A Liquid Leader Nurtures
a Creative Culture
Take a look at the companies that still cling to old methods of controlling information; even when knowledge sharing is integral to their success, they just can’t seem to let go. Centralizing and micromanaging your talent stagnates innovative breakthroughs and creates bottlenecks. Waiting for one person to approve hundreds of ideas will not only destroy a company’s ability to get profitable products to market, it will also repel the very people who come up with these ideas.
The Information Age is about utilizing technology and people in order to go faster. Eliminating the bottlenecks opens a floodgate of ideas and speeds up the amount of products and services you get to market.
Speed starts with decentralizing decision making while giving your talent the internal structure for their voice to be heard. It’s about building a creative environment where ideas can flow.
Creativity, however, is not always pretty. If you have ever worked in a creative environment, you know what I am talking about. Sometimes it’s painful, and most of the time it pushes the team to exhaustion. Yet the energy it unleashes is contagious, and at the end of the day, it is also fun. Yes, believe it or not, fun.
Intensely intelligent companies such as Microsoft are like futuristic idea farms, with a very self-managed structure, even if it’s not obvious to an outsider. Trust me on this one: Starting with MIT graduates and then mixing in the freedom to think outside of the box will get you some amazing ideas. Smart people getting creative? Sounds like fun to me.
If you’re following the 2nd Law, you’ve already enabled an environment in which people can tell the truth without penalty. To that, add the freedom to present even the silliest idea. An environment of safety plus creative freedom is what defines some of the best companies in the world. Many companies are adopting flextime—where an employee is free to choose when and where they work on company projects and personal projects, or when to take time off and make it up later. Self-directed time management seems to work best.
Now, these management ideas may sound silly to a traditional management expert, but people today are doing more complicated and sophisticated problem solving in their work. To get the job done, many companies have encouraged these types of work methods because they’ve discovered that autonomous work environments inspire engagement from their work- force. Groundbreaking ideas don’t always strike when the sun is up. This is how complex high-end work gets done best—when people are given the freedom to work whenever and wherever. As long as they meet their deadlines, what do you care how it gets done?
Whether you like it or not, nine-to-five is over.
Remember, Post-it Notes started as a silly idea. And when you think about it, nearly all the greatest inventions in the world were discovered this same way—by accident. X-rays, Play-Doh, VELCRO, penicillin, and Viagra were all accidents that became industries. Creating an environment that lights the creative fire requires you to be encouraging of such happy accidents. Innovation cannot thrive in environments where anxiety is too high; but in environments where anxiety is low, creativity is high. Fragile thoughts need time to survive and thrive.
Another thing to remember is that creativity is not just for artists. Great ideas come from software developers, executives, IT professionals, administrative assistants, production managers, analysts, and programmers. Your job is to create a supportive environment for all of these per- sons. How many times has your human resources department hired an incredibly talented individual only to have them get lost in your organization? Supporting and integrating new talent into an organization is the hallmark of a cutting-edge company. Get your team members to bring new hires into the fold, and encourage them to contribute.
The primary job for leadership is to see a bigger picture—where new creative ideas can invent dynamic new industries or make the organization an explosive leader in an already existing one.
It’s easy to imagine the creative environments inside companies like Pixar, Herman Miller, Four Seasons Hotels, or Adobe Systems—after all, they do “creative” for a living. But how about companies like Genentech, Devon Energy, or Whole Foods Market? It might not be that easy to see how creative those companies are, yet creativity is exactly why they lead their markets.
Again, how do you build not just a safe and trusting workplace but also a creative workplace? Look at how NASA was able to build their unmanned Mars probes—now that is an intensely creative work environment. Intense people from multiple disciplines can and do create the impossible every day, thanks to strong leadership, best practices, and a deliberately amorphous structure for sharing knowledge. It’s not easy, and sometimes it may be downright ugly—but the quality of the work becomes the center of a great work environment. In these environments, each and every member respects one another’s contributions—no matter what their background may be—and the results are consistently groundbreaking advances and innovative ideas.
The right chemistry between people cannot be planned, any more than you can predict the success of a TV series such as Sex and the City, Lost, or Glee or books such as the Harry Potter and Twilight series. Runaway ideas that capture our hearts and our imagination need room to take root . . . and for the target audience to fall in love with the idea. Just look at the Chuck Norris Internet phenomenon. Who could have planned that? Even Chuck himself is surprised by it all.
And that is Job One for you: Create an intense culture where raw, exciting, innovative ideas have a chance to incubate. When such an environment is nurtured, it becomes easier for accidental innovation to take place—and to carry through to the bottom line.
Don't forget to watch for happy accidents in your business sector...
Global Management Consultant
Millennial Expert, Cross Generational Leadership Development & Workforce Performance Strategies, Executive Coach
TEDX Speaker, Web pioneer and the author of the award-winning, bestseller Liquid Leadership: From Woodstock to Wikipedia, Brad is a former C-level executive of a publicly traded company that he cofounded that went from entrepreneurial start-up to IPO in three years; the first Dot Com Agency to go public on NASDAQ. His company K2 Design, experienced 425% hyper-growth, due in part to a unique management style that won his company the Arthur Andersen NY Enterprise Award for Best Practices in Fostering Innovation.
Today the world’s leading business publications seek out Brad’s insights on Millennials, and he has been featured in Forbes, The Huffington Post, New York Magazine, Inc., Advertising Age, The International Business Times, and The Hindu BusinessLine to name a few, along with television, radio and podcast appearances on CBS and other media outlets.
Brad's programs have transformed a new generation of business leaders, helping them maximize their corporate culture, expectations, productivity, and sales growth in The Information Age.
* 2011 Axiom Business Book silver medal winner in the leadership
* #1 Amazon Best-Selling Author
"I just had my mind blown..." - A.S., Vistage, New York
Liquid Leadership by Brad Szollose is available at all major bookstores and for Kindle, Nook, iPad and Sony ereaders. Internationally published in India and S. Korea.