If the future of work is about creativity, imagination, thinking differently, then it stands to reason that creating the environment, conditions, and circumstances under which one can be creative, imaginative, and have different thoughts should be of primary importance.
So the questions become; personally, and as a leader, a) what are the conditions under which you – and your team(s) – maximize your creativity, imagination, and differentiated thoughts, b) how do you optimize those conditions, and c) how do you maximize the time you spend within them? (My assumption being, few people believe they exist within a Leibnizian best of all possible worlds all of the time).
Of course each of us individually probably has a different answer to this. And then again as leaders/managers there are a million different possible approaches.
As I reflect on this I have two simple thoughts, firstly about myself and how I try to march to this drum and the second based on my observations of how lots of people seem to work within big corporations.
The second thought first!
Re-read my opening paragraph again; ask yourself, would the company, boss, group you work for agree with that statement? I would hazard a guess and say they would. Now ask yourself do you genuinely think they believe it and are acting on it? This is where things – I think – would get much more fuzzy.
Few companies that I’ve come across operate like this. The ones that do are rare gems indeed. If you work for one say a little prayer or thank your lucky stars (as I do, here at Cognizant).
My non-scientific, but still quite empirical, research makes me think that most profit-maximizing late stage capitalist enterprises put much more emphasis on environments, conditions, and circumstances that emphasis efficiency, deadlines, short term high level metrics, optimization, ROI, alignment, and all the other mantras of the modern day MBA class.
The calculus is not “what’s best for Johnny or Dept X to re-imagine the business and invent the future of their work” its “what’s best to meet our immediate goals and targets in the lowest cost quickest possible way”.
Agree? Maybe I’m missing something (please do tell me if I am!) but this seems the way of the world as I look at it from my window high above the vertical paper farms between the Collaboratory and the East River.
Now, second, my first thought!
At a conference the other day a young-ish woman introduced herself and in a serious, earnest way confessed to being a fan of my work and asked “how I got my ideas?” Resisting the temptation to quip, “from a gypsy woman on the lower east side” I mumbled a suitably self-deprecating English remark (I trust), something along the lines of “oh well, here and there...”
What I didn’t tell her was that if you’re in the thinking differently business, where creativity and imagination are the coins of the realm, it stands to reason that you’ve got to create the environment, conditions, and circumstances under which you can optimize and maximize your differentiated thoughts.
The way I do it is this; break it down into three components; input, processing, and output. (BTW; what “it” is exactly is probably a topic for another day, one that my friends and family might be interested in given that they’re always asking “what exactly is it that you do?”)
Input – reading stuff and talking to people (probably about a 4:1 ratio). Reading high and low, far and wide, the frighteningly relevant and the seemingly total irrelevant. On paper, on line, the MSM and the SM, the big beasts and the little folks (strip out the bacofoil wearing trolls and the comments on the NYT, FT, Economist etc etc are often far more telling than the actual article), the internal stuff, the free stuff, the expensive stuff, the hard stuff (Piketty, Graeber) and the easy stuff (August Cole, Andy Weir). Talking to the clients, to my colleagues, to the C-Suiters, the boiler men & women.
Processing – time for my daily MAT session; Motion Activated Thinking. The treadmill, a blank wall or a mirror ahead (NO TV OR SCREENS), glasses off. Run. Think. What’s it all about Alfie? Some days I haven’t a clue. Other days “eureka” or “bingo” and the answer is clear. Most times when inspiration strikes it’s in the last few minutes of the 45 or 60 minutes of my MAT time. The endorphin fuelled zone of infamy. Maybe early in the day, maybe in the middle, maybe late. Not squeezed into the margins of the day though. In NYC. In NJ. In hotels all over the place.
Output – a quiet room, a comfy chair, wifi deactivated. On a good day two drafts; the first to think, the second to communicate. On more hurried days, one draft of melded thinking and communicating. Write fast, don’t take breaks, don’t multi-task, start as early in the day as you can. Don’t write for more than five hours tops. After five hours my brain hurts. Put it down. Do something else (email!) Read it again as a reader not a writer. Refine, amend, edit, improve, but don’t agonize (it is what it is and probably you’re past Pareto’s point of no return).
That’s it! Simple huh!
The point is, I’ve created the environment, conditions, and circumstances under which I can be creative, imaginative, and have different thoughts and maximize my contribution (puny as that may be) to the powers that be. And maximize my chances of not being eaten alive by the robots.
Are you doing this? Is your boss? Is your business unit? Is your company? If so, I’d love to hear about how you do it. If not, and the future of your work is about creativity, imagination, thinking differently, then there might be trouble up mill, as they say in the auld country.
To me being creative and imaginative in non-optimized conditions and circumstances is akin to asking Jonathan Franzen to write Purity in a pig-pen between 8 and 6, Mondays to Fridays, in the next three months, while keeping up with his email in real time. Unlikely it’s going to happen.
And yet that’s exactly what many organizations are basically asking their people to do. Invent the future of the business but keep business as usual going as efficiently as possible (under the most efficient conditions and circumstances as possible). And don’t forget to keep up with the email in real time. Go to the gym at 11am to think? You’re joking right? Go and sit on a sofa for 5 hours and write some stuff down? Ah, sorry, I’m due back on the planet earth.
To many, what I’ve written here will be – I’m sure – odd, stupid, comical, trivial, egotistical, irritating. It will not comport with their view of how things work in the real world. It’s a fair cop, but society’s to blame. For the unevenly distributed amongst you though, for whom I’ve rung a bell, well, you my friends, are ideally placed to continue your march to wherever it is you’re going, doing whatever it is you do! When you get there and find out what it is do drop me a line. But I know it will be fun, and useful, and profitable, and future proof, which to me sounds like a good recipe for the future of anybody’s work.