Creativity First, Innovation Will Follow


Alright, I am officially obsessing about creativity.

This has everything to do with the intense interest in innovation.

Discussions about innovation seem to be everywhere — yet, we don’t to fully understand how to cultivate it. Yes, innovation is a critical concept in today’s workplaces. Yes, it is necessary for us to move forward. However, I can’t help but think that we might be putting the cart before the horse.

Which leads me to one crux of the innovation dilemma.

When it comes to innovation — don’t we need creativity to be there to pave the road?

In this regard, it is wise to learn from the masters. I’ve just listened to HBR’s interview with Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation Studios. Undeniably, the folks at Pixar seem to have a handle on the creativity realm and the innovative results which follow. Catmull explains that the dynamic they have built to foster innovation at his studio isn’t perfect. However, the employed creative process has successfully contributed to quite a few incredible game-changing outcomes. (Consider Toy Story for a moment).

The ideas Catmull proposes to encourage creativity may initially make us uncomfortable and against the grain of how we might usually work. But, the dynamic has undeniably been proven to be a winner.

Here are a few of Pixar’s strategies to consider:

  • Banish perfectionism. There is a misconception that an idea has to be perfected to share it. Throw that rule out the window — and take a leap of faith to trust your team. Share your ideas earlier and gain useful input to build on its strengths.
  • Don’t let risk dictate. Give ideas enough time to “flesh out” before the looming possibility of risk snuffs out the possibilities. Evaluate risk as time goes on, and address those risks one step at a time — after the true potential of the idea is presented.
  • Don’t focus on just one idea. Becoming creative isn’t about locking in on one idea and never letting in another creative thought. Look to accumulate a number of ideas, and group them to help catapult a project forward. If you work in a group (as they do at Pixar), let a number of ideas from different contributors co-exist for a time. See what develops.
  • Not all ideas are instant money makers. Sometimes the process of following a creative path is simply good for the soul. Even if the idea doesn’t prove lucrative, it might pave the way for other ideas which have a much greater payoff.
  • You can give up. Not every creative endeavor deserves long-term attention or resources. If you have the feeling that you’ve entered a dead-end, offer yourself permission to move on. File the work for a later date —  it may become more relevant down the line.

How do you stoke innovation in your team? Share your strategies.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a worklife strategist, consultant and speaker. Connect with her on Twitter and Linkedin.

Got vision? Get some.

vision2Let’s debunk the notion that a vision statement is a bunch of baloney. Like many others — I used to feel that these statements were just an exercise in futility. But over the course of time I’ve seen that I was sorely mistaken. Vision matters.

Considering vision can be a defining moment for an organization, and a vision statement can serve as a powerful guide as it moves forward in the world. If a clear vision doesn’t exist, it should be the first order of business.

GPS for your business
Vision should never be a throw away for a developing business — as it can help direct strategy, pricing, advertising and eventually the talent you are able to recruit. Where a mission statement defines what you do as an organization, a vision statement embodies what you’d like to be  and where you would like to go, as an organization. It is future-oriented and crafted to motivate. The statement is strengthened by the actions and words of the organization. It also can be the impetus for a value-based message to your customer base, driving business and relationships.

As explained by Jenifer Ross, owner of the W@tercooler, a coworking space located in Tarrytown, New York,  “Our vision is like a road map that we can refer back to as we grow and develop our coworking community”. As such, their vision embodies where they wish to go as an organization. Here it is:

  • “Striving to be a catalyst for communication, idea exchange, collaboration and personal/business growth by being a HUB for it’s members, the community it serves and the coworking movement as a whole. W@tercooler will attract, support and cultivate a creative and active community of individuals, entrepreneurs, and small businesses that “work together independently” in the collective and generous spirit of coworking.”

Lost in the sauce of the everyday
Most businesses begin with some sort of vision, but rarely re-visit it. Often it is simply never documented — but getting back in touch with vision can be a great exercise. If you haven’t discussed or even mentioned your organizational vision recently, it’s time to do so. This process can clarify action and direct behavior.

