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Ten Great Ways to Crush Staff Creativity

Posted on Thursday, August 29, 2019 at 2:06 PM

Ten years ago we published this great article that is quite relevant today and bears repeating.

By Paul Sloane

As editors, you have much more power than you realize. You can patiently create a climate of creativity or you can crush it in a series of subtle comments and gestures.

Your actions send powerful signals. Your responses to suggestions and ideas are deciphered by staff as encouragement or rejection. If you want to crush creativity in your organization and eliminate all the unnecessary bother of innovation, then here are ten steps that are guaranteed to succeed.

#1. Criticize

When you hear a new idea, criticize it. Show how smart you are by pointing out some of the weaknesses and flaws that will hold it back. The more experienced you are, the easier it is to find fault with other people's ideas. Decca Records turned down the Beatles, IBM rejected the photocopying idea that launched Xerox, DEC turned down the spreadsheet, and various major publishers turned down the first Harry Potter novel. The same thing is happening in most editorial organizations today. New ideas tend to be partly formed, so it is easy to reject them as "bad." They diverge from the narrow focus that we have for the publication, so we discard them. Furthermore, every time somebody comes to you with an idea that you criticize, it discourages the person from wasting your time with more suggestions. It sends a message that new ideas are not welcome and that anyone who volunteers them is risking criticism or ridicule. This is a surefire way to crush the creative spirit in your staff.

#2. Ban Brainstorms

Treat brainstorming as old-fashioned and passé. All that brainstorming does is throw up lots of new ideas that then have to be rejected. If your organization is not holding frequent brainstorming sessions to find creative directions, then you are not wasting time on new ideas. Instead, you are sending a message to staff that their input is not required. If people insist on brainstorming meetings, then make them long, rambling, and unfocussed with lots of criticism of radical ideas.

#3. Hoard Problems

The editor-in-chief and senior editorial team should shoulder the responsibility for all the major editorial decisions. Strategic issues are too complicated and high-level for the ordinary staff. After all, if people at the grassroots level knew the strategic challenges the organization faces, then they would feel insecure and threatened. Don't involve staff in serious issues, don't tell them the big picture, and above all don't challenge them to come up with solutions.

#4. Focus on Efficiency, Not Innovation

Focus solely on making the current publishing model work better. If we concentrate on making the current system work better, then we will not waste time on looking for different systems. The current publishing model is the one that you helped develop and it is obviously the best one for the publication. After all, if the makers of horse-drawn carriages had improved quality, they could have stopped automobiles taking their markets. The same principle applied to makers of slide rules, LP records, typewriters, and gaslights.

#5. Overwork

Establish a culture of long hours and hard work. Encourage the belief that hard work alone will solve a problem. We do not need to find a different way of solving a problem -- rather, we must just work harder at the old way of doing things. Make sure that the working day has no time for learning, fun, lateral thinking, wild ideas, or testing of new initiatives.

#6. Adhere to the Plan

Plan in great detail and then do not deviate from the plan regardless of circumstances. "We cannot try that idea because it is not in the plan and we have no budget for it." Keep to the vision that was in the plan and ignore fads like new media and Twitter -- they will pass.

#7. Punish Mistakes

If someone tries an entrepreneurial idea that fails, then blame and retribution must follow. Reward success and punish failure. That way we will reinforce the existing way of doing things and discourage dangerous experiments.

#8. Don't Look Outside

We understand our publication better than outsiders. After all, we have been working in it for years. Other industries are fundamentally different, and just because something works there does not mean it will work in publishing. Consultants generally are overpriced and tell you things you could have figured out anyway. Freelancers don't have good ideas, either. We need to find our sense of direction inside the business by working harder.

#9. Promote People Like You from Within

Promoting from within is a good sign. It helps retain people and they can see a reward for loyalty and hard work. It means we don't get polluted with heretical ideas from outside. Also, if the editor-in-chief promotes people like him, then he can achieve consistency and succession. It is best to find editors who agree with the editor-in-chief and praise him for his acumen and editorial foresight.

#10. Don't Waste Money on Training

Talent cannot be taught. It is it a rare thing possessed by a handful of gifted individuals. So why waste money trying to turn ducks into swans? Hire good editors and let them learn our system. Work them hard and they can emulate the success of the editor-in-chief as he leads the publication forward into the future.

Paul Sloane is the founder of Destination Innovation (www.destination-innovation.com). He writes and speaks on lateral thinking and innovation. His latest book, The Leader's Guide to Lateral Thinking Skills: Unlock the Creativity and Innovation in You and Your Team, is available on Amazon.

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