Several years ago at a conference on creativity for nonprofit managers, we were asked to design the "perfect" bathtub. Nonprofit managers tend to think creativity is their middle name, so we attacked our task in determined fashion, ready to bring perfect bathing to the world. Sad to say, we came up with few great ideas: "self-cleaning," "built-in head rest" and "soft-sided" didn't have anyone rushing to buy bubble bath.
If, as people say, we are all "born creative" then maybe our latent artistic side was resting. But resting for too long as the business world speeds on with new products and new ways to reach customers can spell disaster. A new research report shows that failure to innovate is a common trap that will hamper growth for 70 percent of large firms and even destroy entire companies.
We returned to our bathtub assignment, and this time the underpaid, overworked managers worked with perfect escapism in mind. Ideas like "Built-in television and stereo," "automatic aromatherapy sensors" and "massage action tub lining" began to emerge. We were on a roll; our creative juices were flowing.
It turns out we were on to something. These days, manufacturers report stereo and aromatherapy tubs are flying out of bath showrooms. Luck? No, it was creativity and innovation. This month, we examine seven books that promise to help business managers crawl out of the resting rut and get inspired.
If your company needs revving, go find Get Weird!: 101 Innovative Ways to Make Your Company a Great Place to Work by John Putzier. This is exactly the kind of refreshing challenge any group of managers can sink into after a long day at the office. Heck, buy one for every manager on your floor and get together over lunch to get weird.
With humor and ingenuity, Putzier challenges today's mega-companies to reassess some of their personnel, education and marketing practices to make every work environment a fun and productive place for employees. Weirdness, his name for constant innovative and creative challenge for employees, can revitalize morale, sales and workplace cohesiveness. He makes a cogent argument that in today's tight labor market companies must reinvent the way they retain employees and create new products. Admittedly, just reading some of his ideas gave me new vigor. Putzier is right: creativity has a purpose, and that purpose can revitalize every aspect of your workplace.
While Get Weird is a "let's get the juices flowing" idea book, Whoosh: Business in the Fast Lane by Thomas McGehee Jr. is a primer for the creative innovation company. McGehee compares old-line corporate practices of the past to innovative companies he says have stayed ahead of the economic curve. McGehee deftly convinces corporate executives that innovation is not a "new" practice, but rather the lifeblood of business.
McGehee, the vice president of a major consulting firm with Fortune 500 clients, drew on his military past as the starting point for a belief in employee innovation. "Whenever I told a Marine what to do, he or she did it. Nothing remarkable there. But when I told a Marine what needed to be accomplished, he or she always did more. When people are free to choose how to get things done they almost always do more." He says current practice tells employees there is only one way to get a job done. That kills innovation in the workplace.
What McGehee calls Whoosh is not about employee perks or warm fuzzies. He says it's about employee performance. I liked his no-nonsense, straightforward approach to convincing organizations that innovation is the best practice. He says, "no matter how the economy goes, one thing will remain competition. The organizations that are the strongest competitors win. Creation companies are the strongest competitors because they have strength in their people, in their structure and in their ability to use technology to enable both." If that argument doesn't convince CEOs to open doors for a Whoosh of fresh air, nothing will.
Breakthrough Teams for Breakneck Times: Unlocking the Genius of Creative Collaboration adds another twist to the innovation and creativity puzzle. Authors Lisa Gundry, Ph.D., and Laurie LaMantia want everyone to have a good time at work, and this book is dedicated to the principle that enjoyable teamwork can be one of the most innovative and creative processes going. Sometimes one person's good idea leads to another's great idea and someone else's brilliant idea. Once challenged, and once comfortable with being creative in front of each other, a group can feed off each other's innovations. The duo cites examples from successful businesses and provides a framework for developing team principles to enhance creativity. The concept of "fit," how well a personality meshes with a corporation's values, is used to help teams find places for every personality in the creative process. Combining organizational theory and creativity practices, Gundry and LaMantia offer invaluable tools for enhancing business and personal potential, developing creativity and making it all worthwhile. Refreshingly honest, Breakthrough Teams tells managers not to get bogged down on building the team, but to spend time developing creativity. This guide is a great place for managers to start the creative process.
A dreary commute can also be a good time to get your creative juices flowing. One innovative new entry is an audiobook, How To Think Like Einstein by Scott Thorpe and read by Kerin McCue which provides stimulating and thought-provoking listening on one of the greatest creative minds of the 20th century. Thorpe outlines the rule-breaking journey Albert Einstein traveled as he sought to uncover physics' great mysteries. A master of creative thinking, Einstein wrote in 1949, "It is nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wreck and ruin without fail."With common sense techniques, Thorpe makes genius sound like a simple process. Rearranging your way of thinking about concepts or problems defines the Einsteinian approach. Break the Rules, Think like a Spider and other exercises get mental juices ready to attack old dilemmas in new ways. Fresh and invigorating, Thorpe's audio says we can all be Einstein in our own unique ways.
Briefly notedThe Other 90%: How to Unlock Your Vast Untapped Potential for Leadership and Life by Robert K. Cooper, Ph.D., is an exercise in unlocking your innovative potential. Cooper's message is simple; you have more to offer the world than you know. You'll be surprised at the extraordinary array of physical exercises (even relaxation techniques) and common sense advice Cooper offers to help you unlock the 90 percent of your brainpower you never knew you had.
Thriving in 24/7: Six Strategies for Taming the New World of Work by Sally Helgesen. A series of interviews led Hegelsen, author of The Female Advantage, to develop six strategies for coping with the ever lengthening, more-demanding-than-ever work world. This book offers a little piece of sanity in a confusing 24/7 world. Hegelsen says learn to love your job, make the work world the best place it can be and turn work relationships into something more than corporate connections.
Sharon Secor is a Minneapolis-based writer now experiencing the joys of corporate relocation.