If you find your business without a vision, establish one that helps your business focus and connect with your customers. Keep the strengths of your organization in clear sight, expressing the passion and heart of the business. Try the following exercise:  Think of 3 concepts or words that you would like your customers to use to describe your company. For example: Modern. Cutting-Edge. Service Driven.

Reinforce often
Helping your vision develop “staying power” requires reinforcing the concept through words and visual reminders during the course of your day-to-day operations. Be sure to link back to company vision as much as possible with your employees when discussing performance or customer dilemmas. Spot check your company’s vision “IQ” by bringing up vision at your next meeting. Ask employees to describe your organizational vision and what it means to them.

If you hear crickets – you’ll know there is some work to do.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist located in East Lansing, Michigan. Connect with her on Twitter and Linkedin.

The Evolution of Work: Organizational Structure and a Culture of Creativity


Please note: I am re-sharing this 2011 post with updated links. What are your thoughts? Please weigh in.

There has always been pressure in workplaces to perform. However, the quality and measure of that pressure has evolved significantly. With greater emphasis on ideas and innovation, organizations find themselves wondering: How can we stay on the cutting edge? How can contributors apply their unique strengths to help organizations do so?

While many organizations have explored strategies to facilitate cultural changes that enhance creativity — in practice, they vary considerably in their ability to do so. Many organizations have the potential to increase creativity (mindset and motivation). But, this often requires an accompanying adjustment or redefinition of organizational structure.

Where creativity and innovation are concerned, an organization’s “form” may need to adjust to follow this desired function.

Without needed revisions in structure and supporting processes, positive changes are difficult to realize.

Work swarming and structure.
Organizations are beginning to make the connection between structure, creativity and innovation. One example, is uniquely represented in Valve’s Employee Handbook. Valve — a game developer located in upstate Washington, works with a flat organizational chart that allows talent to flow freely toward the work. One  basic tenet, is the belief that ideas have tremendous value — and deserve to be explored by those who have interest in their development. As such, employees are not completely limited by reporting structure and are free to gravitate toward the projects where they can make the greatest contribution. Projects are rarely assigned, as employees determine how they dedicate their time based upon skills and interest.

Work swarming, a process quite similar to talent utilization at Valve, is not unlike the spontaneous mechanisms borrowed from nature. Discussed previously by Gartner, swarming emphasizes an organic flow of energy toward specific, needed tasks. You’ll find examples of work swarming operating in other workplace cultures — for example, in hospital emergency rooms. Ultimately, elements of swarming allow resources to focus upon a task of real importance or potential value. A dynamic often not realized in traditional, mature organizations.

Work swarming has the potential to encourage both creativity and innovation. However, there is often a general hesitancy to move away from the prescribed roles within traditional hierarchies. As such, contributors remain in their designated lines of work. Common sense does tell us that Valve’s method won’t work perfectly for all organizations. However, we could adapt processes so it might be utilized.

Unlock the mindset
Within traditional organizations, job descriptions and reporting relationships prescribe specific activities and relationships. But to encourage creativity and innovation, it would be advantageous for employees to have the opportunity to function outside the realm of their “day-to-day” routine — a “hybrid” solution. Not unlike the 70-20-10 concept pioneered at Google, employees would feel free to explore new projects, ideas and trends. Employees could be allowed to “unhitch” from the organizational hierarchy and work flexibly for a percentage of their time. In this way, employees could contribute to worthy projects in which they have interest; new ideas are explored and employee engagement can be enhanced. Talent would flow toward projects which have the potential to support, or possibly transform an organization.

The implementation of swarming components would require a clearinghouse of information concerning trending ideas, initiatives and team opportunities — possibly through an internal crowd sourcing platform — and the available talent. In this way employees can make decisions concerning where to spend their time and team leaders could identify contributors who have both the interest and skill set to join.

