difference (and the resulting tension) is that when we work in our naturally gifted areas, it’s almost effortless and joyful, and when we work in areas where we have learned to overcome the “shortcomings” of our natural inclinations, we spend much more psychological energy. The art-vs-business tension is a perennial issue, and artists are only too painfully aware of this tension.

grace over arch

I believe that the majority of artists have thought about how to organize their “enterprise” for sales and profits. I know plenty of artists who try hard, very hard, to market themselves and their work. Of all the professions, artists might be one of those who face rejection most frequently, daily, weekly, monthly, annually. They know what they need to do, but I ask, Is willpower their only stumbling block to becoming better businesspeople? For every successful published author, high-demand visual artist (of any media), talented musician, often-cited poet, there are probably 1,000 (most likely more) struggling artists. How many market niches are there for all these artists? How much time can they afford to spend on the business aspects without feeling starved, spiritually, artistically, or physically?

One of my artist friends is a quintessential right-brain-dominated artist through and through; she cannot help but create all the time. She also has an MBA, is very savvy about marketing, and is not shy about self-promotion. Yet, she struggles financially. Listening to her stories about dealing with the business aspects of producing her work and occasionally following her on her transaction runs, I am blown away by the “stuff” she has to deal with. Gossip, back stabbing, jealous barbs, tempers, rumors, dramas – all present, but less intense, within other organizations – litter her path. Are there manuals on dealing with these “soft” but emotionally charged issues? How does she find, in her limited budget, funds to hire an accountant, bookkeeper, web designer, etc.?

I know another artist who is also multi-talented and “mind-blowing” creative. She is impeccably organized, in her workspace and in her mind. She understands the needs of, and tolerates the effort required for, marketing or self-promotion, but manages to do them very well. Because her genres are not designed for mass market, she has to work overtime to promote her work. While she’s highly regarded for her art and pulls in decent income, her safety margin could be ulcer-inducing narrow. In fact, when I reflect upon all the artists I have met and known in my life, they are all multi-talented and organized, but few could live comfortably on income from their artwork alone.

My point is that artists know what they have to do to sell their art and to treat their artwork as an enterprise. While all know, very few succeed in making a comfortable living being an artist; most of them have a patron in their lives, e.g. their significant other with whom they share the financial bounty or woe. It’s amazing to me that artists, even single artists without a patron, still dream and pursue their ideals, without drowning in cynicism from dealing with the business aspect of their operations.

The traditional entrepreneurs’ business ventures are often considered a form of creativity; however, the starting point in their operations is product development, so it is in their interest to find and hire people who can organize the process. More importantly, societal and economic structures readily facilitate entrepreneurs. In comparison, for those artists whose work requires some production of, let us say, sculptures, vases, etc., the operation is so significantly smaller that hiring assistants just may not be feasible. Don’t even get me started on introverted artists! Economies of scale are rarely, if ever, in artists’ favor. How many Dale Chihulys are there?!

Exhibit of Dale Chihuly's work at Denver Botanical Gardens.

Exhibit of Dale Chihuly’s work at Denver Botanical Gardens.

I don’t have ready advice to offer. If I could, I would find ways to organize a business community that would provide the necessary operational support for artists at a small fee. That’d be real assistance most artists would welcome. Otherwise, 21st century technology notwithstanding, artists’ struggles to sell their work remain an ageless problem.

So, when you consider buying artwork, a good novel or a collection of poems, or some heavenly music, don’t try to bargain, just buy the work for you and for the artist.

Till next time,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

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Here We Go Again…from time & motion studies to surveillance

When Frederick Taylor did his “scientific method” studies of time and motion in the late 19th century, he intended to bring about higher productivity and economic efficiency. An unexpected outcome of these studies was giving workers interval breaks and better pay as incentives. Taylor himself cared less about the workers’ welfare than about how to streamline production. Scholars after Taylor tried to offer a counterbalance to the stark “scientific method” by emphasizing “human relations.” Since then, the debate between quantification and qualification in the management field has not stopped.

