Disciplined Creativity

Early last year I went on a bit of a learning binge, reading books by some of my favorite or respected creators about the process of creativity. I find it a fascinating topic overall but at the time I was ramping up for writing my first solo authored book and wanted to see how they did it. It was highly relevant and urgent for me given the task ahead (new projects are always my favorite way to learn!).

I read On Writing by Stephen King, Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit: Learn It And Use It For Life, and John Scalzi’s You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing.

(I give Scalzi the best in show award for the title alone!)

King is a horror writer you’ve probably heard of, Scalzi is one of my favorite sci/fi authors (he has interesting ideas about science and the future while still being able to tell a hell of a story), and Tharp is one of the preeminent choreographers today.

The one thing they all had in common: creation is a discipline. The writers all have established a schedule of working on their art that they stick to without much deviation. Equally important, they create whether they are feeling ‘inspired’ or not. The artist burning with the intensity of an idea and then creating madly in an epic session is the rare exception and not sustainable.

These three creators, who have made works highly valued by others repeatedly for years, are workman like about their art. They go at it every day. Is everything a gem? Hardly. But their mix of talent (yes you do need some!) with dedication and consistent effort is why they stand out from the crowd.

As you might guess, this same lesson applies equally well to any other endeavor. With so much work being knowledge oriented today, creativity is worth more than ever.

The lessons from these three creators should give you heart: keep working at it and you will be creative. Don’t worry about inspiration, it’ll happen when it happens. Your discipline is what enables you to take advantage of it.

Bridging Silos

Breaking down silos is a frequent organizational mantra. However, if taken to the extreme, you end up with a pile of rubble and scavengers making off with your grain.

The simple truth of the matter is that no organization can be made perfect, they all have their inefficiencies, politics and barriers. Sometimes the more effective approach is to bridge silos rather than break them down. You are much less likely to bring the whole edifice down on your head if you focus on punching strategic holes in the towers and connecting them rather than trying to take on the entire power structure.

Sometimes the silo is more powerful than you. But almost any organizational silo can be pierced by an intrepid orgpreneur.

Build these bridges based on creating results, getting things done, routing around office politics that have things gummed up. You’ll soon be known as the person who gets it done without trying to reinvent the organization first.

Getting Change Right with Seth Kahan

I’m very excited to share this podcast interview with Seth Kahan, author of Getting Change Right: How Leaders Transform Organizations from the Inside Out.

Seth has consulted with everything from Fortune 100 companies to some of the top NPOs and associations in the world, helping them to get change right.

Some of the key topics Seth covers in the interview include:

  • How important collaboration and engagement are to making change happen;
  • Why the increasing speed of change is creating significant differences among the generations;
  • How to create a touch stone event that creates powerful commitment instead of temporary compliance.

Seth shares a lot of great stuff and I hope you get as much value from our talk as I did.

Download the MP3 of the interview here.


The Sacred Zombie Cows of Albany

An article in today’s New York Times discusses how Andrew Cuomo is campaigning for governor of New York by promising to get rid of 20% of the commissions, boards and other independent bodies that infest the State government.

A choice quote from the article, citing a report on the problems of the state’s government:

“It was politically easy to create new agencies and difficult to abolish old ones, even when their functions had all but evaporated,” the report says.

Classic sacred zombie cow formation conditions. Combine that with election cycle politics and you have a recipe for raising an army of zombie cows initiatives.

Regardless of your politics, it’s refreshing to hear a politician promise to stop government from doing things no longer producing value on such a scale.

The real challenge, of course, will be changing the process of governance so that it’s not so easy to create more of these zombies. That 20% will grow back awfully quick even if he meets his campaign pledge.

What are you doing to prevent cows from lingering in your organization?

Have You Killed Your Sacred Zombie Cow Today?
Click the cartoon to download a full size version suitable for printing.

Two Opportunities to Hear Me Speak in May

I have two public presentations this month that I want to share with you. One is a luncheon keynote and the other a free webinar.

I am the luncheon keynote for the Association Foundation Group’s 8th National Conference on May 20th in Washington DC. My speech is titled “Accelerating Engagement Online and Beyond” which just so happens to be the same as my cover story article for this month’s Associations Now magazine.

I am also presenting a webinar with Real Magnet titled, Communicating for Impact: Simple Techniques for Breakthrough Improvement. This free webinar focuses on how simple planning, testing and measurement of results can lead to dramatic breakthroughs with your electronic communication. I’ll be featuring several real world cases and examples along with my best tips for creating results with e-mail. The webinar is on May 25th at 2 p.m. Eastern.

I hope you’ll join us at one or both of the events!

Growth and…

Every organization goes through growth spurts, like a teenager with growing pains. Sometimes they are intentional and sometimes they are happenstance.

The most successful organizations don’t just say, “Growth!” They ask, “Growth and then….” They plan what is next for those people they just brought into their orbit.

You’ve added a new member. Great! What are you going to offer them next?

You have a new customer! Wonderful! What other product or service is a natural offering for them to move up to?

I talk about accelerating engagement like this in depth in the cover story of this month’s Associations Now magazine: Accelerating Engagement Online and Beyond.