There are certainly logistics that would need to be addressed to modify an organizational form or structure, in this manner. However, in the case of creativity and innovation — changes to enhance these processes may prove a worthy endeavor. Moreover, contributors could find the challenge and learning experiences they require to stay happy and engaged.

Note:  A form of this post has been previously published at Talent Zoo

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. Connect with her on Twitter and Linkedin.

The ”Catch 22” of Organizational Structure, Talent & Innovation


Photo by LYCS Architecture on Unsplash

At first glance, organizational structure may not appear to be an exciting concept.

Yet, an HBR post discussing how established organizations just can’t seem to keep pace with start-ups in the innovation arena — has caught my attention. It seems clear that the innovation dilemma has a fundamental relationship with the traditional elements of organizational structure, and how those elements develop and solidify over time. One key system which affects the potential to innovate: How organizations secure needed talent.

Structure and Maturation
As an organization matures, many systems within the traditional structure can become rigid. Communication channels become formalized, salary levels are set. On one hand, organizations become a safer and more secure place for employees. But, unwanted by-products such as inflexibility come along with this territory. Ultimately this affects how talent is sourced, limiting the ability of a maturing organization to effectively evolve and innovate.

Ideally, the talent equation begins with leadership and the work at hand, where leaders have the responsibility of translating vision into specific goals and tasks. These tasks in turn, require a set of needed talent elements for completion. Often, the necessity to forecast these talent requirements can become a looming challenge for hiring managers and the entire HR function, which supports that search.

The Catch
The simple truth is that mining talent through traditional channels can take too much time — where a mature organization may not be nimble enough to find needed talent quickly to meet the demands key challenges. But, the clock is ticking if they hope to remain competitive. It’s time vs. talent — and options which provide a more direct route to source and onboard needed talent are required.

Gaining the right perspective is a great place for an organization to begin. In a previous post, I discussed a prediction by Gartner concerning the application of work swarming within organizations. This is a concept which implies that the structure of an organization must flex to allow needed talent to gather quickly (and organically) to tackle projects. The process should allow not only talent from within the organization to gather, but from the broader external environment as well.

Breaking Down Walls
Extending the “virtual walls” of an organization can greatly expand the talent horizon. One interesting option is to leverage contacts within the  industry, or related industries who might possess relevant knowledge concerning a project or subject. One view which has been posed is to collaborate with suppliers to source talent and solve key problems.

Another method of sourcing talent would be to build or access a talent community, a method which capitalizes on the advantages of social media and employee networks when searching for needed skill sets. In this way, an organization develops an extended talent network which can be tapped as needed. Members of the community can be quite varied and can include potential contributors, such as freelancers or those working in related settings.

Another avenue would be to utilize crowdsourcing techniques to staff specific projects. In this way, organizations  bypass portions of the traditional HR hierarchy to enable them to address talent issues in real-time. When a problem or challenge exists, it is placed in an open forum, and staffed.  Of course, there are issues that the organization would have address to maximize this process, but the potential seems apparent. (Platforms such as InnoCentive, have been already been successful in facilitating specific open innovation challenges for mature organizations.)

Possible Snafus
The overall goal of applying these methods is for the organization to have the capability of retaining that innovative “edge”, long beyond the start-up phase. In a sense, slowing down the solidification of a counter productive elements which deter talent from reaching an organization in a timely manner. The process would have to be perfected. Here are few issues that come to mind:

  • What types of projects or challenges would be more appropriate for these solutions?
  • How do we effectively track KSA’s? (Knowledge, Skills and Abilities)
  • What specific legal steps must an organization take to make this happen?
  • Overall, how will HR help to guide the process?

