Thursday, March 15, 2007

Cultivating the Creative Class. Dismissing those who think outside the box may be the worst thing you can do for your company. Judette Coward-Puglisi

Being creative on demand is dammed work. It can cause you to over eat or not eat at all. It can churn your stomach in knots and cause you to have sleepless nights. Still, any member of the creative class worth his i Pod will tell you that the pay off beats the price. It comes in the brainstorming session (preferably over a large pizza with everything on it) and it gets better still when the idea begins to take shape on paper. But best yet is when the idea flies, when that tiny nugget of information you had in your head one week or one year before adds significantly to your company's bottom line. The sense of satisfaction is sweeter than any frosted chocolate cake.

That's why fostering creativity in your organisation is critical. A unique business idea can come from anywhere: the business logic, the accounting process, the culture. But what it really boils down to is the people. Being different is the key. Creativity is about seeing things differently. Little happens in the innovation department when a group of fifty-something-year-old males from the same culture and background get together to make a decision about bringing a product to market. Chances are however, if you take that group and added a mix of cultures, gender, backgrounds and different way of thinking you will generate a plethora of ideas and a ton load of energy.

That's why firms need to hire and depend on those who can come up with unique ideas. The ones who are a little different. But this is where the trouble starts, because uniqueness and difference are often the preserve of people, who judged against the average corporate citizen, often seem a little strange. They break the rules. They question norms. They are prepared to take risks, sometimes leaving the organisation which entraps them to set up a company of their own. Does this serve the firm any good? My answer would be an emphatic no! Sameness is a direct route to nowhere. If we are all willing to follow conventions, to think like all the rest, we will see the same things, hear the same things, hire the same people and develop identical products and services. We will create a sea of normality and drown in it. In 2007, Sameness Inc. is bankrupt.

But cultivating the creative types takes a special leader who is willing to see things differently. Firstly, creative work is not automated, and definitely not linear. It stops and it starts. I remember 5 years ago at the E&Y Entrepreneur of the Year conference, one speaker said that one of his software developers after creating and bringing to market an innovative software would often disappear from the company for weeks on end, virtually unreachable by phone to a remote part of India, the country from which he came. The speaker expressed his frustration at first until he recognised his developer's weird habit was one stream of his company's immense wealth. After a while he thought that instead of working against his talent he'd work with him and proceeded to give him 6 weeks off after a particularly grueling period of innovation.

The fact is if you let creative types make the rules, within limits - you don't want utter confusion- if you allow them time for blue sky thinking, protect them from idea killers and add liberal doses of fun to your hopefully non-cubicle environment, and maybe pizza after long meetings, you'll be creating streams of revenues that may allow you to overlook personal idiosyncrasies.

So go ahead and cultivate the creative class. The alternative is nightmarish. A company doomed to produce ideas that everyone else has already seen.

Judette Coward-Puglisi is the managing director of Mango Media Caribbean

( ), a strategic PR and brand development firm. She is the founder & current president of the International Association of Business Communicators, Trinidad & Tobago.