I’m continually astounded by how short-sighted some leaders are. Let me tell you what I mean.
Last week, I was booked by the CEO of an organization that wants me to keynote their annual conference in October. The topic of the keynote is Producing Under Pressure. After we agreed on the details for the keynote program, I asked him, “What do you have on the agenda to help your team think more creatively?” (I have a great hands-on breakout session on this topic that I thought might be a good fit.)
“Oh, we don’t need any of that creativity stuff,” he said. “We’re not really in a creative business. Besides, I don’t want my people wearing clown noses to work and sitting in beanbag chairs.”
This CEO – a very successful man – equates “creative thinking” with “wearing clown noses to work.” That’s sad. But what’s even sadder is that this is not an uncommon reaction. Many leaders see “creative thinking” as just another disposable “soft skill.”
This, despite the fact that:
- The Tesla Model S was a result of “creative thinking”
- The Hershey bar with almonds was a result of “creative thinking”
- Double-entry bookkeeping was a result of “creative thinking”
- The iPhone was a result of “creative thinking”
- Agriculture (and its by-product, civilization) was a result of “creative thinking.”
I’m pretty sure that neither Elon Musk, Milton Hershey, Amatino Manucci, Steve Jobs, or Thog Thogson wore clown noses (although Musk and Jobs may have sat in beanbag chairs). (Also, although I can’t prove that the guy who invented agriculture was named Thog Thogson, you can’t prove that he – or she – wasn’t.)
The simple fact is that everything that has ever created a profit for any company in history has been a result of creative thinking.
Soft skill? I think creative thinking is the core skill!
And when the pressure’s on – when there are serious consequences on the line – you want people around you who can think creatively. Why?
Because things don’t always go right. You’ve heard the adage about the “best-laid plans,” right?
When things don’t go right, particularly when the outcome is important, you want – no, you need – options. And, just like the iPhone and the Hershey bar, options are a result of “creative thinking.”
But listen, don’t take my word for it. Rent a copy of Apollo 13 and watch that scene where the engineers in Houston had to improvise a carbon dioxide scrubber interface to keep the stranded astronauts alive. The success of that mission (sorry – spoiler alert!) is what happens when pressure and creativity intersect.
There is no industry, no organization, and no team on earth (or in space) that can’t benefit from creativity.
And there’s no leader on earth (or in space) who shouldn’t care about creativity.