I think in the “either-or,” dichotomous, or, antagonistic, universe, we all end up losing a little.

In the management world, issues concerning quality always seem to struggle for attention and justification. Almost always, quantification trumps. What we can quantify, we can drive to better outcomes. But is it truly so?

If you are in a management position, would you like the ability to monitor your direct report’s movements? If you are a staff member, would you mind being recorded for your movements, interactions, and conversations?

Digital technologies have made surveillance much easier. And tracking employees just seems so tempting, especially when tracking yields “positive” effects.  In the referenced New York Times article, the two areas where surveillance has brought about better outcomes are in the restaurant industry and the “communication” aspect of bank services. Interestingly enough, while the impetus for restaurants owners to monitor workers was to prevent theft, actual theft was found to be insignificant. The unexpected “bonus” was significant revenue growth. Wait staff, feeling watched, made more sales by encouraging patrons to order more, or more expensive items. It seems that the restaurants owners’ initial suspicion was misplaced.

I use this image to counter the "eek" feeling of "keeping employees under surveillance."

I use this image to counter the “eek” feeling of “keeping employees under surveillance.”

As for communication in some of the banks that set up the monitoring system, the data suggested that by taking breaks in an environment that encouraged social interactions, such as a better break room, employees became more productive. (Once again, I worry about the introverts. Or perhaps they avoided careers in bank service communication?)

But no one seems to feel the need to monitor managers.

In the article, the author’s focus is on “privacy” of employees. I think the deeper issue is trust.

There is a range of monitoring systems, from the “crude” conventional camera recording to computer chips embedded in employees’ badges. The later “sociometric” type would record “tone of voice, posture and body language, as well as who speaks to whom for how long.” Of course, the data are used in aggregate, and no individual information is revealed. Small comfort.

One of the professors quoted in the article warns that people would view such surveillance as either bad or good, and that “the real challenge…is what is the right level and in what context it is being done.” Is this professor implicitly suggesting that surveillance is here to stay? How about these basic questions: Is surveillance necessary? and for what purposes? (not to mention the issue of cost effectiveness)   For example, do companies need to shell out consulting fees to learn that “coffee breaks” bring about better productivity? I thought that was a forgone conclusion from as long ago as Taylor’s “scientific management” studies. Most people are social learners, but do we need to spend thousands of dollars to re-learn that? I would like to see some money spent on creating comfort zones for introverts as well. Is detailed monitoring really going to help, say, sales representative to learn the art of conversation? Maybe the supervisors of these sales representatives can learn to work with people first, before resorting to computer chips to do the data collection.

Once again, let me re-emphasize that the foundation of organizations is relationships, “relations among parts and relations among relations.” And there are no shortcuts in building relationships.

Wishing you a care-free week. Till next time,


Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

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Managing Weirdness…

…is as weird as “programming creativity.”

Throughout the book “Weird Ideas That Work,” there are a lot of “on the one hand” and “on the other hand” pieces of advice. While Mr. Sutton provides many examples and bullet points, there are no 12-step programs for managing weird ideas for creativity and innovation. There are general principles, frameworks, cautions regarding measures to avoid, and so forth. By the time a manager finishes the book, she is not necessarily better off than when she started reading. Ultimately, it’s what Sutton and his colleague, Jeff Pfeffer advise in their well-known book, “The Knowing-Doing Gap:” Just act on an idea, then you’ll learn. So, I’d say, just focus on any one of the “weird ideas” Sutton proposes in the book, and act on it.

I contend that given the chance, plenty of people in all organizations are more than happy to dream a little, try something crazy, be innovative and creative. Even some managers are creative people…they just don’t get to express creativity in their jobs. However, to foster a creative atmosphere in an organization is management’s responsibility. The biggest paradox of managing for innovation and creativity is that they cannot be managed. The manager who would manage for creativity should stay out of people’s way and manage as little as possible. This is not to suggest that managers should not provide parameters, define problems, or offer guidelines. But, is it so very terrible for managers to admit that they might not really know what the problems are, or, how the perimeters should be delineated? A little humility may open up a lot of space for others to explore.

Most of us would feel guilty for “not doing much,” which is actually part of the creative process. For instance, for any creative process, there is an incubation period during which little seems to take place. So, this is not the time for managers to demand progress reports. What managers could do instead is to provide support, perhaps create a “safe” environment for people to experiment, tinker, or fail. Managers need to be the champions of people’s ability to develop ideas, and when the time comes, of the ideas themselves – selling the ideas to upper management, locating and connecting to financial resources, removing “speed bumps” such as “milestone reports” or meetings. Managers also have to act the “cheerleader” role at times and create the self-prophetic cycle of success. Personally, I think the toughest aspects in “managing for innovation” are: (1) Dealing with (i.e. accepting) failures, and (2) Recognizing talents (i.e. give talents a chance).

Now there is one weird (and toothy) machine, "Spike Wheel Applicator" is used for fertilization.

Now, here is one weird (and tooth) machine, “Spike Wheel Applicator” is used for fertilization.

As I mentioned in the previous post, how do we define “failures?” What are acceptable failures? And what are the “stupid” ones that ought to be punished or censured? (John Cleese, in a speech referenced in my 4/14/2013 post, suggested “spelling ‘rabbit’ with three M’s” as an example of a failure that meets the stupid bar.) And for how long should we allow failures to keep piling up? Few managers or CEOs have the strength or the vision to live in such an uncertain environment.

Talent comes in all shapes, sizes, colors or educational backgrounds. The usual “selection committee,” which haunts the selection of candidates for professional ranks, is more than likely to choke off the variances (see last post) and go for the impressive resumes, sparkling presentations, or energetic self-promoters. (Sidebar: Ironically, the selected candidate often is the one who best meets the conventional expectations. Why not do a study on some successful introverts, especially in managerial ranks, and understand how they have overcome the conventional yardsticks? Introverts are not the best self-promoters.) To actually hire some of those people who make you uncomfortable – per Sutton’s weird idea #11&1/2 (on my list) – would require people on the “selection committee” to be willing to be weird themselves. But when the “selection committee” members converge on a conventional choice, how many managers would defy the committee, veto the conventional choice, and go for that “weird” candidate who might (or might not) bring about innovation?

A closer look at those "teeth."

A closer look at those “teeth.”

Most management responsibilities actually involve imperfectly defined tasks, messy emotions, wide ranges of personalities, or tangled relationships. These grey zones require the ability to appreciate nuanced dynamics and make judgment calls, more than methodical plodding, planning, and execution. But these days, we really don’t allow people to make judgment calls. We “create” procedures for every task and hide behind “due processes.” So innovation and creativity fly in the face of conventional managerial practices. Sutton suggests that there should be no superstar, such as “employee of the month,” and punishing “inaction” but rewarding “failures.” Allowing an employee to sleep under the desk would be beyond “weird” for the majority of managers.

None of what’s listed as “weird” in Sutton’s book is impossible to do. He certainly cites enough examples to make me feel almost hopeful. And he definitely would disabuse the notion that one can attain some of his principles and goals just by happening to read his book, agreeing with his teaching, and immediately acting upon it. It’s an easy-read-but-hard-to-act-on book. In the end, I still yearn for something more fundamental and perhaps philosophical that can be used to build a foundation for innovation. Ever since management as a profession was created, e.g. Frederick Taylor’s “scientific management,” organizational life and operation have grown ever more linear. Do A, B, & C then, and you will get X, Y, & Z. Yet, the creative and innovative processes have not changed much since time immemorial; they’re messy circulatory processes full of unknowns, the unexpected, accidents (good and bad), and frequent unproductive periods. It’s both risky and exciting; it’s paradoxical in nature.

