Leaning In and Falling Over Conventional Wisdom


I had just graduated from Stanford with Honors, gotten a MBA in Finance and Accounting with a minor in Organizational Behavior from UCLA, and received job offers from my two dream companies. IBM got to me first, and I was extremely happy to be the first female in my family to graduate from college, and get hired by a major, prestigious corporation.

When I got there, I was a fish out of water. I had had no role models, no mentors, no street smarts, no brothers, and a Dad who had travelled for work most of the time. Even though I had a Mom and a Dad who did everything they could to encourage me to do what is now called leaning in, I didn’t have the confidence to insure I wouldn’t fall over when I got there. The hard work that got me through school had not prepared me for a high tech, primarily male, work environment.

I realized I needed to figure out how to fit into this foreign culture. I was part of a wave of new hires selected for their credentials but the people I worked with didn’t seem to be impressed. In fact, some seemed to resent it. Reading the sports pages and participating in the football pools seemed to be more valuable in meeting my male colleagues and making friends than just “doing my job.” Someone recommended I read Games Mother Never Taught You to understand how males and females operate differently. I needed help on all fronts so I took advantage of internal educational opportunities, too. The convergence of these two strategies – learning about and integrating into the culture plus learning about the business – worked well.

One day I attended an internal class featuring the male Director of Finance. It was the first time I had heard anyone talking about something I could relate to from my finance MBA education. I asked a few questions and thereafter, he recognized me. I made no effort to cultivate the relationship or promote myself to him. A few months later, I was called into my male manager’s office and told that I had been asked to interview for a plum job reporting to the Director of Finance, an opportunity that typically came up only for more experienced people. My manager told me I should feel honored to even be asked to interview for the position and that I probably wouldn’t get it. That ticked me off and I decided I was going to nail the interview and get the job.

Thanks to Games Mother Never Taught You, I learned that women typically look at their qualifications differently than men do. Women tend to think they need to have all the qualifications in the job description (which, if they don’t, reduces confidence in the interview), and men think they need to have some of the qualifications, and assume that this is sufficient at first, and then they’ll figure it out as they go along.

I don’t remember all the details, but I do remember the experience of walking into the interview determined to convey my value, commitment, and confidence that I could do the job, knowing that if I was selected, I would be successful in the position because I would do whatever I needed to do to be productive and effective. I would learn what I needed to learn, and do what I needed to do. I would jump in, get to know people, become part of the team, make mistakes, take responsibility for them, correct them, and move forward. I would lean in, fall down sometimes, pick myself up, and keep at it, even though I may feel fearful at the time.

Fast forward a few decades, to a couple of years ago. I came across an article in Atlantic Monthly titled The Confidence Gap. It said: “Evidence shows that women are less self-assured than men—and that to succeed, confidence matters as much as competence. Here’s why and what to do about it.” I was surprised that this article covered the same type of research that I had learned three decades before in Games Mother Never Taught You!

What the heck is going on here? Why has this “confidence” issue persisted for decades? Why haven’t we moved beyond the gender confidence gap despite the research, the articles, the books, and the panels about it at conferences?

I’m convinced that we should have a different conversation, and go beyond gender. The real issue is how we think about confidence and how we act on that at an individual level. There has been too much comparing and too little introspection. It’s time to toss conventional wisdom and look at “confidence” in a more fundamental way, one that is dynamic and very personal.

dictionary.com defines “confidence” as “full trust; belief in the powers, trustworthiness, or reliability of a person or thing.” In the Information Age (when I was in corporate), this was based on pedigree (specific degrees from certain colleges and universities); specific job experiences (from certain industries or types of companies); and, as the business environment got more complex due to globalization, specific “competencies,” the general ability to do something successfully or efficiently. If you met the established criteria, you and those hiring you could be “confident” that you could do the job. That was the conventional wisdom. Companies looked for people who could do things predictably, even perfectly.

