You’ve Proclaimed Creativity a Company Value, Now What?

By Tony Vengrove

loft with drawing concept

This post is adapted from an article originally published on Values Based Leader.

“We have to innovate or die!” It seems every Chief Executive Officer has trumpeted a version of that tune in the last decade. It’s easy to stand before employees and confidently declare a commitment to innovate, until you realize it’s really a call to foster a creative culture. The problem, however, is that most executive leaders are used to outsourcing creative endeavors to external agencies.

The next logical step is to declare creativity a corporate value. But be aware, it’s no stroll in the park to instill the commitment in your employees so it becomes part of their DNA. Alas, though, creativity is fickle. It has a peculiar way of lurking in the shadows of the status quo; what sends it dashing away for shelter is often poor leadership.

Here are a few ways to lure it out of those shadows:

Embrace Creative Leadership as a core responsibility. Warren Bennis said, “There are two ways of being creative. One can sing or dance. Or one can create the conditions in which singers and dancers flourish.” Your assignment is to actualize the conditions for others to creatively flourish.

Take a moment to look at the equation below and ponder its implications.

ICE 2016

Most companies are addicted to logic, process, and systems thinking—it produces efficiency and predictability, the generator of consistent earnings. Too much left-brain thinking suffocates creativity. John Hunt in The Art of the Idea warns:

“If logic is introduced too early into an idea, it often kills it. That’s because it speaks with history on its side and all its received knowledge can make anything new seem foolish and impractical.”

There’s a natural tension between creativity and logic that will never cease to exist. You must cultivate a climate where ideas can sprout and take hold; you must diagnose the kind of thinking the situation calls for—too much logical thinking leads to an idea funeral.

Champion a vision to create belief. A great creative leader paints a picture of the desired future and ignites a bonfire of excitement for it. If the vision is lackluster, you must go back to the drawing board. There can’t be any doubt about your belief in the vision. When you believe, your employees will believe. And when they believe, an innovative army will storm the Bastille of Ideas. Without belief, you’re deader than Custer at Little Big Horn.

Empower employees via objectives. The military uses an approach called Commander’s Intent to empower subordinates to adapt and improvise in battle. You can employ a similar tactic by giving employees a clear objective, describing what success looks like, and then getting the hell out of the way. It’s false security to expedite problem solving by ordering solutions. When you challenge team members with objectives, you invite a bigger, collective brain to uncover superior solutions.

Master the art of listening. God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. Beware our subconscious mind—it hears a few words and leaps to a conclusion before all the facts burst forth. When employees present ideas, it’s vital to give them the gift of your full attention. Lock your inner-judge in a closet and throw away the key. If you have a hair-trigger, you risk demotivating those whom you’re relying upon to deliver the creative goods! Every idea has value, even if it’s only to inspire someone else to come up with a better one. Your job is to listen for potential and fan the sparks of opportunity into flames.

Live and breathe curiosity:  Curiosity begets creativity, which begets innovation. The most creative people I’ve ever met were the most curious, tinkerers. Look for inquisitive minds in your organization and give them freedom to explore and play. Reveal hidden truths and insights by asking, “Why is that?” Bring an infectious spirit of inquisitiveness to work. After all, how can anyone explore the unknown, the different, without curiosity?

Demonstrate the courage to let go. There’s no doubt about it: cultivating creativity takes tremendous courage. You have to feel comfortable pursuing opportunities without knowing exactly where things will wind up—all while reporting into superiors who want to know precisely where everything is going. When it’s decision time and big money is on the line, it’s tempting to hold onto the known quantity than braving the never-been-done-before. That kind of bravery distinguishes the great from the ordinary.

Gordon Mackenzie punctuates this point brilliantly:

“To be fully free to create, we must first find the courage and willingness to let go:

Let go of the strategies that have worked for us in the past…

Let go of our biases, the foundation of our illusions…

Let go of our grievances, the root source of our victimhood…

Let go of our so-often-denied fear of being found unlovable.

If you stop letting go, your creative spirit will pass out.”

The refusal to let go is the culmination of fear and pure stubbornness. Just because it worked before, doesn’t mean it’s the best solution now. Never allow pigheadedness to asphyxiate the creative spirit of your organization!