So, for managers who cannot tolerate paradoxes, I would say, “Be content with flat performance, mediocre profits, and a conventional personnel pool with which to work.” As for those who would like exciting breakthroughs every so often, think about how to foster a culture in which give-and-take is standard operating procedure, trust is emphasized, playfulness is encouraged, and failures are permitted. Creativity starts with an attitude and a philosophy.

Till next time,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

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Recommendation Letters For What They Really Are – Self-Promotion & Self-Protection

Like many many things in our lives, once a practice adds a positive sheen or serves a useful purpose, it becomes a fad, which in turn becomes an end in itself. “Recommendation letters” is one such practice. It has become absurdity onto itself…not all the time, but often enough.

What is the added value of a recommendation letter? Does it really offer more genuine information about the candidate than the candidate’s own track record would indicate? Are half the recommendation letters below average, as half the candidates must be? Have there been studies comparing the impact of recommendation letters against the candidate’s ultimate academic or job performance?

At 13,000+ ft, not for the weak kneed.

At 13,000+ ft, not for the weak kneed.

For candidates in certain professions, the higher up the promotional ladder the more elaborate the application package becomes. Some positions require recommendation letters from multiple outside sources. And the higher the professional rank of the promotion, the fewer the outside professionals whose recommendations will “really matter.” Guess what? Those highly sought-after professionals are terribly busy in their own organizations and networks, and while sympathetic they just don’t have the time to compose a letter telling the other organization how good that organization’s own personnel really are. How often is the practice “Please draft a letter for me” resorted to? And what counterproductive biases enter into the decision process? Marketing oneself seems natural to extroverts, salespeople, and many Americans, but how about everyone else?

I have known one person, who upon completing such a promotional package for herself (and deeply frustrated that her home organization put her through this nightmare for the promotion she had already earned) realized that she might as well distribute this package to apply for other jobs. She did, and she switched jobs. Was that what her home organization really wanted?

And how often do reviewers, for hiring or for promotion, pay more attention to the reputation of the person writing the letter than to the letter itself? I’ve known another person, world-famous in his field, who made a practice of handwriting recommendation letters for his students. Did such handwritten letters have more influence on their recipients than the identical information sent in an email would have? (Anecdotally they seemed to, and how is that not scary?)

What’s more, if the candidate later performs much below expectations (as most employees do a fraction of the time and a fraction of employees do most of the time), we can always use the cover that “hey, so and so thought he was really good.” To what extent do these recommendation letters vary profoundly… and so, what value do they really serve? Cynical? Tell me otherwise.

What I am driving at is this: Due process has its merits, but when we go through the process only for the sake of the process, we don’t just delegate anymore; we abdicate our responsibilities. If I was tasked to hire or promote someone, it means others want my judgment. Judgement, not formality or formula. I’d examine the candidate’s record carefully and interview the candidate accordingly, with quality questions. I’d pick up the phone and call a few people who know the candidate.

Hiring and promoting are more art than science; ultimately, it comes down to making a judgment call, yet we instead hide behind process hoping that yields a better hire or justifiable promotion. We seem to have lost our trust in judgment, our own and others’. The reason for that is a different topic and a lot more complicated…so I keep writing on these issues.

Till next issue,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

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Adopting Power Posture To Feel Powerful, Yet Power Saps Empathy…

“Fake it till you make it.”  Whether we like “faking” or not, whether we believe this sentiment or not, and whether we want to adopt such “principle” or not, according to Amy Cuddy’s research, a powerful body language can help us grow our confidence, while also changing others’ perceptions of us

Amy Cuddy is a professor at the Harvard Business School.  Both her personal journey and research interests have led her to study the relationships between our nonverbal language, performance, and confidence.  As an “audience,” we respond unfavorably to someone hunched over, wrapping himself with his arms, and looking down – making himself appear smaller than he really is.  Conversely, we perceive someone standing like wonder woman, hands on hips, legs slightly apart, and with steady gaze – spreading out to make her look bigger — as a confident person.