The Information Age criteria and conventional wisdom are insufficient if not irrelevant in the current environment, sometimes referred to as the Digital Age. The Digital “Age” is characterized by unprecedented complexity in terms of speed, scale, and scope of change. Some use the acronym VUCA to describe it – volatile, uncertain, chaotic, and ambiguous – an acronym used by the military to describe battleground conditions!

In these increasingly complex times, experiences and skills become obsolete quickly, so companies are looking for people who can figure things out, people who are independent thinkers, committed, collaborative, not afraid to take risks, who question the status quo, are self-motivated, curious, and “damn confident.” That is, they are looking for skilled creatives.

The qualities of creative potential are not acquired in the classroom; paying attention to them brings them out. The good news is that everyone has this potential. The bad news is that most people aren’t aware of it.

Confidence is a capability that comes from paying attention to, exploring, and developing your own creative potential, by having a personal purpose and vision, knowing your capabilities and what you are committed to, choosing to persevere in the face of fear and criticism, acquiring the skills to meet the challenges you want to take on in your personal and professional life, and believing in your creative potential and the creative potential of those you want to lead.

Get acquainted with your creative potential and develop it so you believe in your ability to do the job at hand, and develop the confidence that you can “figure things out,” over and over again. It is a potential that you, and only you, can bring out. Gender has nothing to do with this.

To learn more, contact CLUE Institute

www.clueinstitute.com susan@gotclue.com

408-399-8883 land or 650-291-2706 mobile

Creativity: Outside-in or Inside-out?

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A recent article in the SJ Mercury focused on Facebook’s Artist in Residence Program that is meant “to help foster creative thinking and hacker spirit that keeps the tech firm thriving.” They are bringing in artists to apply their art to the spaces where employees spend time.


This program is an example of fostering creative thinking from the outside-in, doing something in the external environment to encourage a change inside a person.

Typically, when “creativity” is mentioned, “art” is the first association, e. g., painting, music, dancing, writing, or crafts. Some people are more inspired by one of these art forms over another. Many people turn to some form of art to get temporary respite from the discipline of their jobs. But, creativity is not just about art; it applies to every domain in business (people, products/technology, processes, environment, and business results) and the art of everyday living.

When it comes to creativity, everyone is idiosyncratic, meaning that:

– Each of us has our own way of being creative

– Each of us has unique strategies to turn insights into different and valuable ideas

– Each of us has a unique way of bringing our creativity out into the world

– Our creativity gets stimulated by different things

Because everyone is different, the impact of outside-in creativity can be mixed, especially if the approach is one-size-fits-all. Some people may be inspired, some put off, and others have no reaction.

Fostering creativity from the inside-out addresses the idiosyncratic nature of creativity by using a massing principle, i. e., providing lots of different ways and types of resources to explore individual creativity, have new experiences, try new tools, and integrate new practices to address everyday problems and challenges in professional and personal life.

The Adobe State of Create study reported the following from US respondents:

88% Everyone has potential to create

52% Don’t have time to be creative

61% Not living up to their creative potential

50% People are increasingly being expected to think creatively at work

80% There is increasing pressure to be productive rather than creative at work

There are benefits to outside-in approaches like Facebook’s but those benefits will not be experienced equally by everyone. New experiences are temporal in nature so the effect of the art will diminish over time for everyone.

A better and lasting way to foster creative thinking and the hacker spirit, and where the real magic comes from, is to approach creativity from the inside-out.

Happy Birthday to My Uncle George Washington

susanwithgeorge jpegThis painting is proof that we are related!

The Creativity Story

Once upon a time, busiclassroomness leaders were constantly juggling problems like aggressive competition, demanding customers, disgruntled employees, and unsatisfied shareholders. They relied on a combination of the usual practices and tools – planning, analysis, commanding, controlling, coordinating, directing, standardizing – to manage the daily turmoil.

Everyday, despite huge investment in human resource initiatives, incentive programs, team training, reorganizations, processes, and tools, their organizations were showing signs of stagnation, and employees were less energetic and loyal.