The future of innovation within mature organizations is certainly dependent on finding needed talent. Hopefully, with collective thought we can improve opportunities for more established organizations to find that talent more readily, and retain their potential to innovate and excel.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. Contact her practice at You can also find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

Tell the Story of Your Organization

Photo by Ryan Graybill on Unsplash

Tell me a leadership story — one that embodies the very core of where you and your organization are headed. There may be spread sheets and profit margins. Metrics and shortfalls. But, stories paint an engaging  portrait of any organization or institution.

All businesses possess a rich history and leaders play a pivotal role in that developing story. Whether a start-up or established venture, leaders have a story to tell.

Leaders can provide a compass for change, can align vision with talent and have the power to exert a tremendous influence upon an organization (whether positive or negative). A leader can catapult an organization to the forefront of an industry or bring it to an early demise. Just as great presidents have helped shape our country — leaders help define an organization, for better or worse. Tell me a leadership story — especially those of the leaders that have failed. We can learn from that, as well.

Leaders that takes the helm of an organization at a given point in time, can reveal volumes about the state of that organization and where it might be headed. Each phase of an organization’s development required a very different type of leader — and that’s a lesson in itself. Tell me about that.

However, there is another story we need to hear.

Tell me your organizations leadership story.

We can all to this. So what is your story. What has been left untold?

Telling the tale of an organization’s leaders can serve as a powerful learning tool — one which can leave a lasting impression on an employee.

  • Onboard history. Speak of the leaders who were present in the early phases of the organization’s life cycle. Explain their vision and how it shaped the organization.
  • Failure 101. Reflect on leadership failures and what was learned in the process. How did these failures change the course of the organization?
  • Who is at he helm? Introduce current leaders and the expertise they bring to the organization. Explain how their current vision has been translated into strategy and action.
  • Strategy review. Discuss key inflection points that influenced the organization. How did leadership impact the outcomes? What did we learn, going forward?

With a look to the past,  we can improve the future  and possibly avoid costly mistakes that have already been made. Take the time to discuss the rich history of leadership in your place of business and offer your employees the advantage of perspective.

Tell the story of your organization. It’s a tale that needs to be told.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. You can find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

News of the World: When Organizational Culture Takes the Helm


It’s not often that a crystal clear lesson concerning corporate culture and organizational failure makes headlines worldwide. Certainly, we have come to understand how an organization can fail because of overall mismanagement, poor or untimely decisions or even the occasional leader mismatch. But it is a rare case when the sum of the parts, so to speak – the culture itself – has evolved into such a beast that it actually does the dirty work by itself. In the case of the UK’s News of the World, it seems that the terminally ill corporate culture was indeed the culprit.

Can a sick culture be cured?
In a sense the culture of New of the World was so vile, that even the surrounding environment closed ranks and acted – similar to that of a lone mutated cancer cell within the human body. This was a catastrophic failure of culture, not unlike an insidious mental illness left unchecked and untreated. Apparently the lack of regulation surrounding the British press was all the prodding required to bring about an organizational break with reality, decency and control.

The question remains as to whether this organization could have been cured. Mr. Murdoch (its owner) decided that this was not to be – for various reasons related to a much bigger picture. At the very least, we can surmise that the illness permeated to the quick of the organization and that transforming it into a healthy state was most likely impossible. For Mr. Murdoch, the damage to his reputation and his future business dealings, were being weighed in the balance. In a deluge of public disgust and disappearing advertisers, he pulled the plug on a 168 year old tabloid.

More than a leadership issue: When the culture takes over
Personally, I have always held the belief that the culture of the organization was determined by the people at the helm – and could be saved by the helm as well. When asked as a young psychologist as to the quickest way to ignite a needed organizational culture change, I responded that it was to replace those at the top of the organization. But in a situation such as this, it appears that in the end, the culture operating as a rogue offender did the deed on its own.

As time goes on, it is certain that more News of the World employees will be brought to justice for their role in the specific crimes committed against innocent individuals. But, in the case of the organizational culture gone bad, many of the associated crimes (disrupted careers, financial ramifications) will most likely remain unpunished.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. You can also find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

Too Big to Fail: Are We Enabling Organizations?



