Today, a light hearted post in which I get to quote two of my favorite philosophers – Jimmy Buffet and Albert Einstein. Buffet write in Changes in Latitudes that if we can’t laugh we’ll all go insane. Einstein said that insanity was doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results.
If Buffet and Einstein, both highly respected philosophers, are correct, then most large organizations are insanity factories – not just mired in insanity but actually producing insanity. Here’s why.
First, creativity is enabled by a lot of factors. These can range from artistic inspiration, to dire need, to innate skill or insight. But creativity is most often enabled by freedom of thought, a chance to do something a bit different, and a little humor. Why do you think all good idea generation sessions start with a joke or an ice breaker? Why do many good meetings seem more effective when even an old groaner is used to open up the dialog? Why is everyone more interested, involved and engaged when good humor is introduced? Because it demonstrates a different attitude, one that recognizes the opportunities and limitation of an organization and encourages, ever so slightly, the ability to step outside one’s perspective and poke fun at the existing way of doing business. Humor lightens the moment and allows people to reach for an entirely different part of their thinking and their brain. Humor is also one of the least used tools or techniques for management. How many times do you see people laughing at work? Usually, it’s when someone pops a Dilbert cartoon in a presentation to make a point. Ouch. While work may not always be “fun”, no one said it had to be drudgery. And if you want innovation and creativity, you’ll need to introduce humor into the mix.
Second, most firms are experts at insanity, at least in the way Einstein described it. Most large firms are experts at doing the same things, with the same people, and the same techniques, over and over again. Our business models are the ultimate examples of doing the same things over and over again. We’ve honed the models for ultimate efficiency and predictability. We’ve turned Six Sigma into a dogma rather than a tool. And along the way our businesses have become, by definition, insane. We think that innovation and creativity are risky, yet we constantly repeat and reinforce existing business models in the face of ever increasing change. Einstein suggested that doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results was the definition of insanity. That definition sounds a lot like our business culture today.
So, while many firms look askance at innovation, creativity and humor, we need these more than ever. We’re on a path to insanity, repeating tired business models, methods and processes, locked into dogmas about predictability and continuity when the real path to growth and differentiation is to break free from the same old tools and techniques and introduce what today seems risky, strange and uncertain – innovation, creativity and humor. Strange to think that what seems like insanity from the inside of a corporation may ultimately be its life preserver. Too many executives think innovation and creativity are dangerous. From the inside of a prison it can be hard to tell who is behind the bars – the visitors or the inmates. It all depends on your perspective. Innovation isn’t insanity – according to our two esteemed philosophers, it’s the cure.
Jeffrey Phillips is a senior leader at OVO Innovation. OVO works with large distributed organizations to build innovation teams, processes and capabilities. Jeffrey is the author of “Make us more Innovative”, and innovateonpurpose.blogspot.com.