One day, the volume of data, the speed of change in the increasingly globalized and connected world, and the uncertainty and ambiguity about the future reached an alarming level. Business leaders noticed that most of the time they and their employees were fighting fires or trying to keep the lid on the problems du jour. That had led to low employee engagement, weak motivation, less commitment, and little passion, with negative effects on productivity, morale, and profit.

Because of that, the leaders knew they had to figure out how to engage, mobilize, and support employees to come up with innovative ways to deal with the overwhelming complexity of the business environment. They realized that individual creativity is a prerequisite for organizational innovation and that they inadvertently had been shutting it down. They sometimes had talked about creativity at the top but most employees were unaware of this and had no inclination to pay attention to it or were just too busy “doing their jobs.”

Because of that, leaders decided to start a conversation about creativity and innovation throughout their organizations, acknowledging that everyone (themselves included) had a lot to learn and un-learn. They discovered and offered throughout their organizations a unique, focused, and systematic approach to help employees become aware of and unlock their creative resources; get connected to their purpose, vision, and mission; find meaning and satisfaction in their work; and provide support and enable resources for taking risks associated with big challenges.

Until finally, everyone in the organization understood that organizational innovation results from the contagious energy of inspired and creative individuals. When individuals developed confidence in their creativity, communication improved and led to better collaboration, superior collective performance, and a sense of community and loyalty to the organization.

And ever since that day, self-aware, focused, self-motivated, disciplined, and collaborative employees promote and enable excellence on every front, bringing innovative products to market, attracting customers, and outperforming peers and competitors who have not yet embraced personal creativity.

Story-telling is an effective way of clearly stating what it is we want and where we want others to go. This story used the seven sequential sentences which comprise the Story Spine (sometimes incorrectly referred to as The Pixar Formula) that originated in improvisation and are clearly explained in a book titled Invisible Ink: A Practical Guide to Building Stories That Resonate, by Brian McDonald. BTW, McDonald sometimes leads workshops at Pixar.

To illustrate how this approach works, six of the sentences describing the plot of Pixar’s Finding Nemo are included below.

  1. Once upon a time there was…a widowed fish, named Marlin, who was extremely protective of his only son, Nemo.
  2. Every day…Marlin warned Nemo of the ocean’s dangers and implored him not to swim far away.
  3. One day…in an act of defiance, Nemo ignores his father’s warnings and swims into the open water.
  4. Because of that…he is captured by a diver and ends up in the fish tank of a dentist in Sydney.
  5. Because of that…Marlin sets off on a journey to recover Nemo, enlisting the help of other sea creatures along the way.
  1. Until finally…Marlin and Nemo find each other, reunite and learn that love depends on trust.

Do You Have What It Takes to Innovate?

edisonofficeRecently, I read the Harvard Business Review’s 10 Must Reads on Innovation. Although my initial intention was to take a look at the latest articles on innovation, I came across this package of articles that said: “To innovate profitably, you need more than just creativity (emphasis added). Do you have what it takes? If you read nothing else on inspiring and executing innovation, read these 10 articles…” So, I did.

At first, the phrase “you need more than creativity” bothered me. After scrutinizing all the articles, I concluded that, in this context, creativity means new and novel ideas that spark innovation. Clearly, great product ideas are not enough for successful innovation. As I’ve mentioned in prior blogs, personal creativity is a prerequisite for innovation and the impetus for transforming ideas to value. Innovation occurs at the intersection of personal creativity and organizational discipline, and creativity is needed on the discipline side as well.

Ideas come from People; the ideas are analyzed and transformed through Processes into valuable Products/Technology, in an Environment where both ongoing operations and innovation occur, and produce value by Business Results that keep the company viable or make it great. The organizational system includes these five domains: People, Products/Technology, Processes, Environment, and Business Results. Personal creativity and disciplined integration of these five domains determine the success of a company. Creativity in the Product/Technology domain is not enough; it is needed in all five domains.

