Capitalise on Creativity in Times of Turbulence

We are living in the midst of a seismic shift that calls for us to redefine the way we live and work. This is not a time to hunker down and wait for the turbulence to subside. This is the time to mitigate fear, face facts, nurture relationships, collaborate and find new opportunities for business growth.

The leaders who succeed in times of turbulence are the ones who stand for something, who communicate a positive vision of the future and invite others to participate. It’s so important right now to know who you are and what you stand for based on values you can believe it.

Aristotle said do what you are best at for the good of others.
This should be a core value for all organizations.

A few years ago IBM conducted a Values Jam to revisit their values and ask employees what matters to them. Samuel J. Palmisano the Chairman and CEO of IBM said, “We’ve been spending a great deal of time thinking, debating and determining the fundamentals of this company. It has been important to do so. When IBMers have been crystal clear and united about our strategies and purpose, it’s amazing what we’ve been able to create and accomplish. When we’ve been uncertain, conflicted or hesitant, we’ve squandered opportunities and even made blunders that would have sunk smaller companies.”

The Values Jam produced meaningful dialogue that galvanized IBM’s workforce. It captured what matters to employees: the ambition to be great, and produce meaningful work (isn’t that what we all aspire to?). It also forced senior mangers to change some of their practices and habits, and implement the changes employees were asking for. The experiment led to leadership based on values rather than controls, and focused on innovation that matters “for our company and the world.”

whole brain creativity

Foster a culture that encourages creativity and innovation

I define creativity as the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality. Creativity involves two processes: thinking, then producing. Innovation is the production or implementation of an idea. If you have ideas, but don’t act on them, you are imaginative but not creative. Innovation is the production or implementation of ideas that add social and economic value.

Dan Pink says creativity cannot be outsourced. I have come to disagree. Schools and organizations in Asia and India are as current about creativity and innovation as you are, and US companies are outsourcing MBA expertise to India. What can’t be outsourced is culture.

Creativity is fostered in organizational cultures that value independent thinking, risk taking, and learning. Artful leaders are tolerant of failure and they value diversity. It’s crucial to have open communication, and a high degree of trust and respect between individuals. People and organizations flourish when they focus on human ideals, achievements, and best practices.

Communicate Meaning, Purpose and Value

Meet with your team/employees regularly to keep them informed. Make sure you know the meaning and purpose of your work and that everyone understands theirs, in relation to your vision and strategy, and how you create value for your customers. Teams without clear idea of how their project aligns with strategy lose energy and focus, and become disengaged.

One of my clients meets with his team of sales executives every morning, gives an report on the economy and leads a discussion on strategy on how they can best serve their clients.

Expand your Radar

Be on the look out for early warning signals of change in the marketplace. Look for the favourable and unfavourable in every situation to find the gold nugget of opportunity. Detect emerging patterns, trends, by spending time with people from different industries, different generations, and by tracking developments in art, science and technology, both online and in face-to-face interactions.

Don’t rely on the media for forecasting.

Peter Drucker has said “What everybody knows is frequently wrong.” Arthur VanGundy, my co-author always reminded me to question assumptions. Otherwise you are putting time and energy into solving the wrong problem.  Peel away the onion and check sources for validity.

Integrate Polarities

Arie de Geus former executive with Royal Dutch Shell, has said the companies that last forever are both financially conservative and open to new ideas. Leaders and Managers need to balance control with flexibility, to focus AND daydream.

Roger Martin, author of The Opposable Mind says “Integrative Thinking is the ability to constructively face the tension of opposing models and, instead of choosing one at the expense of the other, generating a creative resolution of the tension in the form of a new model. The new model contains elements of the individual models but is superior to each.”

Think ‘yes and’, rather than ‘either or.’

Experiment, Learn, Grow, Create

Turbulence produces creativity if we step out of fear. Take the time now to experiment, learn, evolve and reflect. I encourage you to follow your curiosity, and explore what ever interests you outside of your day-to-day work. Feeding your curiosity will help you keep your passion alive, and help you find creative solutions at work.

Practice the art of corporate alchemy. Make it safe for people to experiment, dive into the unknown, to have conversations that matter, and generate creative solutions through practice spheres, learning labs, and within the crucible of transformation that occurs when engaging in the arts.

One of the reasons I use art as a catalyst for transformation in organizations is because arts-based processes create a crucible for deeper levels of conversation, learning and experimentation. Art making helps us slow down, quiet the mind and put us in touch with our inner wisdom.

Moreover, engaging in the arts, puts us in contact with our senses. It changes the chemistry in our brain and can liberate us from mental ruts. The art making process takes people out of the realm of analytical thinking and into the realm of silence, imagination, and heightened awareness.

I’ve been using this recession to learn about and experiment with social media. As a result I am meeting a new tribe from a younger generation with fresh perspectives. I find this energizing and stimulating. Through social media I am also meeting experts from different fields of practice such as biology, ethnography, pharmaceuticals, and having amazing conversations that not only spark new ideas, but give me an extra breadth and depth in my consulting and coaching. These interactions are producing a huge surge of creative energy in me that override fear and anxiety.

Take Time to Reflect

In my travels across the US over the past year, I have asked leaders and managers how much time they take to reflect on workplace challenges. I find it shocking that almost nobody takes time out for reflection. Is there a correlation between an absence of reflection and the circumstances we face in the marketplace?

I urge you to give yourself a day of rest once a week. If God can do it, so can you!


Organizations led by creative leaders have a higher success rate in innovation, employee engagement, change and renewal. Don’t stop innovating. And don’t take my word for it.

Anne Mulcahy, CEO, Xerox says “I know from experience one of the biggest mistakes that can be made right now is to slash investments in innovation. And by innovation, I don’t just mean product research and development. It can also be innovating in new markets, launching new businesses, and even disruptive innovation in work processes. To be sure, a company’s R&D investment pool looks tempting in tough times. And draining it might save a few jobs or help make the quarterly results less painful. However, if you fail to fund the future, all you’ll be left with is a really lean company trying to churn old ideas into new business.”

Collaborating with customers, suppliers and other companies will help you tap into new resources for innovation.