This article was written by Madeleine Dore, originally published in ‘Artshub’.
Feeling the pressure for your organisation to be more entrepreneurial? What is blocking creativity and innovation might not be what you think.
We are told time and time again that we have to be more innovative and entrepreneurial in the arts to bounce back from funding chaos, pursue collaborations and communicate our economic worth.
But in a sector that is already punching well above its weight, it’s difficult to identify where, how, and what to innovate. Aren’t we already by definition entrepreneurial?
At our very core, the arts is exceptional and daring. Yet it’s easy for any organisation to get caught in a cycle of idea-overload, waste time in directionless meetings, get carried away in group-think, or start rehashing tired ideas. A culture of insecurity, slapping down ideas, and mediocracy can quickly emerge.
“We cheer for mediocrity in this country, we don’t cheer for success, particular in the arts, particularly in literature, particular in medicine, except for if you kick a ball, or throw a ball or ride a horse – they are the only things we cheer for in this country,” said Entrepreneur In Residence, Dr Marcus Powe.
Powe helps organisations and communities better select ideas, reduce the risk of failure and begin to build and strengthen a culture of entrepreneurship.
As he puts it, he is ‘paid by organisations to remind them what we are all born with’.
‘When you watch a group of five year olds playing in a group, they do it naturally, as adults we have to do a team building course. When children that age have a disagreement they get on with it, as adults we have to do a conflict and negotiation course. If I gave a child a stick it will become anything in their imaginations; if I gave it to an adult, they would probably measure it.’
To remind us of the creativity we are all born with, we talk to Powe about how to identify innovation blockers and what to do to unlock them and rebuild an entrepreneurial culture.
Creativity, innovation and entrepreneurial are splattered across every strategy, mission statement, and CV. How do we cut through the jargon?
Simply, creativity means making connections others cannot see to come up with ideas. Innovation makes those ideas a reality by developing opportunities. ‘When you put the equation together, creativity plus innovation equals entrepreneurship,’ said Powe.
Entrepreneurship is about action and a process of becoming – not something we can arrive at or keep static. ‘It is not a state of being,’ added Powe.
Similarly, innovation is not a separate strategy, it must be linked to the organisational goals.
According to Powe, there are five creativity blockers. Habit – we have always done it this way. Prejudice – it wasn’t my idea. Blind Acceptance – well my manager said to do it. Stress – real, physical physiological stress. The most dominate is fear – I’ll look silly, I don’t want to say anything.
Something in that list will feel familiar. If it’s fear, work towards a culture that embraces failure, or provide more autonomy to staff in order to reinvigorate their own thinking and ideas.
Burnout is rife in the arts, and a key blocker of creativity. ‘If you are physically exhausted, creativity is very difficult. But if you are physically and emotionally drained there is no way you are going to be creative. At best you will product excellent mediocrity,’ said Powe.
Burnout can be exacerbated by the pressure to be busy. ‘In your position description does it say you have to be busy? We hide behind busy,’ said Powe.
To get organisations out of the busy trap, Power uses the word dare.
‘I dare them to stop doing and start thinking. Most people who are busy are highly reactive, not proactive.’
‘People think they are being effective by being busy, they are not they are just being busy.’
Many people pride themselves on being busy. But Powe said busy is a consequence of unrealistic expectations, ‘which shows lots of doing but a lack of thinking’.
‘We set up these unrealistic expectations of super human production and therefore we set ourselves up for failure,’ said Powe.
Any business, organisation or community, has three things: people, processes and a product or service, explained Powe.
‘The most difficult part of that triangle is us. But we normally put all our effort on improving processes because processes don’t fight back. That’s why we get so busy doing process work.’
Despite mind-maps and post it notes? Some good news. ‘Brainstorming doesn’t really work,’ said Powe.
‘Brainstorming is only good for people who are confident. Edward de Bono called it brain sailing, where we would all be in the boat together and bounce around rather than bounce off each other.
CEO’s do not necessarily lead innovation they drive it, said Powe, and assigning responsibility to a project or idea champion can ensure an idea doesn’t endlessly swim around in a pool of complacency or pushed around in a game of ‘It’s not my job.’
‘People who challenge conventional wisdom are needed,’ added Powe.
The most powerful creativity block is poor communication. ‘We don’t communicate at all. We email. That is not communication that is information.’
When an organisation is juggling several new projects or has a culture of unrealistic expectations, often recognition is the first to slip from the list of priorities. Celebrate your success and excellence.
What can sometimes make people feel undervalued is providing the wrong kind of feedback. ‘Some people think they are giving feedback, but they are not, they are being critical.’
It’s important to focus on what went well to replicate that, rather than getting stuck in what went wrong or being the devil’s advocate, said Powe. ‘We all know when wrong, that’s lazy, but how do you turn a wrong into a right?’
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