Books and articles tend to focus on Product innovation to drive Business Results. What is clear in this set of innovation articles is the importance of creativity in the People, Environment, and Business Results domains as well.

I scrutinized each of the ten articles and extracted directly from them 166 key points that are relevant to successful innovation. Then I organized the 166 key points into the five organizational domains. Innovation touches every domain, listed in order of the number of key points identified. Clearly, the big leverage is in the People and Process domains.

65 (39%) People domain
46 (28%) Process domain
20 (12%) Environment domain
20 (12%) Products/Technology domain
15 (9%) Business Results domain

The ten articles were written between 2002 and 2014 by authors affiliated with prestigious university business schools, some independent consultants, and one CEO. There were anecdotes about twenty-seven industries and sixty companies in nine countries. The content is very comprehensive and useful, even more so when organized into the five organizational domains! Below are some topics discussed in each domain.

People topics addressed in the ten Harvard Business Review (HBR) articles:
Sources of innovation; what effective innovators do; personality of innovators; importance of perceptions; role of the brain; where talents lie; requirements for successful innovation; mistakes people continually make despite what is known about successful innovation; the impact of feelings and emotions; problems with performance plans; leadership mistakes; problem of limited participation; trust; communication; relationship building.

Products/Technology topics addressed in the ten HBR articles:
What good innovation is; various sources of innovation; Big Innovation vs. little innovation; product strategy mistakes; technology bias; criticality of market knowledge; dangers of feature over customer focus.

Process topics addressed in the ten HBR articles:
The nature of the innovation process; the need for innovation process innovation; the difficulties around knowledge-based innovation; innovation process mistakes; using inappropriate metrics; process strategy mistakes; how innovation gets strangled; the “innovation pyramid;” the innovation funnel; the difference between high and low innovation companies; ways to find innovation opportunities; analytic methods that make it difficult to justify innovation opportunities; drawbacks of the Stage Gate process for innovation; the advantages of the Discovery-Driven process; the Glocalization (distributing worldwide the products of multinationals in developed countries) vs. reverse innovation (the process of developing innovative new products in emerging markets and taking them global) processes; division of tasks between current business team and innovation team; and processes for innovation team integration; utilization of resources; conflicts between innovation initiatives and ongoing operations initiatives; how surprises and failures are handled; timing; utilization of resources.

Environment topics addressed in the ten HBR articles:
Opportunities from the industry, outside the industry, market changes, unexpected occurrences, competition, demographics, changes in economic conditions, geopolitical events; culture clashes; conflicting agendas; differing priorities of developed and developing countries; the need for in-depth understanding of the total customer experience.

Business Results topics addressed in the ten HBR articles:
Shortcomings of corporate reporting systems; lapses in attention to innovation; tension between protecting existing revenue and supporting new concepts; pricing challenges; strategy challenges; “innovation funds;” dominance of minor innovations; pitfalls of discounted cash flow analysis; failure rates; the unreliability of financial forecasts; opportunity costs; the focus on short-term Earnings Per Share (EPS) vs. long-term innovation; threat to innovation from developing countries.

If the barriers, obstacles, and challenges of innovation are addressed across the five organizational domains, nothing should fall between the cracks, and innovation should be successful.

If you wish to know more about my analysis, please contact me. I’m happy to share about CLUE’s framework, methods, and offerings.

CLUE Institute shows people how to ignite their individual creativity so they can increase personal and team effectiveness across five domains, and fuel organizational innovation. CLUE is affiliated with hellofuture which helps you capture creative ideas from the minds of your employees, then moves those ideas right through to product development and launch, with minimal to zero impact to your current business.

The Need for Creativity Warriors

teracottarwarrioreverseI’m a Creativity Warrior. Over the past few years, I called myself a Creativity Architect, then Creativity Agent, then Creativity Actuator. During that time, I got a broader view of the wobbly state of creativity of individuals and in business, and decided those titles were insufficient to represent my mission and justify my tag line “When Creativity Is Unlocked, Extraordinary Happens.” I realized it will take a warrior mindset to unlock creativity and enable extraordinary to happen; then it will be fun and easy and remarkable!

