Creativity on Demand

Want inspiration in the workplace? Then you'd better get to work on it.

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Some companies have come up with their own homegrown strategies out of necessity. The Boston Consulting Group, a management consultancy, emphasizes the importance of risk-taking to new employees. "Most signals a company sends out are ... run the trains on time, do what you're told, meet the minimum expectations, don't create burdens on others. ... Those behaviors encourage conformity and risk avoidance," says Philip Evans, a senior vice president who gives internal presentations on the importance of creativity to BCG. "We're saying, 'It's OK to take risks, to be a burden.... That's doing your job.'"

Let it fly. Wendy Miller, chief marketing officer for Bain & Co., says one key for her management consultancy is avoiding bureaucracy in implementing new ideas. Recently, the company experimented with using the online program Second Life to teach new recruits about the company after a member on the marketing team proposed the idea. "It's important that you not burden the [creative] process with a lot of bureaucracy.... It just takes someone saying, 'This is an idea-let's pilot it,'" she says.

As executive creative director at the branding firm Landor Associates, Richard Westendorf is under pressure to constantly generate new ideas for his clients on how to present their brands to the public. One of his techniques is to encourage his team to leave the office. "We get stuck within cubes. Get outside, take a walk, go to a coffee shop, see a movie-you never know when inspiration is going to strike," he says.

Andrew Robinson, founder of a consultancy in Eugene, Ore., that helps organizations communicate with adolescents, recently shared his personal strategy on the Accidental Creative forum. Before he gets distracted by demands Monday morning, he writes down his goals, constraints, and excitement for the week to come. He plans his weeks accordingly and checks back in with his list on Friday afternoon. "It's become a significant source of inspiration ... so I don't become static," he says.

Magic. As Disney's Sklar points out, creativity doesn't happen without hard work and discipline. "Anybody who thinks creativity is easy is not a truly creative person," says Brad Henderson, an Austin-based magician. He creates magic-infused events and parties, which he says requires discipline and skills in addition to good ideas. "Unless you can put creativity into practice, it's just daydreaming."

The flurry around creativity has grown so intense that it has even spawned what might be considered a backlash. "What we observe as creativity ... is often more the result of the application of good process," says Karl Ulrich, professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.

When he had to come up with a catchy name for a piece of software he created, Ulrich didn't wait for a flash of brilliance. He made a list of 200 potential names and systematically judged each of them by domain-name availability, ease of spelling, and people's associations with the word. He ended up with the Darwinator.

"People call that creative. It isn't creative. It only looks creative," Ulrich says. He quotes Thomas Edison: "Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration." Ulrich is working on a book due out in 2008 tentatively titled Innovation: Managing the Value Creation Process.

Ulrich doesn't sound so different from the creativity gurus. As creativity speaker and author Brad Fregger puts it, "Creativity without discipline is chaos."