Cuddy’s and her colleagues’ research is not based on only subjective judgment.  Here is the setup of their study.  Each “performer” stands in a small room adopting a certain posture, powerful or weak, for two minutes.  She and her research team measure the testosterone and cortisol levels in the “performer’s” saliva.  The researchers find that there are significant differences in the hormones before and after the two minutes.  At the end of “power” posture, the performer’s saliva indicates a much stronger testosterone.  In contrast, after holding the “weak” posture, the cortisol level is much higher.

Definitely a "weak" posture.

Definitely a “weak” posture.

In her TED talk, professor Cuddy did not encourage people to just fake their confidence for the sake of appearances.  Instead, she encouraged people to rely on positive posture to grow the self-confidence that they deserve.  Of course, those who appear weak most likely don’t think that they deserve attention or praise.  “Feeling like a fraud” probably applies to more of us than we realize.  However, Professor Cuddy would argue that we should give ourselves a chance to at least find out if we do deserve some praise.  And the best way to find out is by acting “as if.”  Just take two minutes in your office, in a bathroom, in a car, or wherever you can find the privacy to practice that “power” posture before a meeting or a presentation.  What does one have to lose?  If the praise resulting from this 2-minute positive posture still doesn’t feel “right,” that would lead to different considerations and examinations.

When Ms. Cuddy sustained a brain injury in a car accident shortly before starting college, she was distraught to find that she was no longer “smart” and many discouraged her to go on to college.  She eventually got her undergraduate degree, which took her four years longer than her cohort.  She went on to Princeton for her graduate degree.  It was there, at the beginning of her graduate program, that her advisor pushed her to “fake it till you make it.”  And now she’s a professor at Harvard.  So, she encourages some of her quieter students who do not feel confident to speak up in classes.  (Susan Cain has much to say about “forcing” such participation norm on introverts.)  Cuddy senses her quiet students’ “feeling like a fraud,” exactly how she felt for the longest time.  With her encouragement to “fake it till you make it,” some students have managed to shine as a result.

In a way, many introverts know the game of “faking it till you make it” very well.  That’s how they have adapted themselves to the extrovert-dominated world.  So, here is a conundrum:  How do we know what really goes on in a quiet person’s head?  Do all quiet people lack confidence?  And why do we always need to appear confidently?

Good posture is important for skiing well and confidently.

Good posture is important for skiing well and confidently.

Another interesting puzzle for the posture-power dimension is the issue of empathy.  A few months ago, I posted an entry on power and empathy.  According to that study, based on neuroscience, powerful people are less empathetic.  Yet, here we have professor Cuddy whose own journey had led her to occupy a seat in a powerful institute, the Harvard Business School.  Along the way, she has learned to let go of that “feeling like a fraud” and become more confident, believing in her own power. Yet, she empathizes with those students exhibiting signs of “feeling like a fraud.”  A paradox?  Certainly worthy of more study.

Personally, I think there are differences between being powerful and being confident.  A “real” fake, faking for the sake of faking, cannot lead to sustainable confidence.  “Faking it till making it” may lead to some real confidence, but we need a series of such “fakes” to produce genuine confidence.  More importantly, not all confident people want to have power.  And many powerful people lack confidence.  In fact, it’s quite often that we find those in the positions of power to be terribly insecure.  Yet, they certainly fake appearing confident.  If I were still a graduate student, these would be fascinating areas to research.

What’s your strategy in building your confidence?  Till next time,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

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Some Sobering Points Regarding “Wildly Successful People”

I often get impatient with my own social scientist’s penchant for “it all depends…”  But seriously, how do you define “success” in your profession?  And is that definition truly applicable to you yourself?  Does this definition change with times?

My kind of success.

My kind of success.

