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Guilty of crimes against creativity

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"Anger and aggression sometimes seem to be protective because they bring energy to bear on a particular situation, but that energy is blind. It takes a calm mind to be able to consider things from different angles and points of view." - Dalai Lama

Projects that are delivering new ways of working, new approaches to business process, looking at end to end systems thinking require creative thinking. To do this our team members need to be given the opportunity to reflect and consider, to work in an environment that encourages this.

‘Teresa Amabile, a psychologist at the Harvard Business School, describes four “creativity killers”, each of which constricts working memory, the mental space in which brainstorms occur and creating flourishes, and squelches risk taking:

  • Surveillance: Hovering and constant scrutiny. This stifles the essential sense of freedom needed for creative thinking.
  • Evaluation: A critical view that comes too soon or is too intense. Creative ideas should be critiqued – not all are equally good and promising ones can be refined and honed by helpful criticism – but evaluation is counterproductive when it leads to a preoccupation with being judged
  • Overcontrol: Micromanaging every step of the way. Like surveillance, it fosters and oppressive sense of constriction which discourages originality.
  • Relentless deadlines: A too-intense schedule that creates panic. While some pressure can be motivating and deadlines and goals can focus attention, they can kill the fertile “off time” where fresh ideas flourish’ .

Consider the projects and environments you have worked in. Have you encountered one or more of these creativity killers? For project managers how you could remove these?

  • Surveillance: Management should be by exception. The parameters in which the project is running (time, cost, risk, quality, etc) are identified at the start of the project or the start of a stage. Leave the team to work within these parameters.
  • Evaluation: How do you evaluate work? Individuals have different styles and approaches. Those who are good at generating new ideas may prefer to work alone . Perhaps they are introverted and find it difficult to present, in open forum. Those attending the review need to be aware of their own styles. Confrontational, in your face, aggressive characters should be excluded. The review team made up of those who know how to evaluate constructively.
  • Overcontrol: What is the reporting style that is requested? Is it daily reviews? Are you constantly asking for percentage complete, estimated day to complete, and risk assessment? An end of week review might be better. Reviewing progress and then having the weekend to reflect allows the brain time to reflect over the following weekend. If the review is on a Monday morning, then individuals may spend the weekend worrying about what will be said. Creativity is further reduced.
  • Relentless Deadlines: Projects are about deadlines. When do we start? When do we finish? How quickly can you get the work done? Can we start something else sooner? Can we bring forward the go live date? There might be a large white board with a countdown showing how many days to go? The water cooler talk, project reviews, and visual aids all focusing on the deadline. Agree with the team realistic deadlines, and then why not leave them to get on with the work?

Projects need productive teams, who can be focused on the task at hand. If they spend too much time worrying about what will be said, the timelines involved, then little or nothing will be achieved. Micromanagement, over-control, harsh evaluation, and relentless deadlines are all crimes against creativity.

Let us be innocent of these crimes and give our teams the opportunity to be creative, original, innovative, pioneering and inventive.



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  1. Carole Osterweil
    Carole Osterweil 13 September 2018, 09:03 AM

    The only thing missing from this blog John is explicit recognition of the need for psychological safety