In the past few months, I have had to study up on how to be a good manager for my day job and one of the business professional books that I happen to stumble upon is Robert I. Sutton’s Weird Ideas That Work (How to Build a Creative Company). Many readers probably know of Sutton’s more recent book, The No AssHole Rule, which illustrates the problems in the workplace when people act like jerks. Weird Ideas That Work sets out to describe a set of ideas that can help companies and even creative individuals to jumpstart their creativity, and while the ideas themselves sound very simple, from experience I concur that they are almost always never executed at most companies.
First up, Sutton suggests that creativity is needed if your business is to survive. No company can stay at the top of its game, unless it invests its employees in being creative and working on future products and services. Given that much this is why you really should execute some of these ideas, because in the long run they will lead to future business growth. The keyword here is future, not present market share or current profits.
The first two ideas are all about hiring people who you will have a difficult time. Sutton suggest that you need to hire “Slow Learners” (people who do not adopt themselves quickly to the workplace code) or people who make you feel uncomfortable. This does not necessarily mean critical people, for example in my own experience, just hiring an intern for our department made a significant difference in our everyday workplace. It allowed us to see a different perspective on why we had certain procedures, which eventually lead to us rethinking some of them. Secondly hire people you do not need. This may sound idiotic, but it actually helps. Hiring people outside of the field of work, can bring different perspectives and expertise to projects that may have become routine and less innovative than they were originally.
The third idea is to use job interviews to get ideas. This is something I hope to try next time we have an open position. This is actually pretty interesting. I had never thought of presenting a real problem to a job candidate and seeing what they could come up with. If nothing is gained, it can at least make the interview process more interesting than your usual interview questions.
At number four, Sutton recommends you encourage defiance in your employees. This does not mean letting people come in late and leave early, it means employees should follow their instincts and their passions and work on things that get them excited even if their managers do not like their project or ideas. Sutton gives many examples of when employees defied management and the end results were big profits and innovation for the companies involved. This makes me think more about how you want people to be independent thinkers and not obedient drones. In everyday life, independent workers will correct your managerial mistakes, but drones always do what you say, even if it your decisions are the wrong ones to execute.
While happy people are great to work with, they may not be creative? Sutton suggests that you should seek out happy people and get them to fight, for idea number five. This actually makes sense. The workplace should be about conflict and letting the best ideas win. How else can you make sure you are getting the best widgets if people do not fight about how to make the best widget in the first place.
Perhaps the hardest thing for companies to do is to reward failure. Sutton points out that to be creative as a company or individual, means you have to fail thousands of times before getting a few good products. In other words success only comes from learning to fail literally many times before. If people are not failing or succeeding, then it usually means they are inactive, and inactivity definitely needs to be punished. I do not know of many people who think this way, but inactivity is exactly what is wrong with many work places. For idea number six, Sutton recommends you reward people who fail often and punish inaction.
At number seven, we have the idea that thinking positive can indeed bring success. This is based solely on the fact that negativity kills productivity, but positive feedback is contagious and can literally inspire people to actually believe they can succeed where others fail. The suggestion is that as a manager you should decide to do something that will probably fail, then convince yourself and everyone else that success is certain. This goes along with idea number eight, which is to think of ridiculous and impractical things to do and then execute them. I see this as brainstorming, but it also can work to wake people up and get them out of their boredom.
Number nine is all about deflection. You should try to avoid, distract, and bore customers, critics, and anyone who just wants to talk about money. This should be done in order to let your people nurture their ideas and projects. Most often when an idea is genuinely innovative, it can take a while to develop. Showcasing something before it is ready is never a good idea, and so you should keep others away until you are ready to unveil your pet project.
Sutton suggests for idea number ten, that you should stop trying to learn anything from people who seem to have solved your problems. Obviously there is merit in learning from other successful coworkers, but to be creative, you have to approach problems in as many different ways as possible. Gaining the same perspectives about how to solve something is not going to yield creative results. The one exception would be if you asked for advise from someone outside your area of work.
Lastly Sutton champions forgetting the past successes of your company. There is not much value in reinventing the widget if the widget is now common place. Instead your focus should be on new ideas and products that perhaps your company never thought about. After all, IBM started out selling type writers, yet today, it is much more than type writers.