What matters most: people or ideas?

Toy-Story-2-image-toy-story-2-36440635-1024-768

To be innovative in business what matters more: people or ideas? This seems like one of those insoluble chicken-and-egg question, but it’s not.

People matter far more than ideas.

Pixar President Ed Catmull learned this simple but powerful lesson during the painful birth of Toy Story 2. He’d assigned an inexperienced “B-Team” to producing the Toy Story sequel because he figured making a hit would be easier the second time around. Half way through the production it dawned on Catmull he’d made a huge error – and he had a complete disaster on his hands.

Radical action was required.

For the first time in the company’s history Catmull removed directors from the movie in the middle of a production. He placed his trust – and the failing movie – in the hands of Pixar’s “Brains Trust” – the most talented team in the business which included legendary director John Lasseter.

The Brains Trust made important changes to the story, and the rest is history.Toy Story 2 became one of the few sequels in cinematic history to outshine the original and took $500m at the box office.

In his book Creativity Inc. Catmull sums up the lesson for leaders everywhere:

“If you give a good idea to a mediocre team they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will fix it or throw it away and come up with something better.”

If you want your business to be consistently innovative don’t focus on great ideas, focus on forming your best people high-performing teams with the right chemistry.

Ideas come from people. Therefore people are always more important than ideas.

If you like this try my bookThe Spark: How to Ignite and Lead Business Creativity’ (FT Publishing)  available on Amazon.

Video snippets: Capturing Creativity In your Business

The individual answers from a one-to-one interview I gave tackling the key questions of business creativity. We’ve cut it into individual snippets so you can view the videos most relevant for you first!  If you want to watch it all in one sitting – that video is also posted on the blog.

Why is it important for businesses to be creative?

Are there other benefits for a business if it becomes more creative?

How difficult is it to lead creativity in a business?

Why is culture so important to creativity in business?

How do you influence culture?

What are the habits you’ve seen in good creative businesses?

Video Interview: Capturing Creativity In your Business

In just over seven minutes I tackle some of the key questions of business creativity. If your’e in a rush, don’t worry!  The individual answers to each of the six questions can be found in another of my blog posts as handy video snippets – I hope you find it useful.

  1. Why is it important for businesses to be creative?
  2. Are there other benefits for a business if it becomes more creative?
  3. How difficult is it to lead creativity in a business?
  4. Why is culture so important to creativity in business?
  5. How do you influence culture?
  6. What are the habits you’ve seen in good creative businesses?

Be Like Steve Jobs: Offer Focus AND Freedom

Point to the mountain – but don’t tell people how to climb

Steve Jobs

First Focus…

When Steve Jobs came back to Apple in 1997 he took his leaders on a retreat. On the final day he stood at the whiteboard and asked: “What are the ten things we’re going to do next?” His lieutenants fought to get their ideas on the board. As the discussion subsided, it displayed the list of ten. At this point Jobs crossed off seven. “We can only do three,” he explained. What he meant: we can only do three things brilliantly well (and better than the competition). Jobs obsession with focus has become the Apple motif. He once declared: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Focus should be a mantra for any business. But it’s particularly important for businesses plying their trade in knowledge and ideas. There’s precious little that’s tangible about a creative business: an office, some laptops and software, weightless intellectual property – and a group of creative, clever people. This imbues the business with an entrepreneurial spirit and a flexibility that’s exciting and full of potential. But agility presents an ever-present challenge: what to focus on – and what to say “no” to.
Creative people can do anything, and they often try. I call it the “Kid in a Sweetshop” Syndrome. Everything looks so appetising and interesting the business ends up doing too much. As a result what they deliver to customers is average. And they end up feeling a bit sick when they look at their profits – and the success of their rivals.

The key to offering focus is to be crystal-clear about:

  1. Purpose – Why you’re in business
  2. Values – What you believe in
  3. Focus – What you want to be famous for
  4. Vision – What your business will look, sound and feel like in the future

…Then Freedom

Paradoxically, once you have established clarity, you can empower your people with confidence. When Jobs found a person he trusted he offered latitude. He called his chief designer Jonathan Ive his “”spiritual partner” and organised Apple to offer him free rein. Creative leaders point to the mountain; but allow enormous freedom on how to climb it. By contrast, non-creative businesses offer the following prescription:

“First, put on your boots… 
“Second, use the handy and detailed map provided by your line manager.”
“Third, lean your body weight forward and swing your right leg. You are now what we call ‘walking’.”
“Fourth, ….”

You get the picture.

In 2013, the advertising business Ogilvy & Mather became the first agency to be awarded over 100 Cannes Lions for creativity, while also winning its first ever Creative Effectiveness Award. The Ogilvy corporate culture is expressed like this: “We don’t like rigid pecking orders. We give our executives an extraordinary degree of independence, in the belief that freedom stimulates initiative. We dislike issuing orders; the best results are produced by men and women who don’t have to be told what to do.”

This blog is an early draft extract from my book “The Spark – How to Ignite and Lead Business Creativity” (FT Publishing, 2014) an inspiring ‘how-to’ manual to boost innovation in your team or business - available in all good book shops and on Amazon

All Rights Reserved, © Copyright Greg Orme 2013

Carrots and Sticks (Why They Don’t Work in a Creative Business)

In Brief: Traditional management tactics of reward and punishment fail where the business is selling creativity – businesses like this need management to encourage people’s inner motivation.

Enormous amounts of time and money are expended to motivate employees to be creative. Sadly, much of it wasted because traditional management thinking is obsessed with external rewards in the form of carrots and sticks. This external (or extrinsic) motivational approach leads to carrots in the form of higher wages and bonus payments. The sticks are demotion, performance management and even dismissal.

But there’s a problem. External motivation works well for people who are naturally driven by wealth, or are in a repetitive, process-driven job. People drawn to creative fields are often driven by a purpose higher than money – things like challenge, learning and peer recognition.

I work with some of the world’s best companies in TV, film, games and advertising. They produce creativity to order – week in, week out. So, how do they do it? And, what can they teach the rest of the business world?

My research with creative organisations shows encouraging people’s inner motivation is far more successful in delivering sustained creativity. Intrinsic motivation comes from inside. It’s a person’s abiding love for certain activities and challenges: coding a website, designing a brand, developing an idea for an online drama. This form of motivational management applies to creativity and innovation in “non-creative” industries as well. So the person might equally be searching for a new way to organise business information or manage customer relationships.

Let’s be clear. Nobody wants to be starving artist. But above a certain level of remuneration, when reasonable market rates have been met, or slightly exceeded – or when personal finance has been “taken off the table” as an issue – more cash doesn’t equal more creativity.

In summary, the sorts of people who end up in complex or creative jobs are often most creative when they are intrinsically motivated—in other words, when the work and the work are stimulating.Here’s five tips to manage for intrinsic motivation – and hence creativity:

  1. Match People and Task: Select the right people to do the right work – all the way from hiring to team formation.
  2. Create Challenging Teams: Good ideas get better through rigorous exposure to different backgrounds and skill sets.
  3. Offer Freedom within a Framework: Tell people which mountain to climb, but not how to put on their boots and put one foot in front of the other.
  4. Give Generous Support: Offer great support in terms of time allocated and investment – too stingy on either is a recipe for disaster.
  5. Show Gratitude: Let staff know senior management place great value on what they are doing by showing your face from time to time – and saying thank you.

Copyright © 2012 Greg Orme All Rights Reserved