6 tips for Garden Variety Creativity: No sleeping bag required

A popular article at the New York Times examines the hypomania we associate with entrepreneurs such as Seth Priebatsch, founder of Scvnger (pronounced “scavenger”), who quit Princeton and now occupies a sleeping bag on a couch in his office when he’s not working 96 hours in a row. The article claims that:

The attributes that make great entrepreneurs, the experts say, are common in certain manias, though in milder forms and harnessed in ways that are hugely productive. Instead of recklessness, the entrepreneur loves risk. Instead of delusions, the entrepreneur imagines a product that sounds so compelling that it inspires people to bet their careers, or a lot of money, on something that doesn’t exist and may never sell.

But in a contrary view Peter Drucker challenged these perceptions about entrepreneurs:

Despite much discussion these days of the “entrepreneurial personality,” few of the entrepreneurs with whom I have worked during the past 30 years had such personalities. But I have known many people – salespeople, surgeons, journalists, scholars, even musicians – who did have them without being the least bit entrepreneurial.

Drucker believed these preconceptions could even be dangerous – complicating the idea of creativity in organizations until all but the most stereotypical (read manic) opt out. Instead, he argued that innovation is mostly a systematic discipline practiced by examining several areas where it is likely to occur: the unexpected, incongruities, process needs, and industry and market structures, as well as demographics, changes in perception, and new knowledge.

With the current economic crisis no organization can survive without innovation; it is “the means by which the entrepreneur either creates new wealth-producing resources or endows existing resources with enhanced potential for creating wealth.” If this capability is limited to the gregarious workaholic then large pools of latent creative capital will go unexploited. We need a new paradigm of innovation, what I call “garden variety creativity.” GVC is adapted to the seasons – the cultural and economic changes afoot. It is cultivated through the systematic application of knowledge, and it is native – endemic or naturalized to the local climate (e.g. to local needs, threats, and opportunities).

Yesterday I had the opportunity to meet entrepreneurs who exemplify GVC–introducing innovation to organizations like Coca Cola and Unilever, as well as social sector ventures. ?What If! Innovation is a $40 million global company working in over 40 countries. When I entered the large oak doors in the East Village I was surprised to find lime green floors, Ikea couches, and paper canvasses begging for the multicolored sharpies cupped nearby–and not a hypomanic in sight.

There is a changing landscape of innovation in companies, and it won’t look like an archetypal entrepreneur or brilliant mystic. These tips from ?What If! on creating an innovative culture require discipline, planning, and leadership (and can be implemented by any personality):

  1. Find the key to an innovative culture by creating a virtuous circle of structure, attitude, behaviors and skills.
  2. Identify the behaviors you want and encourage leaders to model them. Innovation is about people and how they behave together.
  3. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Openness and trust provide a basis for an innovative culture.
  4. Take creativity out of the hands of “creative people” and put it back where it belongs – with everyone.
  5. Hire for attitude and teach for skills – successful teams are created, not inherited.
  6. Practice followership rather than leadership. If you walk the floor and reward for risk, people will come with you.

How does your garden grow?

About Joanna Stanberry
Joanna Stanberry is passionate about spreading useful ideas to transform organizations, communities, and the people that knit them into a whole. She is a freelance researcher and consultant in organizational behavior, innovation, and learning, and currently works for the Max De Pree Center for Leadership. Joanna earned an MA in Organizational Leadership from Eastern University, and a BA in Government from Claremont McKenna College. She has studied leadership at NGOs in Bolivia and Brazil, the effects of the Holocaust on memory in post-Communist Poland and the Czech Republic, and is active in the Drucker Society of New York City where she lives. In her scant free moments she works on her swing dancing and takes analogue photos with her husband Andy and daughter Junia.