Tag: rules

Christmas Elf and Safety Issues (remix)

Do you think that we should consider cancelling Christmas?

No this is not a manifesto from a fringe group who are avoiding the frayed nerves and expense associated with Christmas Shopping, cooking, boisterous children and upset tummies. Christmas is a time where a million and one things must happen and be in place (more or less) by the time presents are unwrapped on Christmas day.

To be honest most of us manage it. We enjoy (or tolerate) the influx of friends and family and for once we seem capable of multi tasking i.e. having a drink, fixing the tree, carving the turkey. Using Christmas as a metaphor, why can’t we do all these things in the workplace? Why can’t we encourage diversity, set objectives, plan and execute strategies?

A subtle clue might be in where the focus lies. As individuals, who do we focus on at work, who do we focus on at home (especially at Christmas)? Now think about where the most dramatic results are achieved!

So far we have considered taking Christmas to work, but what if it were to be the other way around? Just think of all of the rules which we tolerate at work, or at least put up with because it suits us. Here are just a few of the issues that might surface during the festive season:

  • Tall object with pine needles – removed for health and safety reasons
  • Three Wise Men – disbanded because of contravention of equal opportunities policy
  • Baby in a stable – social services involved, baby now in care, animal rights protesters angry because of displaced donkeys
  • Larger house needed – health and safety dictate that there is not enough floor space per human/animal/present
  • Christmas dinner cancelled – no proper workstation assessment carried out on dining table and various rickety items of furniture that we use
  • No presents – Santa has not been on a manual handling course

The list could be endless. There is a serious point to be made though. Yes we do need some frameworks to work within. Someone must look out for the less fortunate and disadvantaged. But too many rules and too many people saying NO is stifling. In the current economic climate we need to bend or even break the rules where necessary.

So its time to decide whether in 2012 you wish to embrace a more creative and productive way of working or wither away under a pile of rules and red tape. Remember, if Christmas really was like work, it would be cancelled. Long live Creativity and Christmas!

Re-writing Your Creativity Rulebook

Do you have a creativity rulebook? Recently I encountered a very interesting take on the idea of rules whilst watching Stephen Tomkinson’s Australian balloon adventure on ITV1. In Melbourne there is a road called Hosier Lane where many graffiti artists work. The mere thought of graffiti signals anarchy to most people or perhaps fond memories of Banksy.

Hosier Lane is completely covered in graffiti and it was intriguing to note that there are ‘rules’ that govern the whole process of applying graffiti. First of all there are real regulations about who can actually spray paint (you need a license), what types of paint you can use etc. then there are the unwritten rules. For instance, who decides when it is allowable to paint over existing graffiti?

It seems that the rules make themselves. If a work is greatly admired then it will survive for a long time, if not and other tags or drawings encroach on it then that is the signal for some urban redecoration. It is also allowable for existing works to be enhanced by adding to them, perhaps a butterfly tastefully applied.

Now let us step back in time and imagine what sort of discussions took place when the graffiti was first put there. All of the existing rules would have been applied in rapid succession to see if a) there was an applicable rule b) it was possible to ban/remove graffiti if the need arose. I can imagine that various regulations covering hazardous substances (paint), planning, safety (crowd control, police) were pored over before someone realised that Hosier Lane was actually a tourist attraction.

So if this street was a street artist’s canvas, what rules can/should be applied? The answer is of course ones that apply to the graffiti itself and those who put it there, subject if course to normal rules regarding decency and other the rights of others not to have graffiti in their street.

So when your organisation decides to embrace creative thinking you will most likely encounter new situations that you need to deal with. Don’t be alarmed, just involve the appropriate people and do not try to make your existing rules fit, they will restrict your creative output.

Public Sector Innovation

This article is based on thoughts and observations rather than research, and is meant to stimulate some thinking on the topic. There will be some generalisations and hence some exceptions can be found also. In this context I define the Public Sector as everything that is not Private thus education and Not For Profit are included also. Innovation is taken to be some sort of system where processes and behaviours are changed to create value and improve output rather than the shiny new gadget that has just come from a high technology start up company. So is there such a thing as Public Sector Innovation?

The big question is ‘Does the public sector innovate?’ and the straight forward answer is no it does not because it cannot. I know of examples of medical innovations within the National Health Service which are exceptions to the rule but the system as a whole does not innovate.

One argument that I often encounter when challenging people on this issue is that their work is governed by rules laid down by government, both local and national. If you provide a service then those rules normally prescribe what happens or must happen at the point of service delivery not what goes on within the body providing the service. So the world is your Oyster as far as Innovation is concerned.

So what prevents Innovation? First of all there are hundreds upon hundreds of self imposed rules or boundaries (see my article on Innovation By Breaking Rules) which are justified by statements such as ‘That is the way we have always done things’. Why is that? What can be changed, rearranged or replaced to improve the quality of what is being delivered? How many people challenge the boundaries?