One of the articles on “LinkedIn,” yet another social network, titled The 5 Traits of Wildly Successful People” caught my attention.  The author starts with the premise that hard work alone is insufficient to lead to success.  From his research on some “wildly successful people,” he identifies five traits (my interpretations in parentheses):

1.  Chase the School Bus (Determination).

Sugar Ray Leonard did not ride the school bus with his siblings; he ran after it.

2.  Stray from the Pack (Deviate from the norm).

By following trends, a business is likely to just coast along at the survival level.  So, Tim Ferriss, owner of an online supplier of sport nutrition products, demanded prepayment for shipments instead of following the industry practice of receiving payment 12 months after shipment.

3.  Create Corkboards (Assemble Facts/Data).

Peter Guber, former CEO of Sony, started his career by paying attention to the documented facts of industry talent instead of relying on word of mouth and connections.  He created corkboards detailing factual data on talents to be considered, in his office.

4.  Get on “Qi Time” (Squeezing More Time out of 24 hours).

Mr. Qi Lu, of Microsoft, was dismayed with “wasting” time on sleep.  He wanted more time to read and learn.  Mastering qi gong, a technique combining breathing exercises and meditation to regulate one’s body, Mr. Lu trained his body to sleep only four hours a day.

5.  Play the People Game (Networking).

Steven Spielberg placed a premium on cultivating relationships with directors and stars in Hollywood…since his college days beginning at 19.  He arranged his class schedule around his meeting times with movers and shakers.

By themselves, each of these traits has some merit, except #4 which I will come to later.  However, just simply following any or even all of them doesn’t automatically lead to success. I think it is axiomatic to say that by not doing/acquiring any of these traits, one is certain to not succeed.  But ultimately, the key question is:  How, and when, do I know that I am not on a fool’s errand?  In other words, I can strongly believe in my goal and I can pursue it doggedly for years, but at what point does it become a quixotic pursuit?  “Taking risks” does not mean doing something headlong without care; it still requires forethought.

Firey and wild sky.

Firey and wild sky.

As for breaking the norms, I am all for the general principle.  However, there is an art to being a deviant:  you can’t be too deviant. Dan Pallota, former CEO of TeamWorks, achieved wild success in raising an unprecedented amount of money for charity causes by breaking norms, and he got burned eventually.

Networking is one of the crucial traits in any entrepreneurial undertaking, but not necessarily for all professions.  Besides, are introverts doomed to be left out of the “wildly successful” league?  Furthermore, Mr. Spielberg lived in a different era and had a different social background.  I am sure these days if any Joe or Mary approaches a big-name director or movie star to do lunch (which was one of Mr. Spielberg’s aims), s/he is either blocked by the gorilla guards or hauled off for suspicious behavior.

As for Mr. Lu’s Qi Gongi, literally, more power to him.  However, I consider his practice a bit extreme and his view myopic.  To consider sleep a waste of time?  And he’s from the culture that introduced us to Ying-Yang dynamics!  Sleep and rest recharge us to make our wakeful activities more effective.  Yes, if he can get away with 4 hours of sleep a night, good for him.  But to regard sleep time as a waste? Yes, yes, sometimes, we wish we could have more wakeful hours, but not on an everyday basis, nor on a long-term basis.

Listicles tend to make me batty.  Isolated traits may inform us, but none of these traits is definitive.  I prefer a different take on striving for accomplishment (same as “success?”):  “When you want to get good at something, how you spend your time practicing is far more important than the amount of time you spend. … Regular practice simply isn’t enough. To improve, we must watch ourselves fail, and learn from our mistakes.”  — from psychologist, Anders Ericsson, Florida State University.

What are some of your examples of “wildly successful people?”  Till next time,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

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Feeling Threatened By Creative Ideas?