Typically, the word “warrior” evokes “battlefield warrior.” Most of us have no experience as a battlefield warrior and don’t have the experience of putting our lives on the line. I’ve learned that what makes a warrior a warrior is not how aggressive or competitive one appears to be on the outside. Being a warrior is about who one is being on the inside that enables them to perform full-out, all-in, in an extraordinary way.

To better understand the concept of “warriors,” I did some research on the greatest warriors in history who battled between the 6th Century BC and 17th Century. People like Sun Tzu, Attila the Hun, Julius Caesar, William Wallace (aka Braveheart), Richard the Lionheart, Alexander the Great, Miyamoto Musashi, and more. They committed a lot of killing, bloodshed, and violence. They inspired terror and were merciless on the battlefield. Some were thought to have super powers. They also are described as bold, brave, daring, disciplined, fearless, and relentless. Their mission was about defending or conquering territories, or consolidating and ordering their empires. They were victorious on the battlefield and sometimes the last to die on the front lines.

Two of those warriors wrote books about battlefield strategy, tactics, and philosophy that are still used today in corporate and military training, and continue to have an impact on both Western and Asian culture. Sun Tzu who lived in the 6th Century BC, was a Chinese military specialist, general, strategist, and philosopher who wrote The Art of War. Miyamoto Musashi, who lived in 17th Century, was a skillful Japanese swordsman (considered by many to be the best who ever lived) and an invincible samurai who wrote A Book of Five Rings. They wrote about the importance of plans, tactics, strategies, methods, discipline, using each man according to his abilities, and the creativity and skill involved in pulling all the above together.

I also looked at current-day warrior (military) codes of conduct. The required qualities are: Adaptive, competent, confident, disciplined. The culture assumptions include: Mission first, never accept defeat, never quit, never leave a fallen comrade, serve with honor, be ready to lead, be ready to follow, take responsibility for your/your teammate’s actions, train for war, fight to win, excel through discipline and innovation, uphold the prestige, honor, and esprit de corps of your chosen profession, move further, faster, and fight harder than any other Soldier, keep mentally alert, physically strong, and morally straight, shoulder more than my share of the task whatever it may be, one hundred percent and then some. The values are: Loyalty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, personal courage. All are powerful attributes on and off the battlefield.

A couple of years ago, I learned the term “VUCA” in a presentation about a mindfulness project conducted with the Army Rangers. It’s a military term used to describe battleground conditions. It means Volatile, Uncertain, Chaotic, and Ambiguous. The presenters pointed out that business people were using the same terms to describe business conditions. I hadn’t heard the acronym but I recognized that those words were (and still are) used consistently in magazine articles, studies, reports, and blogs about the complex and disruptive business challenges. High employee disengagement numbers indicate that substantial individual creative resources (potential Creativity Warriors) are unavailable. What do people in business depend on to resolve challenges? Personal Creativity. Who is best suited to perform in battleground conditions? Warriors. Challenges are the fuel of creativity. Creativity Warriors will take on those challenges. BTW, in the Zulu language, VUCA means “to be awake.” When are we going to heed this wake-up call?

What is the Creativity Warrior’s battle?

  • The external challenges of a VUCA environment
  • The internal barriers and obstacles that suppress, obstruct, inhibit, and undermine their natural capabilities (creativity) needed to meet those   challenges

Why is the Creativity Warrior battling?

  • To make a difference
  • To access their potential, to understand their super powers, and use them
  • To increase confidence, well-being, engagement, productivity, resilience
  • To increase ideation and the quality of ideas to fuel innovation
  • To increase effectiveness of interactions, efficiency, quality of decisions, self-direction, self-motivation, speed of decisions
  • To increase alignment, engagement, harmony, risk tolerance, trust
  • To improve business results and overall prosperity

How does the Creativity Warrior battle?

