Creativity – why the UK Foreign Office has very little

Yesterday a huge story hit the news stands here in the UK. Within the Foreign Office a brainstorming session was held to  do some ‘blue sky thinking’ around things that should form part of the Pope’s forthcoming visit to the UK. As with all good idea generation sessions everything was recorded and the results marked not to be distributed externally. Of course, some of the ideas upset one or two people who took it upon themselves to make the document public. The BBC article can be read in its entirety by clicking here.

This whole sorry episode highlights some DOs and DONTs for generating ideas:

  • DO make sure that your objectives are clear at the start, that way you will not be left defending your motives afterwards.
  • DONT use any form of censorship, not even telling people to keep quiet. They won’t. Get people to buy  in to secrecy if this is needed in a commercial environment. If they spill the beans they are breaking the confidence of their peers and colleagues.
  • DO invite appropriate people.
  • DO make sure that brainstorming is not the whole process, some filtering has to take place to weed out the wacky ideas.
  • DO publish the results yourself, others may well try to take things out of context.
  • DONT be naive. In any political (in the true sense, not just government) environment there will be points scoring. Some people will go to extreme efforts to sabotage yours!

… and finally please do persevere. I’m sure that the Junior Official within the Foreign Office who has now ‘been moved to other duties’ did a good job and once the wacky ideas had been thrown away the Pope may very well have had some great events organised to complement the obligatory masses and baby blessings. A great opportunity missed perhaps? In the future people will be afraid to try new things so it could be a case of ‘If you do what you have always done, the you will get what you have always got’.

So please try and be a little different, but be careful!

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Creative4business Promotional Video

I have just finished creating this short (only 1 min 20 sec) promotional video and will be uploading it to the website shortly. All my contacts who have seen it have said “get it into cyberspace now” so here it is. The music features the Kalimba and was heavily influenced by past visits to Latin America and Africa. It contains some nice notes but only if you listen with reasonable speakers! Higher quality versions are available offline.

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The Creativity Detox Diet

My view of an organisation that exhibits creative or innovative behaviour is organic and focuses on people. It therefore seems a good idea to use metaphors that relate to the wellbeing and performance of people themselves. So what does make us feel good or energised and what is not so good? What about a creativity detox diet?

How about a detox by way of a change in diet (as opposed to some of the unpleasant practices that exist at health spas)? As human beings we tend to feel sluggish when we have drunk too much alcohol or coffee or not enough water. We are told to eat foods high in fibre and cut out refined sugars and saturated fats. Lastly we can all eat less.

How does this relate to our organisations? Our organisations can feel sluggish and stodgy when:

  • We all keep doing exactly the same day in and day out
  • Bosses spend much of their time micromanaging and dictatorial
  • Knowledge and opinions are not canvassed or allowed
  • Lack of transparency cause workers to ask ‘why bother’

… and how about having too much of the things that are bad for us:

  • Too many initiatives and change programmes
  • Over reliance on outside consultants
  • Analysis paralysis i.e. analysing rather than doing
  • Fear of making mistakes so we ‘do not do’
  • No strong vision or commitment (no diet plan)
  • No shared responsibility (no commitment to our diet)

Readers can take this metaphor as far as they like, as with most things it is simply another way of looking at our organisations to find new and different solutions to our problems.

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Yes There Is Hope – Public Sector Innovation

TV viewers here in Wales, UK may seen a documentary entitled ‘Ban The Boss’. It was made in conjunction with Dr Paul Thomas at the University of Glamorgan. The title was a little sensationalist to say the least, but the programme itself was very interesting. Following my article last month on what is wrong with public sector innovation I thought it right to shine some light on how things could be fixed.

Despite the fears of those involved the idea was not to cause anarchy or make large numbers of people redundant but simply to make the changes necessary to create an organisational form that is relevant for the future. The programme focused on two main areas of Blaenau Gwent Council, Environmental Services (refuse collection) and Transport Services. Those who are involved in change know that there are essentially two options, top down and bottom up. In large inflexible organisations change orchestrated from the top is slow that it is ineffective. In the public sector the changes often take longer than the time for which key people are in post, making the whole effort grind to a halt.

Dr Thomas went into each department and effectively banned all middle and senior management from their posts for a week. The idea was that the front line workers could organise themselves. As you can imagine, there were many different types of reaction. The bosses felt aggrieved, workers were suspicious and in some cases workers were wondering who would make the decisions. After a week workers were asked to vote to find out if they wanted their bosses back. Some were invited back but not in their original capacity but nobody was made redundant although some workers chose to leave of their own accord.

It was clear to see that in the cases where workers had made the leap, their workplaces were happier and more efficient places to work with the flexibility to take on the challenges of the future. Rather like pouring concrete when building or filling a vessel with water, people and organisations find their own ‘levels’ and the previous structures were ineffective but were actually sapping the organisation of energy by just maintaining them.

The benefits were greater efficiency, less red tape and increased motivation and performance to name a few. But what were the main factors that caused this to succeed?

  • Peer pressure and equity theory causing a waterfall effect
  • Simple demonstration that front line workers can organise themselves
  • Rapid introduction to the concept of shared ownership and responsibility
  • Sharing in the gains made
  • Commitment by those at the very top that jobs were safe
  • Transparency at all stages of the process
  • Constant availability of project personnel

Overall it was a tough process but one which appeared to be working and one which is highly recommended to the public sector both in the UK and elsewhere.

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