Over the years, honchos managing their businesses, both large and small, have shared how they often felt rudderless in their corporate journey. “I feel that my business is not going anywhere in particular,” is the refrain I have heard several times during my interactions with CEOs and other decision makers across the country.
At a recent conference, the CEO of a mid-sized company sidled up to me during a coffee break and asked if we could discuss a problem that he was facing. I nodded and he began by telling me that though business was booming across traditional product lines, not all opportunities were being cashed.
He continued, “In our team meetings, the managers are high on enthusiasm when it comes to implementing ideas, specifically those that came from me. They rarely contributed any ideas of their own and seldom contradicted my words during team discussions.” Despite having a highly talented and experienced team, my CEO friend was finding it difficult to understand the reason for this palpable lack of creativity and innovation within his teams.
Refraining from commenting on his problem, I hark back to the hit television serial of the 1970s – Star Trek and recollect a quote from the commander of the Space Ship Enterprise James T Kirk, “One of the advantages of being a captain is being able to ask for advice without necessarily having to take it,” he tells his close confidant and friend Dr Leonard McCoy.
I rewind some more and remind my CEO friend of Captain Kirk’s closest confidants – Spock, a Vulcan married to a life in logic and the good doctor who is driven solely by compassion and scientific curiosity. Both these characters are frequently at odds and suggest different courses of action based on their subjective view of the situation. The captain hears both his advisors and often comes up with a third option, built entirely from his perspective.
The fact that the leader has advisors around him with a worldview vastly different from each other and from himself provides a clear insight into the captain’s confidence as a leader. It is always the weaker leader who wants to be surrounded by people who are loathe to express their opinions. Any organization that fosters such a behavior only ends up stifling creativity and innovation. This eventually results in a situation where decision making and problem solving is centralized and the company is seldom able to change course mid-stream, opines the author, Krishna Kumar.
On the other hand, enterprises that allow diverse opinions to be aired support greater innovation and prove to be better at solving problems. They avoid groupthink and team meetings and discussion forums become a platform for sharing ideas. This is where a Spock or Dr McCoy can be of help in any enterprise – they fuel creativity and innovation by airing their views and forcing the leadership to think.
As noted American educationist and philosopher George F Kneller said: "Creativity, as has been said, consists largely of rearranging what we know in order to find out what we do not know. Hence, to think creatively, we must be able to look afresh at what we normally take for granted."
About the author: Krishna Kumar is a Bangalore-based Executive Coach who works with C-level executives in their growth journey. An IIT-IIM graduate, Krishna runs a premier tennis academy in the city and uses nuggets from sports in his coaching programs under the aegis of the Intrad School of Executive Coaching. He was recently elected to the Board of Governors of the International Association of Coaching (IAC).