Posts Tagged ‘Creative Thinking’

Is “can’t do” BAD? Is “can do” GOOD?

Friday,1 August, 2008

Thoughts on an upside-down world . . . . . . . . .

Are you, and others, seeing the ‘real you’, or just a mere reflection?

Surely it’s obvious that being bad at something will hold us back?

Yes, well – walking past a building whose roof was being repaired, a colleague turned to me to complain about the behaviour of the scaffold workers. “It’s obvious that if they do that it will be dangerous. Can’t they just see that . . . . . . . ?”

“But” I replied, “you’re assuming that they are endowed with sufficient imagination to predict what might happen in the future. Do you think that anyone with that amount of imagination, would want to work at that sort of height?”

My colleague had to admit that having a well developed imagination could be a problem for some jobs – in other words, being bad at something could be a benefit!

In the world of business management, some people lack either the analytical skills or the temperament to manage quantities of detail. This trait can result in them concentrating on the over-view, and then being seen to be ‘strategic’. And senior managers need to be strategic. Another example of when being bad at something could be a benefit!

And surely it’s obvious that being good at something will help our careers to advance?

Yes well – in years past, many people who were really good at their jobs were rarely given the chance to advance: they were called ‘secretaries’. They were so good at doing their job, (including ‘propping up’ their bosses), that they were rarely encouraged to break free and progress.

In the world of business management, those people who are skilled at handling detail can be similarly disadvantaged. Their skills can be seen as so valuable that they are not encouraged to develop. And because they are good at detail, it may also be assumed that they are incapable of strategic thinking – without ever being given the chance to prove otherwise.

If you want to break out of this, it’s worth working hard on the fact that ‘what got you to where you are now, might not be enough to get you to where you want to be’.

It can be important to think these things through – make sure that you, and others, can see the ‘real you’, rather than a mere reflection!

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Mistakes are GOOD! Well, sometimes . . . . . .

Friday,25 July, 2008

These days we’re always being encouraged to innovate – to do things differently and improve.

Sometimes when we try to do things differently, we make mistakes. It seems that making mistakes is an essential part of innovation.

Sometimes the mistakes can be better than our first intentions! In 1928 Alexander Fleming was working with a bacterial culture which became contaminated and died. This ‘mistake’ led to the discovery of penicillin, which has saved countless lives ever since.

But unfortunately, sometimes the mistakes just make things worse, and then we have to learn from our mistakes and try again – what used to be called ‘learning by trial and error’.

In these days of extended accountabilities and media spotlights, risk is invariably seen as bad.

But if we can’t make mistakes, won’t we expose ourselves to the biggest risk of all – the risk of reducing our capacity to innovate and improve?

If we can’t learn from making mistakes, are we making a rod for our own backs?

So why don’t companies come right out and say “It’s ok to make mistakes”?

Of course there would have to be safeguards, but how would you feel if your employer said it’s ok to make mistakes:

  • Provided they are honest mistakes, made with the best of intentions and not because you were just being sloppy or negligent;
  • Provided you take responsibility for your mistakes;
  • Provided you learn from your mistakes, taking steps to make sure you don’t make the same mistake again; and
  • Provided you help your colleagues learn from your mistakes, sharing your experience with them in order to reduce the risk of them ever making the same mistake that you made.

If your company had a ‘Mistakes Policy’ like that, would you feel supported, more able to innovate and improve?

If this wouldn’t work for you, what would you need?

Creativity CAN help business!

Friday,13 June, 2008

Window displays have been the traditional way in which retailers use creativity to attract customers, especially at Christmas.


This is a Parisian window display in a large department store, attracting families at Christmas time. And we can still be surprised at the use of creative thinking at other times of the year.

This is not a shoe shop, but a Chocolatier demonstrating skill.

And how might a plumber use a shop front to attract business?

You wouldn’t want to wear the boots and jacket in this shop window – they are made from lead, skilfully beaten to shape!

Creativity can also be applied to what is done, (not just what is on display).

When travelling in Scotland, we saw a variety of clothing stores selling items made locally and using local materials. Of these stores, one stood out from the rest. As well as having an excellent range, the staff circulated easily through the shop, offering browsers a cup of coffee or tea, with upbeat music (not ‘muzak’) in the background. The atmosphere was informal and friendly, and the spirit was generous – avoiding any hint of commercial desperation. The customers were having a good time because the staff were, and vice versa. Not an easy trick to pull off, but applying creative thinking was clearly making a difference to their business.

