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Bruce Holland

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Improving innovation is not a quick fix but the rewards are enormous. It's critical because it allows us to respond to changing markets and retain competitiveness. It occurs when potentially useful ideas are developed and successfully incorporated within an organisation.

It's A Real Issue

Recently the government has been leading a drive for more innovation within New Zealand. I've been to two of the conferences hoping to hear some initiatives to get big business more innovative. What I've heard is a great deal of talk about "start-ups", "incubators" and small entrepreneurs....but almost nothing about big business. Does this mean that the government has given you up as hopeless cases?

Certainly the issues are real, but not insurmountable. Big business is too important to ignore.

In my last Snippet I said, most businesses favour left brain thinking and in the process devalue about 50% of their human potential. Several people got quite angry about this, but as I see it the evidence is clear. Although it was a school teacher who wrote the following on an early report of Albert Einstein, I think it could just as easily been a manager evaluating a creative subordinant:

"Albert is a very poor student. He is mentally slow, unsociable, and always day dreaming. He is spoiling it for the rest of the class. It would be in the best interest for all if he were to be removed from school at once." Early school report of Albert Einstein.

Creativity Will Not Just Happen

Unfortunately creativity will not just happen because management declares it should. Improving creativity in organisations takes energy at three levels:

  1. The Physical/Technical Level
  2. The Infrastructure Level and
  3. The Values Level.

As we move through these levels they become progressively less concrete and progressively more difficult to change. Especially at the Values Level we are talking about changing life long habits. This takes a carefully designed programme which addresses attitudes, skills and behaviours and it does this in a way which provides feedback, support and time for the changes to occur. We are not talking about a quick fix.

The Physical/Technical Level includes aligning processes, technology and organization structures to allow creativity to grow and bloom. The Infrastructure Level includes aligning rewards, the measurements and the way managers manage. The Values Level includes aligning the organizational culture, political power and individual belief systems so that the organisation becomes more creative.

The Single Biggest Block

The biggest single block to creativity is the need to be right all the time. Lateral thinking techniques are based on the generation of new and different ways of thinking and looking at issues. In creative thinking there is no such thing as a wrong idea since any idea may trigger a right and useful idea. One of the best ways of demonstrating that all ideas are valued is to write them all up as they are generated without any attempt to be selective. Participants will soon get the idea. Another way is to offer a prize to the most unusual or "way out" suggestion of the day.. It is better to have many ideas, even if most of them eventually prove to be worthless, than to have no ideas at all.

What can we do about it?

When I started out consulting, creativity was the focus of my practice, today it is still one of the cornerstones of releasing brainpower. I work to change the way organisations plan for their future, opening them up to a wider range of possibilities. Business people generally think so logically, especially the strategists. Typically they are strong analytical and straight-line thinkers. There is a need for analysis , but you can't start there, you must start by opening people's minds to possibilities. Dreaming about the future is a far more productive starting point than analysing the present. The biggest challenge is to get people to see a vision of what's possible. Once they have that clearly in mind getting there is the easy part.

We make extensive use of teams for creativity. Often ideas emerge that simply did not exist in the mind of any participant before the session. We also encourage ideas from throughout the organisation ... from the Board room to people in gumboots and overalls. Often some of the best ideas come from the grass roots of the organisation, but even if they don't the ideas become owned and acceptable through the process of sharing and listening. There is a significant difference between 'being communicated the strategy' and 'being part of the group that made the strategy'. The opportunities are endless once the whole organisation is thinking strategically, is clear about where it is going and agrees what to put its horsepower into.

We use techniques to break thinking habits, like left hand writing, like having the Most Creative Idea Award and appointing a policeman to make sure no one kills an idea. You see, innovators are not far sighted geniuses, nor do they have the ability to foretell the future. Rather they are ordinary people who make the effort and take the time to become alert to changes that have already occurred around them. They are people who have been trained to react in a certain way whenever they see something new or unexpected. We help every person in the organisation see it as part of their job to make innovations.

Coming up with the ideas is only the first step in innovation. Like plants, ideas are most fragile when they are young. That's why gardeners have glass houses and it's why you need structures and ways of working to protect and nurture young ideas until they are strong enough to support themselves. As we said, creativity will not just happen, especially in today's world of short term profit targets, KPIs and demanding shareholders. We need to balance the increasing emphasis on efficiency and processes, the emphasis on 'to do lists', quick decision making and task performance so typical of the rush and bussel of today's business scene. We need to actively make opportunities to think broadly and strategically and we need to do this throughout the organisation (suits and overalls). We need to align the three levels, work on creating new habits over a period of time. The trick is to have a series of short workshop-type sessions (maybe 15 two hour sessions) and support it with feedback and management training. If this sounds like over-kill, it's not! Because many of the new habits (ways of working) needed are almost the opposite of those currently held.

There is no doubt that I can help clients in releasing brainpower but ONLY if I am working with the right sort of leader. With the right sort of leader (open, flexible, believes in people) almost anything is possible. So if you know someone who fits this bill, please give me a call on Phone +6421620456 or Skype Bruce.Holland or email

Best wishes


Bruce Holland

Helps large organisations be focussed, fast and flexible. Places where people have more meaning, depth and connection.

Expert in Strategy, Structure, Culture and Leadership Development.

One of NZss most experienced change agents.

Liberating the Human Spirit at Work
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