Cultivating creativity

imo-blogMany CEOs feel creativity should be limited to new-product development and advertising.  They are missing out in a big way.

Share this article!

By Tom Cox

Many CEOs feel creativity should be limited to new-product development and advertising.  They are missing out in a big way.

A key differentiators among businesses is how many employee ideas for improvement get implemented.  Toyota and GM both measure this.  Toyota implements over 10 times more ideas per employee than GM.

To be competitive, CEOs and their firms must embrace innovation and creativity, and it has to come from the top — and every single employee has to be free to contribute fearlessly to the overall creative process in every corner of the firm.

So, how are you going to do that?

I asked Bob Lieberman of Cultivating Creativity in Portland to describe how he teaches senior leaders to cultivate creativity in their firms – and what all professionals can learn about this crucial skill set.

The only way you’re going to keep your people:

* innovating in product and service delivery,
* cutting costs, and
* feeling engaged

is for them to be able to engage their creativity in all of those areas.

Bob Lieberman is personally creative as a part time professional musician for 30 years, and formerly full-time IT manager, now consulting to CEOs and senior executives on how creativity can be most effectively nurtured at work.

We know there’s a huge need for more creativity at work — in all areas of work.  Even back office accounting has scope for creativity — not in ignoring procedures, but in challenging them and relentlessly improving them.

Bob has created an elegant, four-part model of creativity that helps people identify how to unlock higher levels of creative output.

1. Explore (and Focus)
2. Challenge (and Commit)
3. Produce (and Deliver)
4. Appreciate (and Accept)


Let’s start where I feel I am most of the time – produce.  If all we do is produce, we’re in a sweatshop.  People will stop coming to work.  Too much time here saps people’s commitment to the job.

We exit the produce phase by delivering.


Now we can nourish our psyches by appreciating.  This can be either a celebration of excellence, or a learning from something less than excellent, or a combination.

We exit the appreciating phase by accepting.  Whether good or bad or a mix, we accept that the past is past, and we learn and move on.

Watch out – if you get caught up in defensiveness over what you last delivered, and you are unable to fully accept, you’ll be hamstrung going into the next phase.


Now we can explore.  This is where we discover new things that we might want to do, new ways to improve what we’re doing, and otherwise embrace the new and different.  We find the seeds of innovation here.

We exit the exploring phase by developing a focus.  That could be a feature set for the next software release, or a direction for our next research project, or a client to go after. This works best if you allow the focus to arise organically out of the exploration.


Now we can challenge ourselves, our beliefs, our process, and our teams.   We ask questions and figure out how to turn the focus (on what’s important) into a commitment to a goal.

And with that goal in hand, we return to producing.

(If this looks a lot like lean and also like mass ingenuity, I think you’re right.)

Bob says that necessity is indeed the mother of invention — and its father is possibility.

Contributing blogger Thomas B. Cox runs Cox Business Consulting, Inc. and is creator of the blog and web radio show Tom on Leadership, aimed at CEOs and business owners. He has worked with IBM, Oracle, Tektronix, ODOT, Intel and others.