Growth and…then what will you do next? This question should be a significant part of any marketing campaign. Have that plan and offer in place so you don’t waste that newly engaged person you spent so much effort to attract.

Funding Web Projects from Reserves

Should financial reserves be used to fund the development of a website instead of from current revenues? The answer lies largely in the strategic value of the project in question.

Financial reserves are the funds that many non-profit organizations literally hold in a reserve. Since they don’t pay out profits to owners or shareholders, bottom line revenue goes into the bank and is typically invested. These reserves may serve different purposes but they have a role in providing financial security, rainy day resources, and in some cases capital for new ventures within the organization. Funding a website project would qualify under the latter.

My grandfather, a serial entrepreneur in his day, said this: “You can borrow money to make money but you should never borrow to pay for the groceries.” Wise advice all around and it definitely applies to funding your website development and operations.

Delving into reserves to create new capacity, to expand your website infrastructure, with the expectation of significant returns over several years is often a good thing to do. Using reserves to pay for staff or one-off projects is almost always not. The decision to invest reserve capital should always have a tremendous focus on creating significant and sustained new value. It should not be used to cover spot costs or very short-term needs.

This is why web strategy is so critical in a large development project: it gives you and your organization the greatest chance of creating significant returns online when reserve funds are in play.

Sacred Zombie Cows: The Cartoon!

Last year I wrote an article about killing the sacred zobmie cows infesting our organizations. That idea has been marinating since then and I ultimately decided to ask Hugh MacLeod to create a cube grenade cartoon around the concept. These images created by Hugh are intended to spark conversations and get ideas moving.

Have You Killed Your Sacred Zombie Cow?

Please head on over to Orgpreneur.com, my new blog for those who use entrepreneurism in the pursuit of goals that matter, to see the full image and essay on “Have You Killed Your Sacred Cow Today?

Have You Killed Your Sacred Zombie Cow Today?

I asked Hugh MacLeod to design this cube grenade for Orpreneur.com. Hugh’s cube grenade cartoons serve as conversation bombs, something with which to break a conceptual log jam and get things moving. I think this one is a great bomb for a lot of organizations.

Please share this around, tape it to the wall, post it to your intranet, or slap it down on the table in your next staff meeting. Just don’t ignore those sacred zombie cows grazing in your hallways!

Have You Killed Your Sacred Zombie Cow Today?

You must kill your sacred zombie cow if you want your organization to survive and thrive.

Allow me to explain.

Mark Parker, CEO of Nike, said in an interview that his top priority is making sure his company edits, that it removes products and ideas of low quality and value. Parker said that Steve Jobs once told him that Nike is a great company but it would be better if they stopped making ‘crap.’

As Parker implicitly admitted in the interview, it is hard to stop making crap even if you already produce some of the best products in your industry. If it were easy Parker wouldn’t care about it.

The problem with crap is that it is too easy to make. Crap keeps people busy. We’ve always made crap! But crap gets in the way of making the remarkable, the insanely valuable, the things for which you are the best.

Thus the focus on editing at Nike.

Enter the sacred zombie cow. Sacred zombie cows are the purest manifestation of crap within an organization. These are programs, products and services that are a net negative to the company and yet are incredibly hard to kill. They no longer have a strong sponsor on the scene but still they shamble along, eating up resources.

People tend to walk around sacred zombie cows like they are just a piece of furniture, ignoring how utterly dangerous they are.

Peter Drucker, the godfather of business strategy, said that the most innovative companies are those that are ruthless about stopping things. They maniacally root out and destroy sacred zombie cows, like a Van Helsing in Dockers.

Why are these highly innovative companies so focused on the art of the stop? Because it frees up resources that can be invested to develop new products, services and programs.

It is that simple.

Innovation solely through growth is inherently unsustainable. At some point all organizations hit a plateau. Those that never bothered to learn how to stop something go from radical growth to radical stagnation.

If you’ve been editing out the sacred zombie cows all along, then the chances of hitting a plateau are less and when you do hit one you have the ability to change at the precise moment that you need to.

Find your sacred zombie cow. Turn around, it’s right behind you.

Now drive a stake through its heart. Or defenestrate it. Or give it away to another company! Do what you must to get it out and gone forever.

Even if you are the one who turned it loose in the first place.

Killing sacred zombie cows is an act of optimism. It frees your organization to focus on excellence. More personally, it just might unleash a creative burst that takes you to a new level of achievement.

Getting Off The Bus

Jim Collins said in his book Good to Great that one of the keys to being a great organization is to have the right people on the bus even if you don’t know where they are going to sit. Great talents will overcome the ambiguity and become productive quickly while the talentless will provide little even with assigned seats.

Let’s say you are the talent. You are on the bus. Hurrah! But, wait a minute: the bus is on fire, running on flats, and about to plunge off a cliff!

Time to find yourself a new bus. Going down with the ship, er bus, is heroic in novels and movies. It’s a waste of your potential in real life.

Ogpreneurs, high talent and motivated people, can do a lot but no one is a miracle worker. Life is short and the time we have to truly make a difference is more limited than we like to consider.

Only stay on a bus that is going somewhere you want to go and has a reasonably good shot of getting there with your help.