  • Exploring, practicing, and integrating their qualities of personal creativity that ignite a self-perpetuating cycle of confidence, communication, collaboration, contribution, and community for all who participate

Where is the battlefield?

  • Personally, everywhere
  • In business, “everywhere” is 5 domains: People, Products/Technology, Processes, Environment, Business Results

When do battles occur?

  • Anytime, in the face of challenges and questions

How does the Creativity Warrior battle?

  • Awake
  • Focused
  • Self-aware
  • Self-confident

What are the Creativity Warrior’s weapons?

  • Personal VUCA – Vision, Understanding, Clarity, Acuity
  • Personal creativity qualities
  • Personal creativity process
  • Mindset
  • Brain

What is victory to the Creativity Warrior?

  • Living purposefully
  • Nourishing relationships
  • Stress-free living
  • Balance
  • Alignment of personal, professional, and organizational purpose and vision
  • Co-creativity among colleagues

You Choose: Creativity or Commodity?

choosealtered1“Creative” has become a “buzzword” according to LinkedIn. Since Creativity is my area of expertise, this was of great interest to me. In response to the LinkedIn’s finding, experts say you should not use the word in your profile because the word is losing its meaning and it makes you sound like everyone else. It’s a shame that a word that represents the most significant gift of human intelligence has been trivialized by overuse.

There are some positives about this. “Creative” was the #1 ”buzzword” in LinkedIn profiles in 2011 and 2012, #3 in 2013, and #2 in 2014. Claiming that you are creative in your profile indicates you know it is important. In a prior blog, I mentioned that in two consecutive IBM Global CEO studies, the CEO’s considered “creativity” to be the most important attribute for leaders and employees. Another positive is that the word “innovative” was #9 in 2011 and 2013, and not in the Top 10 in the other years. It is a good sign that most people are describing themselves as “creative,” rather than “innovative,” as the latter descriptor is more relevant to products.

A negative is that although leaders say they want creative employees, and prospective employees are selling their creativity and seeking creative places to work on LinkedIn, there is increasing employee disengagement in the workplace. This suggests a disconnect about the meaning of “creativity,” and how to enable it and use it. Hopefully, the “buzzword” phenomenon will pass; in the meantime, we can benefit from looking into some significant issues around the Creativity-Commodity dichotomy.

When I’m presenting or discussing “creativity” with a group, I often ask three questions:
1. How many of you feel that being creative is very important (to your organization, you)?
2. How many of you feel you and your colleagues are living up to your creative potential?
3. How many of you think about your creativity every day and do something to strengthen it?

Close to 100% of those asked believe that creativity is important. About 40% believe they are creative in some ways. When asked if they or their companies are doing anything to develop their creativity, usually there are some chuckles and few, if any, hands go up.

What gives? If individuals know creativity is important and know something is inhibiting it, why aren’t they more motivated to do something about it? In 18 years of formal education, I do not recall the subject of creativity ever coming up. Although there are many articles, journals, newspapers, books, and presentations about creativity, the decline in it, the myths about it, anecdotes about creativity successes, tips and techniques to stimulate it, and books about creative icons, it is rare to find content that is operational for creativity, to make it relevant in everyday work and personal life.

If people can’t distinguish their creative capabilities, they probably are a commodity or on their way to becoming one. In today’s competitive environment, that puts them into a very vulnerable position. A commodity is useful or valuable because it can readily be bought and sold, is interchangeable with other commodities of the same type because there is little differentiation, has uniform quality, and meets minimum standards. This is not a desirable category for an employee or job seeker in a demanding, complex, and dynamic environment.

Most jobs would benefit from creative employees. As Pixar’s CEO, James Catmull, says in Creativity, Inc.: “If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better. (Replace “mediocre” and “brilliant” with “creative” and you get his gist.) Companies want and need creative employees because the opportunity cost of the alternative is so high.

