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The Great Creativity Crisis

Creativity in all its varieties has been on my mind lately. Despite living in Barcelona, one of Europe’s edgy, art-inspiring cities, my imaginative brain limps through occasional bouts of “uncreative conformity.”

People have expectations. I do what they want me to do. They’re happy, and my bills get paid. Frequently, I wake up with random outbursts of “conceptual greatness” — a spark of something that theoretically could take me where I think I would like to go next, professionally or personally. Often, a lack of time, money, or energy plus a fear of failure (or is it a fear of success?) keeps those moments of genius relegated to the margins of my notebook, out there on the fringe of my life.

It’s tough living creatively. Perhaps you know what I mean. Sometimes, it’s just easier to stay the course than to nurture an unconventional, unorthodox, and uncertain idea that may, if acted upon, fail, or succeed, triggering a series of important and necessary changes. So, when I recently read a Newsweek article about America’s creativity crisis, I admit, it gave me an unexpected rouse. Wait, it’s not just me? There’s a creativity slump? Whew!

I kept hopping through links, connecting thoughts, and mulling over what the heck was happening to our collective inventiveness and if anyone even cared. Apparently, people do, especially business leaders. Earlier this year, IBM surveyed more than 1,500 chief executive officers from 60 countries and 33 industries worldwide. My jaw dropped when I scanned the results: Hands down, CEOs identified creativity as the No. 1 leadership competency they believed would help their companies successfully navigate an increasingly complex world.

This got me thinking about what supply chain professionals do on a daily basis. For the record, I think supply chain folks creatively fight fires every day. But, what I want to know now is how well appreciated that leadership skill is on an organizational level, and how far electronics companies are willing to go to bring creative supply chain ideas to fruition.

Arguably, all supply chain successes started with an “Aha!” moment that was cultivated and implemented (either with cooperative insight or with sheer brute force) by a few creative souls willing to pioneer a new direction. I can’t help but wonder if the next big supply chain thing has already been written down somewhere in the margins and is waiting for its chance to be great.

This week’s challenge: What was your latest “Aha!” supply chain idea? What do you need to do to move from “conceptual greatness” to reality? How does your team or company encourage creativity, instill it into the daily routine, and evolve it into something that improves the supply chain process? Post your thoughts here.

15 comments on “The Great Creativity Crisis

  1. Barbara Jorgensen
    October 11, 2010

    Hi Jen–Here's mine, courtesy of Avnet. One of Avnet's core values is innovation and it actively encourages employees to share their ideas. While researching a story on the topic, Avnet directed me to the practices of Dr. Michael Hammer who believes that there is a “template” one can follow to generate creative ideas. I figured they just came out of the blue. I now believe that one can have a disciplined approach to the “aha” moment–although I have yet to practice it.

  2. Ashu001
    October 11, 2010

    Jennifer,

    I really liked what you had to say here,

    For the record, I think supply chain folks creatively fight fires every day. But, what I want to know now is how well appreciated that leadership skill is on an organizational level, and how far electronics companies are willing to go to bring creative supply chain ideas to fruition

     

    Creativity needs time off.That's the truth.If you are constantly worried about paying the bills,Picking up kids from soccer practice,Groceries,worried about paying your mortgage and Healthcare premiums,etc,etc [As most Americans are today] Creativity goes for a Toss.

    In the corporate world also lot of very smart people get good ideas,but they get pushed aside as people have to deal with more immediate problems.

    Please can you re-post the links of the IBM and the other survey which you have written about in your blog here?I would like to access the entire results myself.

    Regards

    Ashish.

  3. Jennifer Baljko
    October 12, 2010

    Thanks, Ashish.

    I can't agree with you more. People are so distracted by so many things (personal and professional), they can't muster up the energy to sit still for even a few minutes to scribble down notes and insights, never mind execute new ideas. And, no one takes vacations any more! What's up with that?

    Personally, I'm a big fan of breaking things down into smaller time increments (much like David Allen advocates with his “Get Things Done” productivity approach). In fact, I have “Think Time” sporadically scheduled on my calendar. For those 10 or 15-minutes, I actually brainstorm and write down as many thoughts/project ideas as I can either in a notebook or in my laptop. I very likely won't follow through on all of those projects, but it feels good to get them down on paper and, more importantly, to step away from the grindstone and see things from a different perspective.

    Maybe we need to take a page from the late 1990s when Silicon Valley tech companies set up Zen rooms, places where people could sit quietly and think. Then again, not many of those IT and software companies are around today, so they may not be a good example. Other ideas?

    Here's the link to IBM site:

    http://www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/pressrelease/31670.wss

  4. Jennifer Baljko
    October 12, 2010

    Hi Barbara,

    Do you have more details about the Avnet creativity/innovation-sharing incentive and the template they are using? Would love to read about the technique they have developed.