Targets are a huge issue. I encourage readers to read ‘Freedom From Command And Control’ and ‘Systems Thinking In The Public Sector’ by John Seddon who has a lot to say on this matter. Badly formed targets only encourage behaviour that is designed to meet targets, not to improve service delivery or create value. Many organisations (including private sector) have experienced the touch of Business Process Reengineering (BPR) gurus who have stripped down and rebuilt public sector systems that work poorly. John Seddon talks of ‘value demand’ (demand on a public service) and ‘failure demand’ (demand by way of failure such as complaints or having fragmented information). Our streamlined front/back office systems are candidates for large amounts of ‘failure demand’ and hence wasted energy (but they do meet their targets!!).

Another complex issue revolves around Human Resources and the Unions. I shall not blame either party but simply illustrate a situation that needs resolving. In much of the public sector, HR has been centralised as Employment Law has become more complex thus responsibility for some soft management issues has been withdrawn from the front line (and some managers may have welcomed this). HR has become more about Employment Law and not getting the best out of the workforce.

Even when an employer wishes to reorganise the workforce they come against the Union who are quiet rightfully there to protect the rights of workers. They often start their negotiations from the point of view of ‘change is bad’. Another factor that does not assist is the fact that public sector recruitment and working revolves around the job description and person specification which HR would dearly love to change and the employee and the Union would not (unless there is some compensation). Why is this so? Why can’t contracts of employment describe behaviours and responsibilities rather than actions and qualifications?

Currently in the UK, we are getting ready for significant cuts to spending in the public sector which should spur us on to trying something radical to maintain services to ratepayers and taxpayers. The current economic climate presents a possibly unique opportunity to sow the seeds of Innovation. The danger is that the public sector will be made weaker by simply chopping off bits and not reorganising the remnants or outsourcing to organisations that are still based on a front/back office system that has high failure demand. The justification is that this is what happens when public sector spending is cut.

The conclusion regarding the question ‘does the public sector innovate’ is still ‘no it does not because it cannot’ but also that ‘it does not because those in charge (politicians and civil servants) simply will not’. We can do something about it, if somebody will let us.

Creativity – Getting it Right

For the past 6 years, I have been working with a range of organisations who have identified the need to raise the bar for innovation and creative thinking. They wish to embrace creativity but one thing that’s become very clear to me is that as many as 95% of all the people who end up in my workshop sessions are predominantly left-brained. They want to “get out of the box,” but first they want to define the box, measure the box, compare it to other boxes, and/or send the box upstairs to make sure that everyone signs off on the collective vision of non-boxiness.

There are a number of things that can be done to ensure that creative workshops go with a bang or at least a colourful fizz and meet the objectives so carefully set out for them. Here are just a few, I’ll slip a few more into later articles.

Establish credibility – if you do not already know the participants in your workshop then get some biographical material to participants before the session begins. Include anything that will help people understand that you have the experience and expertise to be a valuable resource. If this is not possible, introduce yourself early in the session and describe your qualifications. You must reassure participants that you just didn’t walk off the street with a magic marker in your hand. Doubt kills creativity. Do everything possible to remove doubt from the room.

Clarify outcomes and address expectations – if you are going to take people on a creative journey, it’s a good idea to start with the big picture. Even though you know that “the map is not the territory”, participants will need confirmation they are not participating in a big improvisation session. People are just not ready for the “I’ll play it first and tell you what it is later,” approach. They need a clear picture of the day. Otherwise, they will be too uncomfortable to let go. Simply and clearly describe the process and agenda for your session, as well as the deliverables they can expect.

Establish ground rules – if you want to break new ground in a creative thinking session, you will need to establish clear ground rules first. Participants need to know what game they are playing – which behaviours are acceptable and which are not. You are, in effect, establishing an ideal “culture of innovation” in the room – the kind of mood that will be conducive to the appearance of new ideas. Rather than telling people what these ground rules should be, your task is to facilitate the process by which participants identify the ground rules they want to live by. These ground rules help create the safety required for the “shy” right brain to make its appearance. They also secure everyone’s permission for you to play your facilitator role – an assumed ground rule that will need to be articulated – especially since there are likely to be a number of participants who do not like giving up control to someone who they’ve never met before or someone they have some reservations about.

Break the ice – most people who end up in your creative workshop will probably not be in a creative mindset when they enter the room. On the contrary, they are likely to be hurried, multi-tasking, overloaded with information, overwhelmed with tasks, and/or feeling underappreciated. One way or another they are likely to be dwelling in the logical, linear, left side of their brain. What they need is some kind of transition – a bridge from the world of “human doings” to the world of “human beings.” A well-facilitated icebreaker is the best way to do this.

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