Many people have little understanding of the creative process. They try to issue orders to stimulate, put time limits on, or insist that the creative process conform to preconceived notions. The fact is, the better you are at identifying creative blocks the easier it is to remove them.
Management’s responsibility then is to ensure that employees have the resources they need to do their job and that creative blocks inhibiting their progress—such as keeping people in the dark, dictating creativity, setting unrealistic time frames, and procrastination—are torn down.
Creative Block: Keeping People in the Dark
“Why do you have to know what we are doing? All I want are a few ideas.” How can someone come up with ideas in a vacuum? The time you invest providing background information often helps ensure that the ideas developed are consistent with your organization’s overall strategy. Moreover, such information often becomes a catalyst for new ideas.
“It’s just not right. I can’t tell you why, but I just don’t like it.” Managers who don’t take the time to evaluate an idea and provide constructive feedback (rather than criticism) will be disappointed when employees make the same errors again.
“I know exactly what I want, but can’t explain it. When I see it, though, I’ll tell you.” The inability to provide direction or to verbalize your expectations sets your employees up for failure. Perhaps you need to spend more time figuring out what you want before requesting assistance.
Managers often turn to a dictatorial style of management out of fear that they will lose control by providing too much latitude. Such managers maintain tight control to avoid having anyone “mess up.” They have lost sight of the conviction that if you believe in your people, they will believe in themselves.
Creative Block: Dictatorships
“Here’s my idea and how to execute it!” When you tell people not only what you want but dictate the process as well, people shift into automatic pilot, stop thinking about a better way to attack a problem, and execute the action as directed.
“Here’s my idea, what’s yours?” When managers present their ideas before allowing employees to present theirs, employees may hold back suggestions rather than insinuate that their bosses’ ideas are inferior. This places boundaries and parameters on employee thinking, discouraging independent thought.
“Don’t waste your time brainstorming, just come up with a great idea.” Many of the best ideas result from using one thought as a springboard to another. Furthermore, many innovations result from applying an idea from one industry or company to a completely different situation.
“What you came up with is okay, but let’s do it somewhat differently.” Don’t alter ideas by introducing subtle, meaningless changes in order to justify the time you spent reviewing them. When employees know that their suggestions are appreciated and adopted, they work harder to implement them.
Management must resist the pressure to accept projects that have unrealistic deadlines and then force them onto their employees.
Creative Block: Unrealistic Time Frames
“It’s only one page. It shouldn’t take more than an hour to complete.” You can’t put a timetable on creativity. Doing so will result in ideas that are not fully developed and frustrate employees who hand in their work but have second thoughts about their efforts the next day.
“I know there’s no reason to have it tomorrow, but I want it then anyway.” Some managers believe they must exert pressure to force creativity, that people respond to pressure with inspired breakthroughs. Although people often do rise to an occasion, pressure or fear is a short-term approach that doesn’t always yield results. Furthermore, if you cry wolf too often, when you really need something extra from your employees, they won’t have it to give to you.
Today’s competitive environment places a premium on speed. That is why procrastination creates problems at every turn.
Creative Block: Procrastination
“We really do want suggestions. It’s not our fault if we’re too busy to act on them.” In many organizations, employees are asked for suggestions and told that management will get back to them upon review—but no one ever does. Employees begin to assume no one cares, so they stop trying. This problem is compounded when managers are so overextended that they view a new idea as an annoyance, an attitude that is “communicated” to employees.
“I think we’ve got it now. I only have minor corrections to the thirteenth draft.” Some managers change things just for the sake of changing them. Others make changes because proper attention was never given to an earlier draft.
“Thanks for the information. Our committee meets in a few weeks. We’ll decide whether to go ahead with it then.” Delays cause a loss of momentum.
Remember, just as capital equipment must be properly maintained and repaired to protect its value, creativity –– an organizations greatest natural resource –– must be nurtured if it is to provide the greatest benefits. Smash through your creative blocks today.
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Susan Mazza says
Great guidance for managers/leaders Frank.
Re “It’s only one page, it shouldn’t take you more than an hour to complete” It is often much harder to write 1 page than 10! Simplicity takes work. Often managers want someone to give them the “short” version to make things efficient for them. I am a fan of developing the discipline to get to the point. Sometimes people will need help from you to teach them how to do that. The desire for efficient use of your time as a manager should never outweigh your responsibility to support your people in becoming more effective.
Frank Sonnenberg says
Great point Sue.
Some people “weigh” recommendations to determine their value. I prefer quality over quantity. Simplicity forces you to refine your point to its essence. Putting a time frame on coming up with a great idea stifles creativity. Yes…”Simplicity takes work.”
Thanks for your thoughts and for furthering the conversation.