My grandfather left quite a legacy. He came from Italy as a boy to start a new life. He acted in and scripted silent movies, fought in WWI, tightrope walked between two eight story buildings (without a net) over a busy Chicago street, helped build navy ships as an electrician during WWII, and founded a successful restaurant with his wife and nine kids.
His success in the variety of endevours is grounded in one quality: creativity. Creativity is a right-brain function, natural to some and alien to others. Should all brain-storming teams have a business strategist who has this trait?
Coyne and Coyne’s article, Seven Steps to Better Brainstorming, tries to quantify this concept with a set of rules that can build business strategists within a group. Their article states that brain-storming sessions should proceed in seven steps:
- Know your organization’s decision-making criteria
- Ask the right questions
- Choose the right people
- Divide and conquer
- On your mark, get set, and go!
- Wrap it up
- Follow up quickly
At first, I thought that maybe step 3 would meet the need for a creative strategist. But, to my disappointment, they only categorized the “right” person as one who knows answers to questions that are asked about the operations.
Still, any strategy that quantifies brainstorming raises an eyebrow. You cannot quantify creativity, and thus create a business strategist. However, the article intriged me because it referred to another article, Sparking creativity in teams: An executive guide. Ahh, I said, here is a place where the authors are referencing the important creative person, maybe the business strategist. Then I read the first sentence:
“Although creativity is often considered a trait of the privileged few, any individual or team can become more creative—better able to generate the breakthroughs that stimulate growth and performance.”
This opening sentence conjured up a new term in my head, Debabbitting. Debabbitting is any company process that aims to enhance creativity by forcing people into uncomfortable situations. But, in a business strategy session, people are most comfortable with what they know, and their usual approach to problems. In the classic Sinclair Lewis’s book Babbitt, George F. Babbitt, a mid-level company man, grew very uncomfortable when he tried to change his mundane outlook and style of life.
Now, don’t get me wrong, everyone has their special gifts. Most people are creative in certain circumstances. But, not anyone is creative in all circumstances. Take for example, a friend of mine who is a mechanical engineer. His forte is finding solutions to problems. He regularly uses creativity to find solutions to fix the problems. Yet, if you were to ask him to brainstorm outside of his element, he would struggle.
Les McKeown, author of Predictable Success, hit this point in his presentation at an Association for Strategic Planning–Los Angeles event. He spoke of his forth coming book, The Strategist–Leading Your Team to Predictable Success. At the meeting, Les described the different personalities in a business: The Operationalist (“O”), The Visionary (“V”), and the Processor (“P”). “O” is the person who solves problems, “P” does not solve problems, but will write a manual about it, and “V” is our creative person who doesn’t solve problems, and many times creates them. Though all of these roles are necessary, they conflict with each other. Therefore, Les introduced the “S”, the Synergist. The Synergist is the glue that brings all of the others together to arrive at solutions. I have find Les’s book more plausible then trying to conjeur people’s creativity. In fact, I would venture to rename the “S” as the Strategist, (the Business Strategist) because that person must strategize on how to bring all of the players together.
At first glance, you may argue that the business strategist is Les’s “visionary.” However, when you work in complimenting (and conflicting teams), you are creating a business strategist’s network, not individual. I believe Les said the roles are not cut and dry, but it seems to me that once you identify the gifts and each person’s own brand of creativity, the brainstorming session can evolve naturally.
So, how do you resist the temptation to Debabbit? First of all, you have to know your players, and their abilities. And second, you must use each person in such a way in which the process maximizes each person’s strengths. And finally, you must lead from the front by example to show the team how it can (and will) work towards a common goal.