Why Won’t Armano Grow Up?

Read this. Creativity is a funny thing. Similarly with innovation. It is that intangible quality or movement that we recognise when we see it or feel it … but find it difficult to systematise. And while there are whole industries dedicated to creativity and innovation and the book shelves are packed with how-tos, step-by-steps and self directed courses — the essential key to creativity continues to elude us.

The business world loves innovation and creativity. The lexicon of innovation fills our annual reports and press releases, it slots into the collateral and brochureware of our marketing departments, squeezing any substantive meaning out of the words. It is a dead-end game.

But while the business world loves innovation and creativity, it is designed not to unleash innovation but to stifle it. Those charged with driving innovation and creativity within an organisation are often sidelined for promotion and described as "square pegs" or of needing to "grow up". Furthermore, innovation champions tend to achieve in spite of an organisation, not through its support … the accolades landing only after a tenacious leader has succeeded in overcoming the barriers, solved the political, cultural and work-related problems and emerged on the other side, weary yet exhilarated.
And despite the realities of creativity and innovation, despite the commercialisation and amateurisation of creativity, there are still thousands of new graduates lining up for work in what can loosely be called the "creative" industries. Why would this be? Why would common sense dictate that any smart, inventive and driven professional keep well away?

The truth is, that in any enterprise (commercial, artistic or otherwise), there is a need for a wide range of skills, expertise and personality types. And while organisations employ techniques and tests to help quantify and qualify "staff" or "resources" or even "personalities", like many things, our skills and interests are malleable and resistant to categorisation. The "square peg" of Monday can also be the "round hole" on Tuesday — slipping into the different roles dependent upon occasion. This type of Creative Chameleon is not only a business asset, but also a strategic differentiator. Have you seen one of these in your business? They are stranger and more imaginative than you might guess.

6 thoughts on “Why Won’t Armano Grow Up?

  1. The sheep have eaten up the meaning of innovation, and for the most part it has become the waste of white papers and product brochures.
    But true innovators don’t care about the word, and they don’t care about keeping their great ideas a secret. Some of the best innovators I know don’t need to worry about someone else getting the edge on their ideas. True innovators know there is no “scarcity” model to the number of ideas they will come up with. Do you keep your great ideas away? Maybe the new word for innovation is collaboration?

  2. Ha, interesting you’re bringing this subject up when ideation techniques is the subject of my next blog post (after extensive research for a client’s website copy).
    One technique employed by the most innovative companies is what I’d call an ideation evangelist whose sole job is the stimulation, collection, and processing of new ideas within and outside the company. That would be an awesome job for me since I’m naturally curious and like unique work

  3. Innovation cannot exist without creativity. Creativity cannot exist without retaining some semblance of child-like qualities such as play, exploration, curiosity, experimentation and wonder.
    Innovation cannot be mandated or forced just as you cannot force a child to “have fun”. They either will or won’t. But we can affect the environments we create for them.
    This is a good post Gavin. You’ve touched upon a sensitive topic that many people most likely grapple with. How can we fulfill our roles in the work force while keeping our creativity intact? And from the “company” side, how can creativity be harnessed, cultivated, and channeled to produce results which help the company grow?
    Big questions.

  4. Gavin,
    First, great title for this post. Second, this is the nugget that burdens and destroys business: “But while the business world loves innovation and creativity, it is designed not to unleash innovation but to stifle it.”
    What are executives thinking? Answers: Could it be that innovation and creativity are much more difficult to achieve than repeating the same old things over and over again and getting the same results? Or could letting go and giving away some of their power too scary to contemplate?

  5. Yaaa! Boooo! Sucks to big business!! The inflexible will die!!!
    I don’t see that exciting and engaging Millennials to work for a company and bolstering the fluidity needed within that company need be mutually exclusive. Neither does business sense and creative sensibility.
    People are not pegs- neither round nor square. Systems and processes need not be made up of ticking boxes.
    In the same way that we need to be more sophisticated as marketers in understanding our audiences, as employers WE need to understand how to inspire, mentor and promote talent in a way that both fits the needs of business and of individuals.

  6. Gavin –
    Great post. And everyone above me, great comments. As DA mentions, a lot of big questions still sit waiting to be answered.
    There are parallels between this specific struggle that we face and larger, global struggles that affect everyone…
    It’s funny, if you replaced “Business World” with “Modern Life” and “Innovation/Creativity” with “Happiness”, a lot of interesting parallels show up. In both situations, incredible obstacles impede everyone’s search for the ideal. In our business, we’d all like to be more creative. And in life, we’d all like to be happier (generally).
    But in looking around at everyone’s blogs (at least in this end of the ‘sphere), it seems that creativity and innovation are flowing freely, and this is having a strong, positive effect on our work/product. But maybe that’s just me. I work at a small place where we don’t have round or square holes, let alone the corresponding pegs to put in them.
    And if you look around even further, there are some good things happening that might start to break down the barriers faced by the creative and innovative people in our world. Megacorps are looking more aggressively for the kind of thinking that comes from organizations that harbor no such barriers. And as such, small, highly specialized shops are picking up important pieces of big business.
    But we need big inflexible businesses to use their Six Sigma and their process control to make the goods (and the money) we need to survive and continue to work. And if the trend of Big Corp looking to small shop continues, well, then I think we’ll all find happiness.
    – Clay

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