Killer Ideas vs Idea Killers Part Two

kinnon —  January 17, 2006 — 1 Comment

Originally posted at achievable leadership on January 13th, 2006.

I wrote the original Killer Ideas post back in October for my achievable ends blog. I reposted it here on December 20th. I quote Kathy Sierra in that post and especially appreciate this line:

When you’re really really on to something magical, you can guarantee there will be devil’s advocates, naysayers, and vicious critics every step of the way.

I picked up a book Liam is reading, this morning, and came across this quote:

Most people can see problems. That doesn’t require any special ability or talent. As Alfred A. Montapert observed, “The majority see the obstacles; the few see the objectives; history records the successes of the latter, while oblivion is the reward of the former.” (page 136 paperback version)

Have you ever worked for someone who is adept at finding problems (with just about anything) but has no ideas for solutions. They expect you to come up with those ideas – and they will approve them. You end up going back to them innumerable times, only to have them sigh in the end, apparently dissatisfied with anything you’ve come up with, “All right, I guess that’s the best you can do, let’s just go with that one.” This is normally driven by the approaching deadline which demands a decision be made.

It’s important to understand that the problem is rarely with you, but is rather with the Idea-Killing Manager. They have no idea how to motivate creative people. They live in a world where they believe they are the arbiters of all things good and effective – but can’t themselves produce those things. (How they’ve ended up at their level of leadership has always been a mystery to me – but management is populated with these folk. Read the Mini-Microsoft blog to experience the frustration of talented people working for incompetent management.)

Richard Florida (in a Gallup Management Interview – subscription required) talks about effective ways to manage creative people:

The real art is understanding individual psychology. A concern for structure and organizational charts and programs and policies is far less important than getting the individual psychology right. The structure will take care of itself; the real challenge of the creative age is figuring out how to deal with all of these different intrinsic needs and reward structures while consistently motivating people with the rewards that matter to them. The manager’s task is to create a structure that enables creativity to occur. This requires a complete and total break with the industrial organization structure, the hierarchical model.

Unfortunately, often the leader in these situations only has the hierarchical model to hold on to. It’s how they justify their existence. They are the leader.

I was recently in a heated conversation with someone who is near and dear to me. He was describing issues he was having with someone on a team he led. At one point, apparently to justify something he’d said, he emphatically stated, “I AM THE LEADER!” I confess that I lost it at that point.

Positional authority is the last thing a good leader uses in conflict. Gifted leaders realize that if they have to resort to their status to prove their point, then they may have won the battle – but they’ve lost the war. (My error in the above scenario is that I was not effectively listening to this young leader – and he had to resort to his emphatic statement in an attempt to have me understand his position in the original conflict.)

Idea-generating, creative types need leaders who will walk along side of them. Servant leaders who will create environments in which creative people flourish. This does not suggest that creatives need to be mollycoddled or not held responsible. Florida again:

Creative people want the freedom to work on their own terms and on their own time. They want to be responsible. That doesn’t mean there’s no accountability, but the accountability doesn’t come from sitting at a desk counting time. Instead, the accountability is: “Do you deliver? Do you meet your performance measurements? Do you produce quality work in a timely way? Do you contribute?”

And later:
(O)rganizations really need to harness the creative energy of their workforce. I think we’ve gone down the wrong road of trying to manage creative workers. We’ve tried to apply a lot of industrial management techniques, which don’t work, and we have to break nearly entirely with that.

In the first Killer Ideas vs Idea Killers post I refer to Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind. Pink’s book is a critical marker on the path to understanding success in the 21st Century. On his website, he links to a January 11th Business Week article on the upcoming DAVOS summit in Switzerland:

(I)t doesn’t get much better than this when it comes to a serious discussion about the use of design thinking as a management methodology. As Roger Martin (dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto) puts it: “I think the reason innovation and design has percolated to the top of the WEF (DAVOS World Economic Forum) agenda is that big companies the world over have woken up to the fact that they have organized and controlled their firms to the point of stultification by using ERP [enterprise-resource planning], CRM [customer-relationship management], TQM [total quality management], and other reliability-oriented systems. They need to think in a fundamentally different way to reinvigorate their firms, and so they’re reaching out to design and innovation.”

In short, innovation, creativity, design — whatever you want to call it — is the new Six Sigma.

The overarching question shaping the Davos program is, How do you operationalize innovation? How do you go beyond giving lip service to creativity, which is where 95% of all U.S. corporations are today, to enabling managers and employees to truly innovate on a regular, sustained basis.

Hierarchically-motivated, idea-killing managers are doomed in this 21st Century, creative reality of business and social sector management. They are unable to motivate creative people and will not be able to keep them on their team.

So what do you do if you work for this kind of leader now, and there is little chance of them moving out of that position anytime soon. Well, it’s probably time for you to move to a more satisfying, live-giving work environment. Richard Florida comments:

For managers, CEOs, or political leaders, the challenge is “How do I motivate? I see that the old, top-down, hierarchical, follow-me, my-way-or-the-highway style of leadership doesn’t cut it anymore.” The leaders who will be successful today, in business or politics, will be those who can stimulate and harness the creative capabilities of the greatest number of people.

Work for that kind of motivating, creativity-harnessing leader – and become one yourself.

Life’s too short to work for, or to become an Idea Killer.

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A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

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  1. Business Innovation 2005 - January 19, 2006

    The idea-killing manager

    On his Achievable Ends blog, Bill Kinnon discusses the Idea-Killing Manager: “Have you ever worked for someone who is adept at finding problems (with just about anything) but has no ideas for solutions? They expect you to come up with those ideas – an…

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