Whenever I propose that people, of all ranks, take some time to reflect, to chill, to converse with children, to play, or for heaven’s sake, to eat a lunch without reading  memos or emails, I know how difficult it is to actually do any of these activities.  The people at the lower rank can’t do so comfortably without the ‘permission’ of management or the safety-in-numbers provided by colleagues.  If the proposal comes from the people in the positions of authority, some of these managers may feel as if they are imposing yet another “activity” (even if it’s just for fun and relaxation) onto their direct reports who have already exhausted their discretionary time.  Such is organizational life these days.  But the paradox of life is that the more you think you can’t do something outside of the regular domain, that’s precisely when you really need to engage in something not directly or wholly related to work.

Aberration, playfulness, or exploration into the unexpected terrain…these are the bedrocks for creativity and innovation.  But…

The success/failure of creative and innovative measures in organizations are all related to implementation, or the lack of it.  It’s a form of the Knowing-Doing Gap to which I referred in my earlier post.  To begin with, creative and innovative ideas signal potential changes which are generally viewed with skepticism at best and downright hostility at worst.  However, those who are directly responsible for generating the new ideas and/or pushing for the implementation do not themselves experience skepticism or hostility (toward the validity of such an idea).  This provides one glaring clue:  Involve as many people in the changing process as early as possible.

Ideas machine

Ideas machine (Photo credit: yesyesnono)

Second, creative and innovative ideas are anathema to organizations which are, at their core, about orders, procedures, rules, predictability, etc.  Just putting the words “creativity/innovation” in the organization’s mission statement means zilch; it’s just paying lip services.

But more importantly, we need to ask some basic questions:  Do we really know how to recognize a creative/innovative idea when someone presents it to us?  Is there a framework to assess such potential idea(s)?  If it’s in the scientific or technical arena, there may be more guidelines and signposts by which to judge the idea and the consequences of its implementation.  But if it’s in the managerial domain of personnel, relationships, emotional assessments, etc., that is much harder to assess.

Markus Baer in a recently published study, “Putting Creativity to Work:  The Implementation of creative ideas in organizations” (Academy of Management Journal, 2012, vol. 55, No.5, 1102-1119) provides some insightful analysis of why creative ideas are rarely implemented and suggests some pathways to achieve more frequent implementation.

Putting Baer’s points plainly, managers are generally reluctant to implement potentially creative ideas because that would upset the routines of production.   And managers are responsible for production output, or so we believe.  What’s more, if the idea-bearers themselves do not push the ideas further for implementation, their ideas will remain just intriguing thoughts on paper.

Therefore, for creative and innovative ideas to blossom into fruition, the idea-bearer needs to be motivated and to mobilize her/his social network toward implementation.  Further, the idea-bearer needs to especially cultivate network ties who not only will buy in the value of the idea but have the authority and power to advance such an idea for implementation.  Once an innovative/a creative idea is conceived –by no means a small matter – the pathway to implementation is fraught with typical political maneuvering.  Those who are good at creating ideas are not necessarily equipped with political acumen or social skills for such maneuvering.  However, a highly motivated individual with an innovative idea still can find a champion or two to push for implementation.  Of course, even finding a champion requires powerful convincing and persuasion, not a small task either.

A social network diagram

A social network diagram (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In scientific organizations, many idea-bearers are introverts, who while motivated may not be comfortable with networking.  This does not mean it’s hopeless for them; they can rely on writing as a persuasive tool and focus on only a handful of people who are in positions of power to help implement their ideas.

In other words, implementation process is boring and messy and yet terribly and utterly necessary and essential to realize a creative idea.

And all this doesn’t address the forces that oppose potentially creative and innovative ideas.   What would some people of authority and power do when faced  with “perceived threats” posed by innovation/creativity.  After all, to some, changes mean upsetting the status (quo).

In sum, when a creative/innovative idea occurs, it cannot be just about the idea-bearer’s motivation and networking ability in implementing the idea.  For every action, there is a reaction, or counter-action.  The idea-bearer and her network ties have to be keenly aware of not just the usual obstacles but also the opposition of “no.”

But finally, I still go back to those basic questions:  Do we know how to recognize a creative/an innovative idea? Enough to make sustained pushes?  Do you know how?  Please share.

Till next time,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

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