Honoring a commitment to creativity starts and ends with the senior leadership team. If you truly desire creativity as a value, then it’s time to start walking the talk. I know you can do it! Do you?

Founder, Miles Finch Innovation LLC

Tony Vengrove, Founder & CEO

Miles Finch Innovation helps companies navigate the messy territory of corporate innovation. We’re strategic thinking partners who can help you get unstuck and identify creative solutions to your toughest challenges. We also love to train and speak on the subject of Creative Leadership. Email us or call us at 860-799-7505 to learn how we can help you you unlock the creative potential of your employees.

How To Stifle Innovation

By Tony Vengrove

This post is an adaption of an article that originally appeared on Intrepid Now.

I recently reacquainted myself with a great book, The Change Masters: Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the American Corporation, written by Rosabeth Moss Kanter in 1983. Given the prodigious rise of innovation, entrepreneurship, and intrapreneurship in the past decade or so, it’s safe to say this book was ahead of its time.

I say this because as I reread it, I came upon a list I had completely forgotten: Kanter’s 10 Rules for Stifling Innovation. While written in a tongue-in-cheek manner, she clearly nails how executive leaders so easily squash the creative spirit out of organizations. As you read the list, ask yourself if these insights are still relevant today:

1. Regard any new idea with suspicion – because it’s new, and because it’s from below.

2. Insist that people who need your approval to act first go through several other layers or management to get their signatures.

3. Ask departments or individuals to challenge or criticize each other’s proposals. (That saves you the trouble of deciding – you just pick the survivor.)

4. Express your criticisms freely, and withhold your praise. (That keeps people on their toes.) Let them know they can be fired at any time.

5. Treat identification of problems as signs of failure, to discourage people from letting you know when something in their area isn’t working.

6. Control everything, carefully. Make sure that people count everything that can be counted, frequently.

7. Make decisions to reorganize or change policies in secret, and spring them on people unexpectedly. (That also keeps people of their toes.)

8. Make sure that requests for information are fully justified, and make sure that it is not given out to managers freely. (You don’t want data to fall into the wrong hands.)

9. Assign to lower-level managers, in the name of delegation and participation, responsibility for figuring out how to cut back, layoff, move people around, or otherwise implement threatening decisions that you have made. And get them to do it quickly.

10. Above all, never forget that you, the higher-ups, already know everything important about this business.

Brilliant, yes?

While much has changed in the corporate world since 1983, the command-and-control leadership style was still in full force back in those days and accepted by many as a successful, if not important, leadership style. Perhaps that’s why the concept of fear isn’t articulated in Kanter’s list, although you might opine it’s implied between the lines. Fear, after all, is central to the command and control style: If you don’t do as I say and deliver, there will be consequences—severe consequences.

In Art of the Idea, John Hunt states, “Fear might be a strong catalyst for entrenching obedience, but it’s a lousy motivator for fresh thinking.”

How true!

Creativity and innovation can’t be bullied into being. Like a turtle, conditions need to be safe and secure before employees will stick their necks out and engage with the creative process.

Kanter’s list also infers that innovation isn’t a process-driven system that can be managed like other business systems. It’s a unique beast. Innovation requires a different style of leadership—creative leadership. Kanter isn’t finding fault with process, she’s indicting poor leadership and poor culture.

If it’s so easy to stifle innovation as Kanter demonstrates, shouldn’t it be just as easy to un-stifle it? Here’s how her list reads if you simply embrace the opposite behavior. I shall call them Vengrove’s 10 Rules for Un-Stifling Innovation:

1. Evaluate any new idea with possibility – look for reasons why it might work, why it’s on strategy, why it’s aligned with consumer insight.

2. Embrace a flatter organizational structure that makes decision making more efficient and productive. Don’t make the process of sharing and advancing ideas burdensome—your employees already have full plates.

3. Don’t allow people to criticize other people’s ideas or proposals without first articulating something positive.

4. Praise and reward people for having the courage to share their ideas. Offer criticism in context of objectives; explain criticism in terms of why something is off strategy. (That keeps people focused on finding solutions to your concerns.) Let them know you embrace and accept failure—that failure is part of the innovation process.