Did you hear the one about the hairdressing salon who had been encouraged to do something really different, just for the sake of it? At noon the next Friday, all the cutters put their scissors down, took one step back, and sang together “Bring Me Sunshine” (of Morecombe & Wise fame)! The following week their phone didn’t stop ringing, with people asking “Is that where you sang ‘Bring Me Sunshine’? Can I book an appointment please?” Not a bad return on ‘advertising’ that had cost nothing.

The key principle is that there’s nothing in any Job Description to say work can’t be fun – and fun unlocks creativity!

Creative thinking really can help business, in more ways than one.

Statistics, Evidence, and Creativity

Friday,23 May, 2008

Statistics can be dangerous, creating traps for the unwary.

For instance, even if I have my feet in the ‘fridge and my head in the oven, my average temperature might still be ok. But shouldn’t I be worried?

Representing these Russian dolls by their average height, would really miss the point.

And then there’s the matter of evidence, which is increasingly used to support the development of strategies, aims and policies. But surely, proper evidence is essential if we are to move organisations, businesses and society in the right direction, isn’t it? Well, yes and no!

After all, we should build our future on proper evidence wherever possible, but working with ‘evidence’ to determine strategic aims can also carry dangers. ‘Evidence’ needs to be intensely rational – so working with it will make use of the left, rational side of our brains. But it is likely that the best strategic aims will be developed when we access the right, creative side of our brains.

So having considered the evidence, we should engage in discussion and other visioning activity, so as to unleash our creative faculties. An excellent example of this approach, is the Derby Primary Care NHS Trust’s aim to save 2,000 lives in the next 10 years. Devised to meet the challenges thrown up by evidence, the strategic thought processes went well beyond just focusing on the (rational) ‘evidence’. The Trust’s aim is not only an example of creative thinking, but the resulting aim is also empowering – and therefore much more likely to achieve success! Using both sides of our brains really does make practical sense – the evidence clearly shows it . . . . . . . . . .

Spaces between . . . . . . .

Tuesday,29 April, 2008

Places are made as much by spaces between buildings, as they are made by the buildings themselves.

And the world of buildings has a parallel with the world of organisations and work disciplines.

The focus used to be on organisations, or work disciplines.

But over time, and with the benefit of new technology, most advances possible within organisations or within disciplines have already been achieved.

The future now lies in the spaces between organisations or disciplines. For example:

  • nano-technology is where physics, biology and chemistry meet;
  • sustainable regeneration is only possible if social, economic, environmental, and cultural issues are all advanced.

No one organisation can achieve the complexity required to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.

And therefore we must all become more adept at managing the spaces between, if we are to succeed.

This means, in practice:

  • enhanced partnership working within organisations, working between disciplines;

so as to build the skills and culture that will be needed:

  • to create the strong, lasting partnerships between organisations and ever more work disciplines, and across private, public and voluntary sectors.

[The photograph above is the space between two buildings in Nara, Japan. While only a few feet wide, the space is interesting and inviting in its own right – even though its ‘function’ is just to provide somewhere to wait while a table comes free in the adjacent Tea Room.]

Surprises can be good!

Tuesday,29 April, 2008

Looking at things from a different angle can be interesting.

And it can be fun as well!

Can Adults be Adults?

Sunday,27 April, 2008

In a supermarket in Hull I found a clear plastic sticky label stuck to the inside of a shoe.

The label read, in several languages, “Do not eat”.

There was nothing to say whether the exhortation “Do not eat” applied to the label, or to the shoe, or to everything in general including food.

Is it not reasonable to assume that, if we can understand what was meant by the label, we would not need it?

How much of the earth’s scarce resources are we now consuming because we are treating adults as if they were children?

In Ireland, vacant buildings carry a sign to say that they are dangerous, and that anyone entering does so without any legal redress against the owner. Reference is made to an Act of Parliament under which such a Notice can be displayed – presumably not in contravention of EU Laws.

Should we not be able to expect adults to behave as adults, taking responsibility for the consequences of our actions and inactions?

Lunar21 Launched on 21 April 08

Sunday,27 April, 2008

Derby is in the middle – not just in the middle of England, but also in the middle of a major transformation: perceptions of our city are being transformed (as we learn that the percentage of Derby’s workforce involved in High Technology Engineering is more than double that of Cambridge); and our city is undergoing a major physical transformation (including the recent opening of England’s largest shopping complex last year).

