Creativity Killers in the Workplace

In an earlier post, I defined creativity, as the process by which we solve problems.  Creativity is not confined to those who spend all their time in the laboratory inventing new widgets or those wild artists whose appearance may be way outside the mainstream.  Since part of growing our companies is a constant struggle of finding and solving problems, creativity becomes an essential trait that must be present throughout all successful organizations. 

But, creativity is very fragile and can be easily killed in a company.  It can be killed very silently, often without leadership realizing what is happening.  Killing creativity means we are doomed to be stuck in the same ditch without any ability to reach the highway. 

There are several characteristics of people who enjoy killing creativity in an organization.  These killers are especially lethal if exhibited by the leadership of the group.  The first may be from someone we call “Self-Absorbed Seth”.  Now, this person has to make everything about himself.  If you talk to them, you would think the entire organization cannot function without their efforts.  Teamwork is absent from Seth’s vocabulary and meetings often become about how to advance his importance.  Any creative idea that is worth doing can only come from Seth. 

The challenge here is the organization will only solve problems to the extent of Seth’s ability, since he kills any other idea outside of his own.  This seriously limits the growth of the company.  I once heard a preacher say, “A man, centered in himself, creates the smallest universe possible.”  An antidote to this self-centered attitude can be found in a sign that was on President Ronald Reagan’s desk, “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he does not mind who gets the credit.” 

Another killer is a person called “Negative Nell”.  This person always throws cold water on the warm embers of a fledgling creative idea, snuffing out the possible solution as quick as possible.  Now, pointing out roadblocks that need to be overcome when a creative solution is advanced is good, but building negative blocks to kill all creativity is unhealthy for the organization.  Often, the attitude a Nell shows, permeates throughout her entire life and being; it is not just confined to the office. 

“Stu Stuck-in-the-Mud” can be another creativity killer.  Stu often prefaces the importance of his opinions with giving a history of his time with the organization or in the industry.  This is to intimidate the idea-giver into discounting his/her thoughts since Stu has more experience than they do.  But allowing Stu to rule puts the organization in a rut and is sure death knell for mediocre performance.  Stu also discourages any big-picture thinking or dreaming since that is out of the norm of the rut he is in.

“Drama Drake” can also kill new ideas.  There is only so much time and energy available to us and Drake siphons off as much as he can with various crises and self-inflicted wounds created by himself.  Molehills become mountains, and mountains make it impossible for adequate time to be spent creatively solving problems. 

“Organization Ozzies” snuff out creativity with the belief that all new ideas must originate from the upper echelons of management.  Those outside the “mothership” or the “ivory tower” could never advance any possible solution of any worth.  After all, the most talented and deserved people are those leading the company.  This outlook first misses most of the problems in the first place as most will be identified by the front line people.  It also minimizes the talent on the front line and squashes the worth and ideas those people have.  Sometimes, solutions that may change the course of a company are within those who do not have a “C” or “SVP” in their title.  For a company to reach outstanding new heights, the value of all of the team should be emphasized and a forum for everyone to express their thoughts should be present.

Ozzie will often cut people off in meetings who do not have the proper title behind their name.  By doing so, brainstorming meetings often become a small shower of those in upper management, when it could become an earth moving thunder and lightning from the entire team.  Ozzie would be better to not advertise an idea generating meeting, unless he is open to everyone sharing an idea. 

Another creativity killer is “Silent Sally”.  Sally will solicit ideas and may even have a suggestion box available for anyone to deposit into, but the ideas will go nowhere.  It is as if the suggestion box has a shredder attached to it.  Eventually, those giving ideas will just quit in frustration. 

“Take-Credit Tim” eliminates creativity by not giving proper praise to those who actually come up with the solution.  He may take credit for himself, or if he is a suck-up, may give credit to those in the company that may help him advance. 

If a leader wants to foster an environment for creative problem solving, he must first see if these various characters are presently killing ideas throughout the company.  He also must look in the mirror and see if he is one of the causes of eliminating creativity.