5. Embrace problems as a way to catalyze creative thinking and creative problem solving.

6. If you’re going to control anything, control the objectives and strategy. Then empower people to figure out how to best achieve your goals. Align them on what’s important, and then get out of the way.

7. Communicate about changes early and often—involve the whole organization. Embrace the spirit that people won’t always agree with your decisions, but they’ll know why you made your decisions.

8. Make it easy for anyone to gain access to information they need to advance their work. Data is not the entitlement of the market research department.

9. Embrace diversity and invite a wide-ranging group of people to the innovation table.

10. Above all, never forget that you, the higher-ups, don’t have all the answers or the best ideas.

That’s a pretty good checklist for leaders seeking to develop their creative leadership abilities. If you’re struggling to get your innovation agenda unstuck, perhaps the first step to take is self-evaluation. Are you promoting any of Kanter’s stifling behaviors? If so, what are you going to do about it?

Most employees are begging for change and the opportunity to work for a company that embraces rather than stifles innovation. If the actions of leaders set the tone and culture of the organization, then it’s up to leadership to demonstrate the desired behaviors they want to see in others. That means you can make a huge difference. That means you can help un-stifle innovation. That means you can start now!

Founder, Miles Finch Innovation LLC

Miles Finch Innovation helps companies navigate the messy territory of corporate innovation. We’re strategic thinking partners who can help you get unstuck and identify creative solutions to your toughest challenges. We also love to train and speak on the subject of Creative Leadership. Email us or call us at 860-799-7505 to learn how we can help you you unlock the creative potential of your employees.

The Best of Lead with Giants – August 2015

There are some great reads in August’s edition of Best of Lead With Giants! This

Best_of_LWG_150monthly compilation serves to advocate uplifting leadership and to change lives by showcasing the leadership wisdom of the Lead with Giants community.

This month’s best of includes writing by, Jone Bosworth, Chery Gegelman, Ron McIntyre, Sarah Monahan, Dan Forbes, Linda Fisher Thornton, David Dye, Kimunya Mugo, Rita Joaskolla, Brandon Schaefer and David Hamman. You’ll also find Tony’s recent post, Navigating Transitions: Letting the Story Unfold.

We’re happy to be included in such great company!

To learn more about the Lead with Giants community, click here.

Unleash Your Creativity

The Back Story of my Chapter from Energize Your Leadership: Discover, Ignite, Break Through

By Tony Vengrove

-A sprinkle of creativity is a miracle (1)

As a self-proclaimed innovation omnivore, I’m inclined to follow my heart and permit my curiosity to trail-blaze a path into unchartered territory. That spirit led me to a wonderful group of global leaders who came together to publish Energize Your Leadership: Discover, Ignite, Break Through.

I find the story of the how the book came to be just as inspiring as the book itself. Most of us met online in various Twitter chats, Google hangouts and such. A smaller group first recognized a lack of energy, excitement and sense of purpose in the leaders they interact with each day. After examining that insight for some time the idea for the book emerged and they began to recruit a larger group to participate.

I’m forever grateful to Alli Pollin who thought it wise to ask me to get involved. I “met” Alli digitally after hearing her interviewed on a podcast and thereafter began to converse and share ideas on social media. When the content team determined they needed to find someone to write a chapter about creativity, Alli generously extended an invitation to me to join the cause; I jumped at the chance.

The 16 authors involved are scattered across the globe. I’m still amazed we were able to incorporate as an LLC, agree to a budget and contribute our own capital, create a master plan for the book, stick to a schedule, communicate only via conference calls and email, and pull it all off. Personally, I think it’s a bit of a miracle—collaboration at its finest!

Our book is about energy. As Chris Edmunds states in our forward, “Energy is a vital quality…that is present when people are engaged, enthused, aligned, and valued.” Sometimes energy is abundant and easily accessible, sometimes it’s like a flickering pilot light struggling to ignite into a flame.

“Unleash Your Creativity,” the chapter I wrote for the book, features a story about how my creative energy was sapped and in desperate need of being reignited.