Corporate failure is a worthy topic to explore, as we can learn from the catastrophic mistakes of others.

HBO’s drama focusing on the events of the economic crisis, proves this point. The title — Too Big to Fail — of course refers to the nearly fatal infection of the financial services industry and the heroic measures taken to revive it. The film’s razor-sharp focus into the gut wrenching near collapse of an entire industry (and the eventual necessity of governmental intervention to avert demise), was an eye-opening look into the impact of organizational culture, its impact upon risk taking and failure.

Ripe for a Catastrophe
The movie attempts to probe the crux of the crisis — and offers a bit of explanation concerning the events which unfolded. It touches upon the inevitable contributions of sub-prime mortgages, credit default swaps and unchecked greed.

We now know that the problems of the financial sector cascaded into other industries, including the automotive sector — another industry woefully vulnerable to the unfolding economic downturn. While the financial industry seemed vulnerable to issues concerning risk, chronic problems within auto also begun to resurface. Issues such as quality and unrelenting competition from the Japanese. Eventually, American auto also required their own set of life-sustaining measures to continue.

Historically, this was not the first time that governmental support had been necessary to save an organization within the auto sector — or in other industries for that matter. Think Chrysler in 1980 or Lockheed in 1971. (Interestingly, the financial outcomes of these interventions for government, are not as poor as you might expect.) Why specific industries such as banking and auto, have required help repeatedly, may point to chronic cultural issues left unaddressed.

Have Lessons Been Learned?
After all was said and done, HBO’s effort was fascinating (I was riveted by Paul Giamatti’s portrayal of Ben Bernancke). However, a large part of the explanation seemed absent from the story. The movie did not delve into the cultural factors festering within these organizations — that undoubtedly provided the spark to ignite the entire tangled mess into a raging firestorm. Problems which lingered long before the crisis began — such as ineffective leadership, a culture of silence and the absence of longer-term strategic planning.

Which leads us into the heart of the dilemma. If these critical organizational problems are not been properly addressed within the organizations aided, have we essentially enabled them to make the same mistakes once again? After all, hadn’t both General Motors and Chrysler been down a similar path previously? What guarantees will we put in place to protect organizational health, 5 or 10 years from now?

It seems obvious that certain cultural issues have to be solved to ensure long-term organizational health. Here are a few topics to consider:

  • Teach leaders about the past. There seems to be a lack of a “collective unconscious” when the gavel of leadership is passed on within organizations. It seems that the completion of “Organizational History 101” should be required for all future leaders, in an attempt to avoid the re-occurrence of old problems.
  • Avoid “The Emperor’s New Clothes” scenario. A system of checks and balances should be in place when to ensure high quality decisions. Who will allowed to review or challenge the decisions of upper management? (Obviously a devil’s advocate was absent when auto execs took private jets to Washington seeking financial assistance.) Ask the question: Have we looked at all sides of this issue?
  • Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow. Don’t get stuck in the moment – even if things are looking up. Thinking that a favorable environment (whether financial or product-based) will go on forever, will likely catch us off-guard and unprepared. Run through various “what if” scenarios to plan for the inevitable upward and downward turns in sales. Setting strategy for these challenges in the future is key.
  • Avoid making decisions solely from a ledger sheet perspective. Risky short-term financial gains may lead to long-term calamities. If making money just seems too easy, ensure an evaluation of the accompanying risks that may later affect your organization. How will the move affect exposure to other financial or customer-related challenges down the line? Will emphasis in one area leave you open to weakness in another?
  • Utilize innovation to stay ahead of the game. Establish metrics to monitor and encourage real innovation within your organization, and communicate progress regularly. Whether you track patents or customer service successes — innovation can serve as an insurance policy for your company, offering new direction and opportunity.

Moving forward will likely reveal a challenging road. Let’s hope that key lessons have been learned.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist practicing in East Lansing, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter.