Corporate creativity: Still entangled in the corporate hairball

Recently on the blog, The Conversation, there was a fabulous post and short video by Harvard Business School Professor Youngme Moon, “The Anti-Creativity Checklist“. Professor Moon’s premise in her video, which presents 14 ways that companies stifle creativity (see below), is that companies are programmed to prevent change and new ideas from taking hold. This video will resonate with anyone who works in corporate America. And it reminds me of why I became an entrepreneur. Even an entrepreneurial company, however, can easily lapse into the standard idea-crushing ways of operating and subvert its own future. The behaviors on the list are cultural norms in American business that some may argue keep firms from getting into trouble — legal, financial or otherwise. The list strikes me as the outgrowth of a male-dominated business culture where being tough, commanding, decisive and in control at all times is believed to be the best way to get results. The idea of keeping meetings on course without deviation and without bringing up new and disruptive ideas is also part of this culture. Some may say that this is the older generation in action and that perhaps they need to make way for newer and more productive ways of behaving. But I have seen these attitudes in full action with Millennials or GenXs, whatever you want to call them, who seem to be absorbing the culture and carrying on the traditions.

A book that came out over 10 years ago and still selling fairly well on Amazon today, Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace by Gordon MacKenzie, describes Hallmark and its creative folks who design cards. It describes what MacKenzie calls the “creative paradox”.  The creative people didn’t fit into a company whose livelihood depends upon that very creativity. So, they withdrew to a physically separate creative ghetto, so to speak, in order to continue to be creative.  MacKenzie, a former Hallmark employee describes the “giant hairball”–a tangled, impenetrable mass of rules, traditions, and systems, all based on what worked in the past. This is a good read for those who feel entangled in giant hairballs, corporate or otherwise.

Here’s a link is a summary of the checklist:

1. Play it safe
2. Know your limitations
3. Remind yourself – it’s just a job
4. Be skeptical – show you’re the smartest person in the room
5. Demand to see the data
6. Respect history – always give the past the benefit of the doubt
7. Stop the madness before it gets started – crush early stage ideas with your business savvy
8. Use experience as a weapon – “been there, done that”
9. Keep your eyes closed (and mind too)
10. Assume there is no problem
11. Underestimate your customers
12. Be a mentor – give sound advice to people who work for you
13. Be suspicious of the “creatives” in your organization
14. When all else fails, act like a grown-up

-Sherry R. Gordon

This entry was posted in Business and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Corporate creativity: Still entangled in the corporate hairball

  1. Mike Oswalt says:

    Here is a similar list I have used to stimulate thought about how easily good ideas can be squashed. I’m not sure when that list was originally used but, I got it from my Dad who received it as part of a course titled “Response to Resistance Can be Deadly” conducted by the “Value Engineering and Cost Reduction Division” of a US Atomic Energy Commission contractor in December of 1965.

    120 Ways to Deter Innovation
    Which ones do you use?
    1. The savings are only peanuts.
    2. That’s beyond our responsibilities.
    3. That’s Joe’s job, not mine!
    4. Not enough help.
    5. It’s against company policy.
    6. We don’t have the authority.
    7. Have you gone through proper channels ?
    8. Lets get back to reality.
    9. Can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
    10. Good thought, but impractical.
    11. Let’s think about it some more.
    12. Management would never go for that.
    13. The client won’t like it.
    14. They won’t hold still for that.
    15. Let’s put it in writing.
    16. We’ll be the laughing stock.
    17. Not that again!
    18. Weld lose money in the long run.
    19. We did all right without it.
    20. Where’ d you dig that one up.
    21. It’s never been tried.
    22. Let someone else try it first.
    23. That’s been tried before.
    24. What’s the use?
    25. Not enough time.
    26. Too hard to sell.
    27. I don’t see the connection.
    28. It’s not practical.
    29. What you are really saying is . .
    30. It leaves me cold.
    31. It won’t stand up.
    32. Let’s all sleep on it.
    33. You’re right, but . . .
    34. I’m not convinced.
    35. We’ve tried that before.
    36. We’ve always done it this way.
    37. It won’t work.
    38. We can’t pay for the tools.
    39. It costs too much.
    40. If I thought it’d work, I’d have used it.
    41. It’s not in the budget.
    42. Where will the money come from?
    43. You can’t do that!
    44. You should know better.
    45. We’re not ready for that.
    46. This isn’t the right time for it.
    47. We’re not considering hardware yet.
    48. Everybody does it this way.
    49. Too academic.
    50. Not timely.
    51. It’s a gimmick.
    52. It isn’t progressive.
    53. Not for us.
    54. Too hard to administer.
    55. No good!
    56. Plain stupid.
    57. Screwy.
    58. Too radical.
    59. Too complicated.
    60. The idea is unsound.
    61. It isn’t feasible.
    62. Too difficult.
    63. Impossible!
    64. Production won’t accept it.
    65. We can’t hold up production for that
    66. Engineering won’t approve it.
    67. My Boss won’t like it.
    68. I can’t see it.
    69. Too much trouble to get started.
    70. So what? We’re making a profit!
    71. We don’t have the manpower.
    72. We haven’t time for detail.
    73. The design is frozen.
    74. Schedule won’t allow any plans.
    75. Who is going to do it?
    76. Takes too much time.
    77. We don’t do it that way here.
    78. Our product is different.
    79. Too much work.
    80. It won’t apply to our problem.
    81. Don’t move too fast.
    82. It will set a precedent.
    83. Not enough background.
    84. Why can’t we do it another way ?
    85. We’ve got something just as good now.
    86. Don’t be ridiculous.
    87. We know all this . . .
    88. I’m too busy to decide now.
    89. We haven’t enough facts.
    90. What about the directive?
    91. That will take two years to test.
    92. It will make present equipment obsolete.
    93. It’s not permitted by specifications.
    94. It’s not according to standard changes.
    95. We’ll come back to it later.
    96. Let’s form a committee.
    97. Cost doesn’t matter.
    98. Why change it – it works.
    99. We can’t help it – it’s policy.
    100. Forget cost – just get it out.
    101. The way we’re doing it is best.
    102. Why?
    103. Runs up our overhead.
    104. That’s too “ivory tower.”
    105. What do our competitors do?
    106. What can we expect from the staff?
    107. Has anyone else ever tried it ?
    108. It won’t work in our industry.
    109. It won’t work in my department.
    110. No, no, no.
    111. Too theoretical.
    112. Personnel aren’t ready for this.
    113. The users won’t go for it.
    114. Its new.
    115. We have too many projects now.
    116. We don’t want to do this now.
    117. It’s not standard stock.
    118. We don’t have enough volume.
    119. Let’s shelve it for the time being.
    120. Could a vendor supply this for less ?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *