Creative marathon

The creative transformation marathon (Part 1)

Imagine being a sluggish, overweight couch potato. One day you think, “I want to run a marathon.” Is that realistic? We all know of examples of people who have done this — but we know there are many more who tried and failed, or who never got beyond the thought.

Transforming a lethargic, innovation-hostile corporation with a “me too” mindset into an agile creative company (“Creativity Unlimited”) is like turning that couch potato into a successful marathon runner. Just as couch potatoes can’t get out of the chair and immediately complete a marathon, innovation-hostile companies cannot become agile and creative overnight. In both cases, it takes careful planning and sustained commitment to succeed.

Change requires a major impetus

Why would a couch potato suddenly decide to run a marathon? It might be concern over poor health, a desire to lose weight, gaining control over a bad habit like smoking or drinking, or a mid-life crisis.

Likewise, when sluggish corporations decide to become creative organizations, it’s usually a reaction to a crisis: a decline in revenue, profit margin, market share, or customer satisfaction; a new competitive threat like the one that Apple’s and Google’s payment systems present to banks; or market deregulation and globalization which create new opportunities for both the company, as well as for potential competitors.

Are you ready to change?

How should a couch potato start on the path to becoming a marathoner? Go to the doctor and get a check-up, of course. You may be ready to start right away, or that might be dangerous for you. The only way to know for sure is to ask the doctor.

The first thing the me-too company should do is have an innovation expert audit the company for innovation readiness. Such an audit begins with assessing where you are, and where you want to be. Then the innovation expert will identify deficiencies that need to be corrected. The audit results allow you to gauge the odds of succeeding at the desired creative transformation, and how much time it’s likely to take.

Change starts at the top

Following their check-up, novice runners may ask themselves if they are ready and able to undergo the effort and hardships needed to finish a marathon. Success starts with a strong, determined mind, as well as a compelling enough reason to overcome weaknesses and setbacks and continue on to the finish line.

Companies with slow, bureaucratic, innovation-hostile cultures need to start by honestly confronting the findings of the innovation readiness audit. Next, the leadership team needs to decide that they are willing to lead the required changes. They need to ask themselves: “Are we really willing to lead this innovation transformation? Are we willing to commit our own time and efforts to this? Are we ready to transform ourselves into creative leaders, so we can credibly lead by personal example?”

Commit time and money to your goal

Once the couch potato has resolved to run the marathon, they need to invest in some equipment — shoes, clothes, pulse monitor, etc. — and make time available to train. Success becomes even more likely with the services of a professional coach.

In the same way, commitment is the acid test of a corporate leadership team’s seriousness about transforming their organization. Commitment means putting money behind the change. Even more importantly, it means that the leaders must devote their own time to start and lead the innovation change. Finally, it means using the services of an innovation professional who, like a running coach, plans the organizational changes, with actions to be taken and milestones to meet, and measures the progress with a set of innovation-related performance indicators.

Find others to help achieve your goals

Once marathon runners-to-be have started using their new equipment, they feel the immediate pain — and slow gain — of becoming a runner. It’s easier to get through the initial pain by joining a runner’s club. Being with other active runners gives a novice encouragement to help get through the inevitable lows of fatigue, soreness, and minor injuries.

Corporate innovation is a sport of individual efforts, made as part of a team. It thrives when people collaborate and communicate with one other. Members of the leadership team can start changing the organization by publicly declaring the what, why, and how of the transformation. This will help identify supporters within the organization who are eager to contribute and collaborate, and then to use them to start small, successful innovation projects to provide encouragement for the long marathon of transforming into an innovation-friendly organization.

In the next column, we will continue this article on how to build a creative company by discussing the last four steps in transforming from a couch potato to a marathon runner, or from an innovation-hostile corporation into an agile, creative one.

Have you got curious on how to build a creative company? Then check out Thinkergy’s innovation culture transformation method CooL – Creativity UnLimited to find out how we guide companies towards achieving such a cool change. Contact us if you want to find out more on how to become innovative as an organization.

© Dr. Detlef Reis 2015. This article is published in parallel in the Bangkok Post under the same title on 11 June 2015.