Creativity vs Management Jargon Bullshit

I’ve spent most of this week at a management and communication training course. It’s the kind of thing designed to give researchers more broadly applicable skills for when we venture away from the ivory towers and out into the real world.

Generally, I’m fairly cynical about these sorts of things; team building and management exercises involving flip charts, post-it notes and brainstorming sessions (or whatever they call them now, thought showers or mind orgies or something like that). My irritation threshold is very low.

So unfortunately it came as little surprise that the course was about as much fun as being force-fed blocks of Lego. While achey breaky heart plays on a constant loop in the background. In a room that’s slightly uncomfortably too warm.

I could go into some detail about the teaching methods used, and why I think they were so fundamentally wrong, but I want to pick up on a specific point which ties into my recent post about creativity.

Essentially, this course presented systems and standards. A very small selection of things people have said can be used as ways of doing stuff. The way to go about a creative problem-solving process, apparently, is to have a team with defined roles and to do a brainstorming session.

I can accept that this is useful, and that there are good ways and bad ways to go about it. But in a session about creativity, there was absolutely no mention of inspiration. Usually, the most creative ideas come seemingly out of nowhere, when the conscious part of the brain is thinking about something else.

Inspiration can sometimes come just from trying something out. Play, in other words. Trying out a bad idea, without worrying about mistakes is an excellent way to gain insight (another word not mentioned once on the course).

I’ve solved problems before, without having sat through a course on “soft thinking skills”. I’ve worked in teams without assessing who was a plant, who was a facilitator, a mediator/evaluator or chairperson. I understand why companies need ways to work out who has what skills and how to put a team together, but I don’t understand how a management consultant can teach people how to have ideas.

The problem, I think, with all of these “thinking models” and “management tools”, is the need to classify, proceeduralise (I made that one up) and standardise everything. The constraints limit creativity, in all fields.

Children are incredibly creative, but they don’t need to be taught how to be. The video below proves this point quite nicely, thanks again to ted.com. If anything, freedom from management models, rigid procedure and pre-determined methodology is the route to real creativity.

It might not sell consultancy books, or earn me a wheelbarrow full of money teaching a training course, but sometimes, just letting smart people get on with it is enough. The real management trick, is to provide the right atmosphere for them to do so.

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