Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Creativity in Association Management - Are You the Roadblock?

Do you run your staff meetings like this?  How about your board meetings?

We talk so much about creativity and innovation in the association sphere but we know so little about how to actually facilitate their achievement.  This Dilbert cartoon just nailed it on Sunday.  After I stopped laughing, I started thinking about how many times I've seen these dynamics play out in the staff room and the board room.

"Your ideas are awful" - We usually don't say this out loud but that doesn't mean we don't marginalize some members of our staff or our board. When they start talking, we jump for our smartphones in a desperate attempt to hide the fact that our eyes are rolling.  When the person is finished we ignore their input, because we didn't hear it in the first place, and move on to "the really creative and smart people."  In a truly creative space we have to ensure everyone gets a chance to talk and be legitimately heard, to be outlandish, or even be fabulously wrong. Sometimes bad ideas have seeds of greatness within them.

"Don't put your ignorance on display" - Nothing kills creativity faster than, "It's already been done...."  Well, maybe that's true.  But examining an issue with fresh eyes, might give you opportunities to see weaknesses in what the competition is doing.  Some way to bring a new angle and some fresh thinking to an already good idea that changes it for the better.  Most of the time, innovation comes from modifying what currently exists and bringing new value to it, not coming up with a brilliant idea out of the blue.  In a truly creative space, there is no such thing as fear of being labeled ignorant.

"No ideas that cost money or involve risk"  - 'Nuff said. In a truly creative space you set aside funds for investment, research and development and you learn to take calculated risks.

"...look at you with disdain" - When you, as the executive, believe that you are endowed with certain powers to accurately and immediately judge what is and is not a good idea, you will kill off any creativity in your staff or board.  I have seen plenty of executives who believe that somehow, by virtue of their position, they will "know it when they see it."  And I have seen plenty of executives who are dead wrong about their own accuracy and powers of intuition.  In a truly creative space, the leaders give room to allow ideas to live and breathe rather than immediately kill them.  If you don't understand it right off the bat, that doesn't mean there is something wrong with it or it can't be done.

"...take that project on in addition to your existing work" - Associations are famous for this.  How often do we ask our employees to step up to the plate to create something new, while doing everything else exactly the same way they have always done it?  Creativity is messy and it is time consuming.  Quite frankly, if you know exactly what you are doing and why, you probably aren't being creative at all.  And if you insist that you will not take the risk of cutting an old thing off to let a new thing live, then start looking at your association wind up and dissolve clause in your bylaws, it's only a matter of time for you.  In a truly creative space, adequate time and space is given to allow new ideas to flourish and workloads are adjusted accordingly.

Stop calling staff or board meetings in order to elicit "creative ideas."  I'm all for retreats and consciously created spaces to learn how to spark new ideas and brainstorm new possibilities and I love facilitating them.  However, those spaces are designed to familiarize groups with the creative process in a macro sense.  Creativity in the micro sense needs to happen on a daily basis.  You can't just call the occasional meeting and demand "creativity." Inspiration doesn't work that way.  You have to build "experimentation," time and platforms into your daily routines to see true creativity thrive.  In addition, you have to adopt some new behaviors to avoid stifling creativity within your group.

Are you surrounded by people who don't seem to have any ideas?  Maybe they aren't the problem, maybe you are.


  1. Sometimes Shelly, I wish you would stop looking into my association. Right on the money again. Thanks for the thoughts. Now how to share this with the person it is intended for...

  2. Best. Comment. Ever. :D

    Best of luck on the "sharing with the one it is intended for" part...I've been there...


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