What can be done about this? If you’ve had any professional development training, you’ve probably already taken assessments that showed your strengths and how you do things. (Personally, I’ve taken at least four – Birkman, Meyers-Brigg (MBTI), StrengthsFinder, and Kolbe). Everyone has strengths. Companies assume you have the strengths needed to do the job for which you apply. They are looking for something more – to know how you are different and how you can be uniquely valuable to them. And they struggle to do this, so if you can help them…

You have a choice – commodity or creativity? Choosing creativity involves understanding the fundamental qualities and process and nature of personal creativity (addressed in a prior blog titled What is Creativity? Why Is It Relevant to Innovation?). It also involves a shift in focus. You can choose a commodity focus by continuing to focus on your strengths, getting better at fulfilling known requirements, working harder than others, and getting better compared to others. Or, you can choose a creativity focus by focusing on your differences, your unique value, who you are versus what you do, and how you are seen at your best. Understanding what creativity is and refocusing your attention in this way is a very powerful combination.

Recently, I discovered a “fascinating” tool for understanding the creativity focus and I added it to the unconventional CLUE Institute® and hellofuture toolkit. It is a unique way of understanding and tapping into your natural personal advantages, so I became a Fascinate Certified Advisor and affiliate.

You can check out the Fascination Advantage® Assessment at this link:


What is Creativity? Why Is it Relevant to Innovation?

creativityaltered2When I hand someone my business card, they often comment on my title – Creativity Warrior (or Creativity Architect, Agent, or Actuator, tried at different times during the evolution of my business). A common reaction is “Oh, do you try to bring art to corporate?” And I say: “no,” and remind them that creativity does not apply just to art, that it applies to every discipline. And usually I sense the wheels turning in their heads, and then they nod knowingly.

Creativity is not only relevant to any discipline, it is the most significant gift of human intelligence, says Sir Ken Robinson, internationally recognized leader in the development of creativity, innovation, and human resources. Unfortunately, it is being squandered if it is not honored and expressed in all domains in both personal and professional life. It is a shame that it is so common for creativity to be compartmentalized. I’ve known people who are like robots at work and just look forward to expressing themselves creatively outside of work. In two consecutive IBM Global CEO studies, 70% percent said creativity was the key attribute to be developed in leaders and the most important attribute for employees to develop for future success. In the Adobe State of Create Study, however, 80% of respondents said there is increasing pressure to be productive rather than creative at work. To be human is to be creative so it’s not surprising only 5% of the U.S. workforce is being “maximized” according to Gallup in 2015.

To understand why “creativity” is relevant to work requires that we understand what creativity is. The typical definition is rather abstract and/or haphazard. When asked what it is, typical responses include some combination of “new and novel ideas,” or “something that has not been done before.” Those definitions, I suggest, are not operational. If a leader wants employees to be more creative and those employees think creative means “new and novel,” what exactly are they supposed to do? Brainstorm? (That will be the topic of a future blog.) There seems to be an assumption that everyone just “knows” what creativity means and they should deliver it on demand.

If people knew what it meant, they would have more confidence in expressing it. BTW, the same is true for innovation, which many folks mistakenly think is essentially the same as creativity. I’ve read many articles in which the authors use the words interchangeably in the same paragraph. In the Little Black Book of Innovation, Scott Anthony says: “Over the past few years, I have written several books on innovation, totaling close to a quarter million words. I went back and looked, and in not one of those books do I actually define what innovation is. That’s a glaring oversight. After all, you can’t implore readers to be better at something without telling them what that something is…For a word that is thrown around so much, innovation lacks a clear and consistent definition.” The same can be said of creativity.

Let’s explore operational definitions of creativity and innovation. Most definitions address Creativity “the process” or Creativity “the outcome.” For individuals to effectively perform the process and produce the outcome, they must understand Creativity “the noun.”

Creativity the noun is a system of natural human qualities that are used cooperatively or alternatively to turn insights into great ideas and great ideas into value. Because they are human qualities, and no two people are exactly alike, creativity is idiosyncratic. Because creativity is idiosyncratic, there is not one ideal condition for it. Because they is not one ideal condition, individuals must choose to do what they know supports the manifestation of these qualities in themselves.

In other words, creativity is personal. Everyone has these qualities of creativity, but for whatever reason, they are seldom manifested in an integrated way. To become a creative person, to bring out these qualities, you must be aware of them and be aware of (and use) the process for augmenting and manifesting them. This simple creativity process (not the problem-solving process) is rarely acknowledged even though it captures how insights get transformed into great ideas. It has stages that are always relevant, but the strategies for each stage are idiosyncratic, varying by person and insight. Beyond the great ideas that come out of it, these qualities and this process also are useful to explore interests, strengths, comfort zones, and choose how to support creativity in professional and personal life.

Why is this relevant to innovation? The innovation process is organizational. Whereas the creativity process is relevant to people coming up with insights and transforming them into great ideas, the innovation process is relevant to taking those great ideas and turning them into value. Organizations provide the resources, processes, standards, and policies to do that. Ideally, the people resources are creative.

The Gift and the Servant

Albert Einstein said: “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

Steve Jobs said: “I’m one of the few people who understands how producing technology requires intuition and creativity, and how producing something artistic takes real discipline.”

Despite massive contributions from creative people and innovative organizations, most people don’t think much about their own creative potential, and this has become a topic of increasing concern. The decline in creativity and the need to amp up innovation are frequent topics in magazines, journals, studies, surveys, and books. Most of these sources recommend that companies create a climate for creativity and try the latest tips and techniques. Rarely is the focus on the idiosyncratic nature of people and how to ignite creativity awareness and exploration.

Most education systems and business organizations teach, encourage, and reward the acquisition of technical and analytic skills outlined in curriculum and performance plans with extrinsic rewards. Decades of research indicates that people are motivated by freedom to express their unique brand of creativity, getting better at something that matters, and doing something worthwhile, all related to human intrinsic needs to develop and use natural potential. The opportunity cost of this disconnect is huge, for individuals AND organizations. Individual creativity is the fuel organizations need to innovate. Professional development can ignite it.


In the January-February 2014 issue of the Harvard Business Review, there is an article about IDEO, the famous design firm and innovation consultancy, titled “IDEO’s Culture of Helping.” One topic of the IDEO study especially interested me and inspired me to share an operational definition of “trust.”

The study at IDEO showed that to be perceived as a good “helper” in an organization, you have to be perceived as competent, accessible, and trustworthy. I think all these characteristics are important ones for establishing a climate for creativity in an organization (my main mission), particularly trustworthiness. In the article, “trust” was defined around “comfort” and “safety” in sharing thoughts and feelings; discussing mistakes and problems; and being able to count on the “intention” of helpers to help.

I learned an operational definition of “trust” many years ago that largely takes the “touchy-feely” out of the discussion. (My source attributed it to Fernando Flores, now president of Chile’s National Innovation Council for Competitiveness.) According to this definition, trust has three criteria:
1. Transparent agenda – There is only one agenda, not a public one and a private (hidden) one.
2. Competence – The person has the skill to do the job (mentioned in the HBR article as a helping characteristic separate from trust).
3. Track record – The person has a history of delivering what she or he says will be delivered.

I added a fourth criteria, “Capacity,” to the above list to address a chronic trust-related issue. (This seems related to accessibility at IDEO, mentioned in the HBR article as a helping characteristic separate from trust. It was defined as: how easily the respondent could obtain help from a person.) Working in high tech for many years, I know that sometimes a person just does not have the bandwidth to meet requests. It is important for all involved to acknowledge that regardless of intent or desire, capacity must be available to perform a requested action. No matter how good or reasonable the excuse is for not fulfilling the request, trust is eroded otherwise.

Whenever trust is an issue with a person or on a project, I apply the four criteria and the model has never failed me. Discussing these criteria takes the emotion out of the discussion and allows trust issues to be discussed objectively.