Round Pegs, Square holes: Making Room for Creative People in the Workplace

Alex Pollock

I recently started thinking about innovation during my recent dive into the important contributions Scots have made to intellectual progress between the 18th and 20th century. From science (James Watt) and philosophy (David Hume) to literature (Robert Louis Stevenson), medicine (Alexander Fleming) and commerce (John McAdam), creativity and innovation abounded. Why?

What are the elements that unleash the creative talents? And how can we nourish and appreciate creative talents in our workplaces?

According to Lowell Bryan and Claudia Joyce, authors of “Mobilizing Minds,” “most companies today were designed for the 20th century. By remaking them to mobilize the mind power of their 21st century workforces, these companies will be able to tap into the presently underutilized talents, knowledge, relationships and skills of their employees which will open up for them new opportunities but also vast sources of wealth.”

The outdated practices the authors refer to include operating systems designed for semi-skilled workers, such as detailed work process, ineffective incentive programs and demotivating performance evaluation systems focused on goods and services rather than ‘continuously delighting the client.’

Author Stephen Denning argues that suppressing creativity poses long-term risks. In his book, “The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management,” he writes that “the fact that current management practices prevent a full human flourishing is in itself an economic, management, social and moral problem of the first order.”

Yet calling for employees to be more innovative and creative in cultures that have suppressed “human flourishing” is demanding the impossible.

Could this be part of the reasons breakthrough “sustainability” solutions are proving to be so elusive? What do you think about the role of creativity in the workplace? What  do you think we need to do to encourage fresh thinking?

About Alex Pollock

Alex Pollock has been studying leadership effectiveness for more than 30 years. A former leader in environment, health and safety, and public affairs at The Dow Chemical Co., he learned that we all have leadership roles to play. He enjoys discussing new ideas and sharing practical ways we can all become better leaders.

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