Even You Can Be Creative

Dec. 21, 2004
It takes manipulative skill. And practice.

Were living in an age of flighty fads and wacky ideas. We take snobbish delight in camouflaging common sense in pseudo-scientific management mumbo jumbo. And the worst perpetrators are self-anointed gurus promoting their particular brand of voodoo under some razzle-dazzle moniker like: "agility management," "one-minute management," or "take-it-or-leave-it management." Remember when the currently popular "marketing concept" was much more clearly defined as "the customer is always right" or when "reengineering your company" was called "adapting to inevitable change"? Remember when "downsizing your company" was merely "eliminating the fat"? "Reinventing the wheel" is a technique some management consultants use to keep the wheels of their own businesses turning. But whats new to them is often warmed-over hash to those of us who have been around awhile. It was Winston Churchill who said, "The farther backward you look, the farther forward you are likely to see." And it was Gen. George Patton who said, "Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity." It used to be that creative and innovative people were considered screwballs, lopsided thinkers who wore long beards and longer hair, berets, smocks, and canvas sneakers; walked bareheaded in the rain; practiced free love; and starved in garrets. Some time ago I learned that this stereotype was not only too narrow, but also untrue. Creativity is not the exclusive domain of the longhair, the egghead, the poet, the artist, or the writer. I learned that baldheaded people also carry creativity cards, that executives who wear gray flannel suits should not be barred from membership in the creative community, that engineers are highly creative, and that sales and marketing people are among the most creative workers. So are many chief executive officers. Creativity is the practice of taking ideas, things, and people and exposing them to new environments or forcing them into new configurations to solve problems, to lead and develop people, to invent new products, to write beautiful music or inspired novels, and to run companies. People are not born creative. They train themselves to be creative. It requires no unique talent. It takes manipulative skill. And practice. You can be creative if you want to be and if you work at it. You merely take something, no matter what it happens to be, and put it through a series of exercises: stretch it, shrink it, turn it upside down or inside out, cut it in half, multiply it, change its shape, add it to something else, challenge it in some different way, and voila, you will create something new out of something old. The bigger your mental storehouse of creative junk -- ideas, things, and people -- the more creative you will be, and the more successful. The most valuable lesson a chief executive can learn about creativity is that it flourishes in a business environment that is conducive to creative thought and action. And thats why your participation is so important. The most creative thing any CEO can do for his or her company is to create a climate in which creativity can grow, be nurtured, and be rewarded. Newtons discovery of gravity started with an apple. Watts steam engine resulted from watching his mothers teakettle. Archimedes jumped from his bathtub shouting, "Eureka!" -- thats where he discovered the principle of water displacement, which he used to determine if the kings crown was actually made of pure gold. Pythagoras discovered the principle of the notes on a musical scale when he heard the sounds of a blacksmiths hammer hitting an anvil. Leonardo da Vinci owed his discovery of the wave effects of sound to a distant church bell -- it rang at the same time he threw a stone into a pond; the water rippled and he made the connection. When the chief executive of a company is the companys chief proponent and its brainstorming facilitator, that companys creativity quotient will be high. And the rewards from innovation will be great. If you will excuse a personal note, I started my adventures in creativity when I was a youngster of four. Having watched my mother plant seeds to grow flowers, I decided to plant chicken feathers to grow chickens. I have been thinking "outside the box" ever since. Sal F. Marino is former CEO of Penton Publishing Inc. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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