Something almost divine attracted me to an event a few years ago: a local artist was giving a talk on the tremendous success he enjoyed after taking creative action on a serendipitous idea. The timing couldn’t have been better. I had been stuck in a rut and was in need of something to re-energize me and put me back on track. Creative inspiration might be just the thing. I signed up immediately.

On the day of the talk, I’d come down with a nasty head cold and the thought of curling up in bed under the covers sounded far more appealing than trudging outside to then sit in a room full of people for a presentation. But I felt obliged to show up for at least part of the event, so I bundled up and made my way to the venue.

My head cold threw me a curve ball that night. After feeling so excited to attend the event, I suddenly didn’t want to be there. When the talk turned into a hands-on group exercise, I felt dread and thought about leaving. Thankfully, I didn’t get the chance to sneak out and in staying and participating in that hands-on exercise I ultimately found the inspiration I so desperately needed. (You’ll have to read the book to get the full story!)

Creativity can be fickle that way. Sometimes we know exactly where to go to find inspiration, other times we need to quiet our mind and our inner judge to allow inspiration to find us. Quite often it’s in unexpected places, at unexpected moments. When we’ve lost our leadership mojo, what’s often most needed is a clear mind that creates space for our creative spirit to get up and dance. That’s why I love to say creativity is a miracle cure for the leadership blues.

In Energize Your Leadership, we share 16 personal stories intended to reach versus preach. Through our storytelling we hope you’ll find inspiration and the message you were meant to hear. Everything we do creates either positive or negative energy and we wish for you to become a positive energy force for uplifting leaders around you. In doing so, you’ll not only energize yourself, but those around you—and that’s how you can inspire and change the world.

I invite you to learn more about our book at It’s available on Amazon and Kindle along with other online retailers. I’d love to hear your stories about how and where you found inspiration to energize your leadership—please share with us using the hashtag #EnergizedLeaders.

Founder, Miles Finch Innovation LLC

Miles Finch Innovation helps companies navigate the messy territory of corporate innovation. We’re strategic thinking partners who can help you get unstuck and identify creative solutions to your toughest challenges. We also love to train and speak on the subject of Creative Leadership. Email us or call us at 860-799-7505 to learn how we can help you you unlock the creative potential of your employees.


The Stories of Creative Leadership: John R. Bell

By Tony Vengrove


Welcome to Episode 3 of The Stories of Creative Leadership. Our latest conversation features John R. Bell, retired CEO, management consultant, and author of Do Less Better: The Power of Strategic Sacrifice in a Complex World.

As you’ll hear in the interview, John is a leader that truly embraces creativity and innovation. Having served at the helm of a large corporation, John has many lessons to share regarding his creative leadership journey and what principles served him well.

We also talk about his new book Do Less Better, which is packed with relevant insights on strategy, innovation, and leadership. I devoured it and predict it will be on this year’s top-10 business book list. I highly recommend it!

Highlights from the interview include:

  • Why “Creativity is the last great bargain in business.”
  • How John honed his creative leadership skills and what you should do more of and less of starting today.
  • How doing less better brings agility, foresight, adaptability, and resilience.
  • How doing less better enables you to compete with larger organizations with bigger budgets.
  • “One of the most important things a CEO can do is establish an environment that will not force him or her to compromise their strategic principles.”
  • “Creativity without strategy is like spitting in the wind.”

John hit a home-run during our 7 C’s of Creative Leadership lightening round–you won’t want to miss it. He offered a kind endorsement of our creative framework: “I’ve got to tell you, I love the concept of those 7 C’s–it’s a terrific checklist for anyone who wants to break through with creativity.”

We have a lot more exciting guests coming down the pike. Be sure to bookmark our new series landing page so that you never miss an episode!

Founder, Miles Finch Innovation LLCMiles Finch Innovation helps companies navigate the messy territory of corporate innovation. We’re strategic thinking partners who can help you get unstuck and identify creative solutions to your toughest challenges. We also love to train and speak on the subject of Creative Leadership. Email us or call us at 860-799-7505 to learn how we can help you you unlock the creative potential of your employees.