How to Stamp Out Creativity

Employee engagementWe've all had experiences of environments that were not conducive to creative thinking.

For starters, a good indication is the lack of enthusiasm in the air, which is heavy with rules and reactionary behaviors. John Cleese suggests they are the result of operating in closed mode vs. the open mode that welcomes creative thought.

They are the workplaces where people feel the least engaged. Gallup says this makes up 70 percent of the workforce in the U.S.

Gallup also found that “One in two U.S. adults said they left their job to get away from their manager — and improve their life overall — at some point during their career.” The good news is that some workplaces have become so dysfunctional, that it acts as a repellent for creative types.

For a couple of months last year, I tested some of these hypotheses by applying to various jobs using the online equivalent of those horrible phone trees we get when we dial customer service. We may be in the 21st Century, but most organizations do not seem to have received the memo. Technology is transforming the career market, but only in progressive companies.

By “progressive” we should not assume startup or early stage company. One such company proceeded to schedule three appointments, canceling one post starting time, with two no shows — in fact, it would have had me convinced the whole crew had been abducted by aliens had I not talked to two clients of theirs that same week. Maybe it was a case of general amnesia. The alternatives are too sad to contemplate.

Companies forget that is branding, too. Behavior tells more about an organization than careful and expensive positioning. It's good information, saves from due diligence at the time we purchase goods and services. There are plenty of options to get a job done today.

At a time when it's possible for all employees to become ambassadors of the brand, when marketers are more hands-on with customers to the benefit of the business, it is puzzling that a group called human resources would in some cases know less about the business than the potential candidate they are “screening.” In that case the first and most common reaction, which is “no response” (an automated form is not a valid response) makes total sense.

We live in a time when no response to thought-out correspondence has become the norm while there is time for social chatter on Slack, WhatsApp, Facebook, or pick your choice of social tool. Likely, the result of a separation of the personal from the professional. Gallup confirms this hypothesis, we are automating behavior, taking the person out of it, and the meaning out of professional with it.

How to stamp out the person

Create a disheartening environment.

At the end of his talk on how creativity is a way of operating in open mode, in half-jest John Cleese gives us a recipe for how to stamp out creativity. Maybe the following sounds a little familiar, given the statistics:

Here's how to stamp out creativity in the rest of the organization and get a bit of respect going.

One: Allow subordinates no humor, it threatens your self-importance and especially your omniscience. Treat all humor as frivolous or subversive.

Because subversive is, of course, what humor will be in your setup, as it's the only way that people can express their opposition, since (if they express it openly) you're down on them like a ton of bricks.

So let's get this clear: blame humor for the resistance that your way of working creates. Then you don't have to blame your way of working. This is important. And I mean that solemnly. Your dignity is no laughing matter.

Second: keeping ourselves feeling irreplaceable involves cutting everybody else down to size, so don't miss an opportunity to undermine your employees' confidence.

A perfect opportunity comes when you're reviewing work that they've done. Use your authority to zero in immediately on all the things you can find wrong. Never never balance the negatives with positives, only criticize, just as your school teachers did.

Always remember: praise makes people uppity.

Third: Demand that people should always be actively doing things. If you catch anyone pondering, accuse them of laziness and/or indecision. This is to starve employees of thinking time because that leads to creativity and insurrection. So demand urgency at all times, use lots of fighting talk and war analogies, and establish a permanent atmosphere of stress, of breathless anxiety, and crisis.

In a phrase: keep that mode closed.

In this way we no-nonsense types can be sure that the tiny, tiny, microscopic quantity of creativity in our organization will all be ours!

But! Let your vigilance slip for one moment, and you could find yourself surrounded by happy, enthusiastic, and creative people whom you might never be able to completely control ever again!

We should be careful of the kind of environment we create at work. Because that is the kind of person we become.



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