This puts Derby very much in the place where the past meets the future.

This is both exciting and confusing. To help us think differently about the future, City Growth (part of our Derby City Partnership) created Lunar21 – where issues can be the subject of debate, and where we can enjoy questions without feeling that there must be immediate answers.

On 21 April we launched Lunar21 with an Inaugural Debate, which feedback suggests was very well received.

Jonathan Wallis (Assistant Head of Museums for Derby Museums and Art Gallery), spoke of the original Lunar Society and its place in Derby Society, the Society being a group of 18th century Midlands’ business men – engineers, factory owners, entrepreneurs – who met to share ideas, always on an evening near the full moon so that they would be more able to find their way home afterwards. It was clear from his presentation that Derby’s Erasmus Darwin and others contributed greatly, and that Derby has a massive track record in innovation which goes back to the Lunar Society and beyond.

Lunar21 was then launched: as a Derby-based re-incarnation of the spirit of the Lunar Society – open to those who share curiosity, inquisitiveness and creativity – who want to meet, hear and ask questions that shed light on Derby’s place in the 21st Century.

Toby Barnes (Managing Director of Derby-based Pixel-Lab) then looked at recent innovations and how technology has altered society’s relationship with media, culture and institutions.

Ian McMillan (poet, raconteur and media pundit), concluded by offering his view of the issues from the perspective of the Arts.

Lively questions and contributions from the floor raised the issue whether technology is opening up new opportunities, or restricting chances for reflection and the development and application of values. How should we make the best use of our time in the future, in the face of so much choice?

How lucky to be you, and living now!

Friday,18 April, 2008

The chances of winning the Lottery have been said to be about 1 in 14million.

That’s the equivalent of throwing a dart and, by good luck, just happening to hit the right one millimetre square, out of the 14million one millimetre squares which would be on a piece of paper 3.5metres high (11’6″) by 4metres long (13’0″).

But that’s nothing compared to the chances of being you, and living now!

Since the beginning of humankind, it is likely that 100,000million people have lived or are living. And if you were going to be one of them, which one would it be? What’s to say you would be born now, rather in the Middle Ages with no dental care? Or perhaps in a war torn region of the world? Well the chances of being you, alive now, could be the equivalent of throwing a dart and, by good luck, just happening to hit ‘your’ one millimetre square out of the 100,000million one millimetre squares on a wall the size of about 10 football pitches.

By anybody’s reckoning, aren’t we really luck to be us, and alive now?

Changing organisational cultures

Wednesday,2 April, 2008

At a presentation given by Kevin Williams (at the time Chief Executive of YMCA England) we were shown a photograph of the people responsible for running YMCAs in the 1960s. They were all grey suited men.

Kevin then went on to explain that, currently, the majority of the larger YMCAs are now managed by women.

Clearly this cannot be the whole story – so what other changes have also taken place which might support such a change in leadership? And what might we learn from this?

I began by drawing a line down the middle of the page, putting “Male” at the top of the left hand side, and “Female” at the top of the right hand side. The following is a list of changes which seem to have happened in the world with which we work, during the same period of time:

Male to Female

Heavy Industry to Service Industries
Machines to Ideas/Knowledge
Strength to Nurturing
Specialisms to Multi-tasking
Power to Influence
Hierarchies to Networks
Control to Encourage
Command to Persuade / “sell”
Mono-culture to Valuing Diversity
Facts to Intuition
Books to Internet
Vote to Buy
Membership to Shareholder or User Group
Grants/Subsidies to Social Enterprise
Competition to Collaboration for mutual benefit

As with all caricatures, this needs some careful handling – but much of the world we work in is undoubtedly moving this way, and we all need to be able to respond. Even where organisations still need to work to the left side, some of their activities will need to work to the right side if success is to be achieved.

It seems likely that some of us are more comfortable when working in the way shown on the left side, others to the right. The solution to this must surely be:

  • awareness of the issues;
  • recognition of the inherent tensions between people, disciplines, organisations, and sectors; and
  • having the right teams or partnerships in place to cover all bases.

If, from where you see the world, you feel that there are any other issues which should be considered, or added to the list, I would be delighted to hear of them.