    Generally, I think Aha moments come from a mixed bag approach. There has to be some discipline around generating, collecting and weeding through ideas  – maybe it's five minutes a day before you open email, or a group brainstorming session, or some structured, well-funded corporate initiative. But, also, there has to be a willingness to act on spontaneous ideas. I know my most successful moments have been a blend of the two – free thought and disciplined practice. It's bit like yoga, I think. The more you practice, the more flexible you become. The more ways you stretch you mind, the more room you have to fill it with ideas.

    I don't think it's a lost art, or such a complicated process. I do, however, think creativity's importance has been vastly understated in today's business climate.

     

  5. Ashu001
    October 12, 2010

    Jennifer,

    Thanks for the link!

    Yes I agree people need more downtime.As for Vacations,I agree that everyone should take atleast a straight 7 days off period atleast once a year,without worrying about answering Work emails/Deadlines/Blackberry constantly buzzing,etc,etc,etc.

    I do myself too once a year,I go away from my Home/Work for a 7 day stretch where I am inaccessible to anybody(by Cell-Phone/Internet,etc,etc);yes such places still do exist!! And believe me when I come back ,I feel so refreshed and energized its a great feeling!!

    Just take some time off to get in touch with yourself ,your family and Nature.

    Its a great idea.Many of the stresses which are so common in today's work/lifestyle are self-inflicted.We just have to know when to “let go”.

    Regards

    Ashish.

  6. SP
    October 12, 2010

    Living creatively is definitely tough. I guess its paying bills that dictates most of the thing. I guess everyone wants some creativity but gets limited by financial responsibilities.

  7. Jennifer Baljko
    October 13, 2010

    Right, SP. Making living often trumps imagination. Sad, no?

    But, I can't help but to think there has to be a balance somewhere. And, the Jeep commercial,”The Things We Make, Make Us,” keeps playing in my head. Say what you will about offshoring vs. local manufacturing, but the idea behind this ad – getting back into making things – struck a chord with me.

     

  8. SP
    October 13, 2010

    so true Jennifer. I guess soemtimes we got to take risk but its good if its calculated one.

  9. itguyphil
    October 15, 2010

    I would be hard pressed to see 'making things' or manufacturing return to onshore locations. The big boys in industry slash so much overhead by sending all of the labor overseas or offshore. Some major tax breaks/incentives would NEED to be instituted to encourage them to bring back the hands-on labor the U.S. of A.

  10. tioluwa
    October 15, 2010

    I think creativity is the essence of life.

    It is however true that it is large erodded and like everybody else, i'm wondering why?

    Perherps the world around us has gotten too complex, and we have lost the simplicity of life and passion that people of earlier centuries had, and were able to unlease their creative side to the maximum. Or maybe it's the burden of responsibility and survival that has cost us our creativity.

    However, it is still our greatest assest. creativity is the answer to the burden of bills, becuase it could bring about results that can solve those problems for good.

     

    I agree with Jeniffer, there has to be a balance somewhere and in addition, there has to be a deliberate set of actions to keep that creativity pool flowing.

    the balance of work and rest, activity and quietness must be maintained.

     

    Its funny that our challenges tend to take us away from the one thing that can solve them.

  11. Jennifer Baljko
    October 15, 2010

    Pocharle,

    I agree. Tax incentives could work especially since many cities, states and nations are looking for ways to rebuild their recession-battered local tax bases.  And, as we've see in the news recently, some industry heavy hitters, like  Intel's CEO Paul Otellini, are asking the U.S. to take such steps. (Here's one recent story on that: http://blogs.pcmag.com/miller/2010/10/intels_otellini_calls_for_more.php)

    The problem, though, is it takes years between when tax incentives are offered and when manufacturers earn a profit from plants built with those tax credits. Not sure what the interim solution would be.

  12. Jennifer Baljko
    October 15, 2010

    Thanks. You sum it up here: “Our challenges tend to take us away from the one thing that can solve them.”

  13. itguyphil
    October 15, 2010

    I know there is always a lag when new policies are put into effect. In this case, it would be because any fiscal modifications would most likely apply for 2011-2012 meaning that no one would benefit until almost another 2 years.

    But in cases like these, it might be slow and seem like a non-factor BUT we have to start somewhere to at least get the ball rolling. Who knows, this might lead to some other great ideas being throw into the mix as well.

  14. Eldredge
    October 15, 2010

    Jennifer,

        Interesting topic – there is an entire area of study and theory around the process of innovation. Many of us have probably had the experience of waking in the middle of the night with a solution to a problem that has been plaquing us! Sometimes I wonder which is the larger roadblock – forming the idea, or bringing it to a tangible state. Few people are recognized for their creativity unless they can carry it through implementation. But that's where the organizations, like Avnet, can put some horsepower behind a good idea.

  15. Jennifer Baljko
    October 15, 2010

    Eldredge,

    You're right in saying companies need to put the horsepower behind a good idea. The lack of investment in time and resources is big stumbling block.  Do you have an examples of how Avnet or similar companies have stepped up and helped drive a creative idea through implementation?

    Jenn

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