Creating information-rich environmentsCreating businesses of engaged business people Connecting people and their work to goals Aligning measurement, rewards and recognition with business strategy

How to Improve Corporate Creativity…

Ten Points About Orbiting the Giant Hairball

Although I was introduced to the creative mind of the late Gordon MacKenzie when I was consulting to Hallmark Cards in the early 1990′s, it was only a few weeks ago while on vacation that I devoured his book: Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate FoGordon Mackenzieols Guide to Surviving with Grace.

Orbiting is about one man’s work to help an already hugely creative company become even more so. And while MacKenzie might have been described as somewhat wacky, his approach balances the tension that exists between the need for organizational control and creative expression.

What’s a giant hairball, anyway? It’s an entangled pattern of behavior such as bureaucracy that doesn’t acknowledge or foster creativity and original thinking. As it grows, it creates gravitational pull that drags people down. Because the hairball provides stability and continuity it has benefits. But promoting creativity isn’t one of them.

You and I have a choice. 1. Get mired in the hairball. 2. Spiral into space (aka, get fired or leave). 3. Orbit the hairball by manifesting our own originality and pushing corporate boundaries while benefiting from the physical and intellectual resources the organization offers. Orbiting is the desired place because we’re able to benefit from the organization’s strengths without getting sucked into the bureaucracy.

Here are 10 key points from Orbiting the Giant Hairball.

  1. Controlling people suppress our uniqueness and creativity throughout our educational and work careers. MacKenzie tells a story of visiting a first grade class. He tells the children he’s an artist and then asks the children to raise their hands if they’re artists, too.  All the children raise their hands. He asks the same question of second, third, fourth, fifth and six graders. As he moves up the grades fewer children raise their hands. Authority figures won’t bless your own particular genius. Embrace your own creativity. Be your own authority figure.
  2. The corporate mindset is set to protect and repeat past successes. You have to fight to put yourself into orbit and stay there.
  3. Tangents are where creativity and innovation occur. All tangents don’t pay off, but you need to allow yourself to go off on tangents if you want to be creative and innovative..
  4. Find places where your desires and those of the company overlap. Fight to stay there.
  5. Reject the “I’m so busy” syndrome. Today it seems almost fashionable to talk about our busyness. Some businesses are fostering cultures that reward overwork.  Instead, we should use our skills to master what we do so we get it it done faster and easier than everyone else. Faster and smarter is preferable to longer and harder.
  6. Find the place between complete freedom and complete security that is best for you.
  7. When a bureaucrat, or what MacKenzie calls a “custodian of the status quo,” stands between you and something you need or want, show the bureaucrat a means to meet your need that is consistent with the needs of the system.
  8. We can’t add value by being one of the nay sayers. Listen non-judgmentally and try to be the person who says, “yes.”
  9. Rather than organizing in silos and departments, we should align our organizations into holistic groups where all the needed resources exist. MacKenzie wrote that before organizations started to view themselves as collections of value streams.
  10. Ignore your job description. Job descriptions act as fence posts that keep us in the corral. Paint landscapes instead.

Getting to the Heart of Employee Engagement

I’ve read most every book on engagement that’s out there. But if I had to choose only one to read, Getting to the Heart of Employee Engagement: The Power and Purpose of Imagination and Free Will in the Workplace by Les Landes would be it. Here’s why.

Most books on the subject say the same thing. They define engagement, summarize the 100 or so studies reporting how much better engaged people perform than disengaged people and then describe techniques and tools organizations have used to improve engagement and results. There’s nothing wrong with this approach. But what I like about Getting to the Heart of Employee Engagement is that Les explains the basics—the why behind the subject of engagement—better than others.

I think understanding the basics— “why things work the way they do”—is the best way to equip someone to master a subject. Understanding the basics of photography, sailing or cooking, three of my avocations, gives me more creative latitude. This gives me a larger inventory of options to work with.

Same, too, with engagement. If you understand the connection between imagination and free will or employee perceptions regarding control n the workplace, you’re more apt to be able to adjust your thinking and techniques to accommodate a wider variety of real-time situations.

Les gets the job done using a fictional story of a thoughtful and insightful consultant who takes a human resource and communication manager on a journey of discovery. Over the course of time Tom, the manager, and David, the consultant, share their thinking about Barney the purple dinosaur, Henry David Thoreau, continuous improvement, performance development, communication and many issues in between.  It’s a fun ride.

I’m typically not a big fan of using fictional stories to make a point because they often feel contrived. But the story Les has created is beautifully crafted. The dialogue is realistic and lessons are incredibly relevant and useful to today’s CEOs as well as HR newbies.

Here’s some of the content that runs through the chapters:

  • A counterintuitive approach to optimizing employee involvement and continuous improvement while generating maximum performance improvement
  • A process for working with employees to contribute to their fullest
  • The importance of dumping the traditional appraisal process in order to foster growth and development
  • Criteria for an effective communication system that might surprise traditional communication practitioners (Hint: It’s not about more activity or publications.)
  • What works and what doesn’t when it comes to employee engagement

Getting to the Heart of Employee Engagement is a fun and fast read. It will give HR and communication people an argument for recommending results-driven processes to their CEOs. And, reciprocally, it will give CEO’s an argument for recommending results-driven processes to their HR and communication people.

Everyone wins.

Good Company – Great Book

I work hard to find newness in business books. But a lot of them are old ideas repackaged. Or as management author and consultant Gary Hamel has said, “The average business book is just a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article with extra examples and the average HBR article is a good PowerPoint presentation with extra prose.” As an author I know how right he is.

But Good Company is very much the exception.

Laurie Bassi and her co-authors have raised the bar that was set 30 years ago with In Search of Excellence. And it’s pushed the whole concept of the value profit chain introduced in the late nineties to the next level.

Good Company
says that a new combination of forces not only requires companies to be good to their people and their customers, but also to be stewards of their communities. These forces include the explosion of online information, an emergence of the ethical consumer and the arrival of the civic-minded Millennials.

The authors believe people are choosing the companies in their lives in the same way they choose the guests they invite into their homes. They want the companies they do business with to be good company.

Good Company offers powerful research, lively stories and a gutsy rating of the Fortune 100 companies that’s apt to improve the business world…for the good.

If you lead a Fortune 100 company, you might start with Chapter 6, see how you’re ranked and then decide what you should do next.