Moderator Dan Buchner, Director of Innovation, Center for Creative Leadership, made a valid point in a session at the WICT Leadership Conference about unleashing creativity. Many businesses espouse it, yet very few embrace it. Why does this happen? Jennifer Caserta, EVP and GM, IFC says part of the reason is that it’s scary. The trend is to incorporate into business, she said, “but to actually embrace it, organizations have to let their guard down quite a bit.” Scot Safon, EVP, CNN Worldwide and GM, HLN says companies shouldn’t be listing it as a bullet point on a list, as if it’s a task. That’s like a company putting “have fun” on an agenda, he said. “Organizations often compartmentalize creativity.”
The key, all panelists agreed, is to combine the two. Syndicated cartoonist of “Sherman’s Lagoon” Jim Tooney said, “A lot of people say organizational creativity is an oxymoron,” but it shouldn’t be. “Part of my job is being creative every day. I make a process out of it. Challenge yourself in increments every day. It doesn’t have to be product, it can be a creative approach to a sales process.” A lot of people get caught up in the superficial trappings of being creative, he said. Like playdough being passed around a boardroom, for instance. But, “creativity is not fun,” he said. “It’s hard work, like any other kind of job.”
CNN’s Safon said that to create an environment that truly fosters innovation, “the objective is getting people really comfortable talking to each other,” to tell their stories—even if it’s just a group of five people. One way he has encouraged this at CNN is by having an optional, daily morning meeting. “Every day the world changes enough at CNN to have a morning meeting—maybe even an afternoon one.” Though it’s optional, 50 out of 75 who are invited attend. It’s a way to kick-start brainstorming sessions on a variety of topics. “Free-thinking Fridays” at CNN is another way to get ideas in a non-threatening situation, he said. “Ideas I get from that group that are better than what I get from agencies. They know it’s freewheeling with no consequences.”
Bruce Flye, Director, Planning and Partnerships, Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University and Visual Practitioner, suggests that, especially when dealing with people in high-powered positions who are used to being right, the goals must be laid out ahead of time. “Be very clear about what you’re setting out to do” and “respect the idea of safety,” he said. In other words, the people in the room may not know how to do what’s about to happen. “So you have get them passed that methodically.” But don’t expect to reinvent the wheel, he urged. “Learn to look for the creativity that exists, and look at ways to grow and build on that. You rarely start from scratch.”
But encouraging creativity in the workplace can be tricky. “Be careful about the word ‘creativity,’” Safon warned. “I think that word derails some people, intimidates people.” To get around it he’ll often reframe the assignment and say something like, “I’m looking for something that will surprise me.” It’s also critical to let the group from which the idea originally spawned know that the concept was a success, said Safon. “You need a culture where people at the top constantly let people know [this.] It also gets the competitive juices going. You celebrate it.”
What characteristics, beyond creativity, are required to make an idea come to fruition? “If you’re up top, in the upper echelons of a company, “you need humility,” said Toomey. And if you’re more in the trenches, doing the creative work rather than receiving ideas? “Thick skin.”


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