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.