In an interesting, and somewhat controversial post, Paul Currant provided a list of reasons why creativity does not belong in the workplace.
I read that article, and my immediate reaction was visceral disagreement. Of course you need creativity! However, his focus was really more on the importance of execution, and not sacrificing that solely for creativity. We all know of startups that are full of highly creative types, have an amazing idea, but no idea how to execute on that idea, build a working product, understand customer needs, or sell. Some of these companies still manage to attract significant capital, but sooner or later, are forced to focus on execution, or end up imploding.
Here’s my response to some of the points raised in the article:
1. Focus brainstorming – Allow for periods where wild and crazy ideas can be discussed, without shooting them down. That shouldn’t be what happens 8 hours a day, but setting aside a fixed period of time for completely open discussions where anything is on the table can lead to kernels of ideas with real market potential.
2. Improve, don’t copy – Many stores open locations near their competitors, in order to capitalize on the market research the competitor did for them. That’s fine for the second and third tier players. But if you really want to rise above, you can’t just copy. That doesn’t mean you throw out all conventional wisdom, ignore existing products, and try something diametrically opposite from what has been done before. While that can lead to a facebook, it’s much more likely to lead to a pets.com. Instead, overtake your competition by commoditizing what they do well, and introducing improvements with high barriers of entry.
3. Diversify your marketing strategy – You shouldn’t bet the farm on a completely new marketing strategy. But you risk missing out on strategies others haven’t thought of if you don’t at least allocate part of your marketing budget towards something different every now and then.
4. Learn from failure. It may be a cliche that “if you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough,” but it’s the truth. As an company that constantly is writing proposals, we approach some proposals with very risky ideas. In some cases, that innovation is recognized and rewarded, and in other cases, the proposal is rejected in favor of someone with a more traditional approach. If I punished the folks who wrote the innovative proposals, they wouldn’t be working with me very long.
There has to be consequences for significant failure, for not learning from mistakes, for not focusing on execution, for not hitting goals and benchmarks. However, most successful companies that I am aware of do an outstanding job of balancing creativity and execution. And doing so isn’t rocket science. It’s about moderation, not being completely closed minded, and trusting your people.