Saturday, January 22, 2011

Your Creativity is Scary!

Your creativity is scary.  At least it is to the company where you work.

Outwardly, most companies try to encourage creativity. They talk about it in meetings and celebrate it in employee newsletters.  They post suggestion boxes in the break rooms and have ideas@yourcompany email addresses. But secretly, the management of most companies are genuinely frightened by real creativity.

They are frightened with good reason.  Most successful companies are successful because they have a business formula that works. Years or decades of company experience and culture teach that all will be well as long as the formula is followed.  When your idea challenges the company’s formula, it makes people very uncomfortable.

Even though your company doesn’t want your creativity, it needs your creativity.  Markets now evolve quickly and customer expectations can shift overnight.  The formula which worked in the past may no longer work today or in the future. Without new and creative business models, your company will eventually die.

The paradox of needing, but not wanting, fresh ideas feels like battery acid for the soul of the creative individual. How do you stay enthusiastic when everything seems to move so slowly and all of your ideas are viewed with suspicion or derision.

One approach is what Gordon MacKenzie calls “Orbiting the Giant Hairball.”  In his book of the same name, MacKenzie explains that organizations are like a giant, densely matted hairball. When you are caught in the hairball, movement is stifled and progress is impossible.  Find a way to launch yourself out of the hairball and you can operate with enough autonomy to accomplish great things.  However, the gravitational pull of the hairball pulls you into an orbit which helps keep your ideas and progress in sync with the company mission.

With a sense of irony reminiscent of a Douglas Adams or a Scott Adams and the wisdom of a Zen master, MacKenzie is as entertaining as he is insightful. Orbiting the Giant Hairball is essential reading for anyone working within or leading in a corporate environment.

Find a way to rise above formulaic performance your company expects and provide the innovation it needs. Your sanity and the company’s future depend upon it.


Link to an interview with Gordon MacKenzie in Fast Company:

Thoughts on Orbiting the Giant Hairball from Luke Wroblewski: