Creativity in business: An interview with Paul Scheele

This is the first in a series of posts based on interviews and dialogues with creativity and innovation thought leaders around the topic of applied creativity in business. In this interview, Paul Scheele, chairman of Natural Brilliance Productions, shares his thoughts on business creativity, creative leadership and the emerging business paradigm.

Creativity is the key driving force behind successful innovation, and is being increasingly recognized as the new capital in uncertain and challenging economic times. This is the first in a series of posts based on interviews and dialogues with creativity and innovation thought leaders around the topic of applied creativity in business – a subject that has been the focus of my own work for the past 15 years.

Paul Scheele, founding partner of Learning Strategies Corporation and chairman of Natural Brilliance Productions, is an accomplished author, speaker, and consultant in the area of human development, the brain, learning and creativity, transformation, and leadership. The following are his thoughts on business creativity, creative leadership, and the emerging business paradigm.

Q. How does your work relate to creativity?

Scheele: On a continuum of problem solving approaches, we often place creativity on one end and rational/analytical approaches on the other end, but we really need both ends of the continuum at different stages during the problem solving process. I work with integrating both sides of the brain and both ends of that continuum. For example, in my second book, Natural Brilliance, I describe a creative problem solving process I originally created for Honeywell, where I taught for years a course called “Creativity and Problem Solving” as well as a course called “Managing Creativity and Innovation.” My approach uses Neuro-Linguistic Programming in a systematic way to deconstruct a rigid definition of “problem” from a static or stagnant view of a “thing” called “problem” to a more fluid and flexible exploration of internal representations and options.

When we do this, we permit the brain’s reorganization of parts into effective new arrangements, and free the mind to ultimately discover a cohesive whole that achieves “solutions” containing all the desired benefits we seek.

Q. What do you see as the emerging paradigm of work?

Scheele: The new paradigm of work is a focus on a quadruple bottom-line. We are creating economies that practice conscious capitalism and organizations that strive to create enterprise that is socially just, environmentally and economically sustainable, and spiritually fulfilling.

Employees and managers in such businesses are finding greater meaning and purpose in what they do. Their gifts are encouraged to come forward. They know that their work actively creates a better world for all. It is bringing about conscious capitalism – measuring results by real indicators of human progress, and not merely an economic bottom line that stresses quarterly earnings.

The measures of the business also include the social capital that is being returned to the community, and the business practices are sustainable environmentally. More than just consumerism, real value is produced for customers, the employees, the organization, and the community.

In the past, we were hired based on talent to solve problems and implement solutions to problems that were clear. But in the emerging paradigm, we are faced with extremely challenging problems. We have to do adaptive work – actively learning how to define and attend to emergent solutions in ways that do not grow out of our history. It requires embracing paradox – recognizing that whatever solution we implement can create more problems. Every solution contains problems, and every problem contains solutions – giving up the notion that we can find a lasting solution. It is a continual process of solving, creating, implementing, getting feedback, and refining.

Q. What is the role of creativity in that paradigm?

Scheele: A lot of business activity is devoted to problem solving. And most of our problems exist as the unintended by-products of our current problem solving strategies, all of which have emerged from mental models that emerged out of our social system. Naturally, we have blinders to the fact, and think we are producing something new while we are actually busily creating more of the same.

The role of creativity is a full-on frontal assault of the mental models that created the messes humanity now needs to clean up. As the brilliant creative thinker and inventor Buckminster Fuller said, “Humanity is in its final exam. And I am confident we can make it if we recognize we are here for each other, that we are here for our minds.”

We need to do hospice for the old paradigm of business and begin to “mid-wife” the new. Adaptive work needs to be performed, and creative new approaches need to be birthed every day, if we are to move from the level of consciousness that produced our current malaise into a new paradigm that creates a world that works for everyone.

Q. What attitudes and behaviors are essential for effectively navigating the new paradigm?

Scheele: Improv principles are a great template for navigating in a more fluid, emergent work environment. Three that are being highlighted in the Creativity In Business Conference are a great starting point: (1) Yes, and… (2) Make everyone else look good, and (3) Seek the good of the whole. In addition, two key internal behaviors that I work to help develop in people are a high tolerance for ambiguity, and the capacity to embrace paradox.

Q. What is one tool or approach for bringing more creativity into work and business?

Scheele: The most essential tool is to pause in the problem solving process. Don’t rush to premature closure. Most people who have a problem want to get rid of it as quickly as possible. One of the first three solutions that come to mind usually get implemented.

If we examine time allocation, 20% of the time is spent in problem definition and solution finding, then 80% of the time is devoted to implementation. I can virtually guarantee that the solutions will have emerged from the same problem solving approach that unintentionally put the problem in place to begin with.

We need to switch that equation around. Take 80% of your problem solving time in problem definition and solution finding. Explore seven, nine, or eleven potential solutions. Challenge each solution by anticipating the ways things could go wrong with implementation and build in creative approaches to maximizing the potential benefits. Then, 20% of your time will be devoted to implementation, which will also move much more smoothly and effortlessly. Spend more time in exploration of the problem – more time in creative exploration, new and unexpected solutions can emerge.

Q. What is creative leadership to you?

Scheele: Creative leadership is leadership that guides a social system to look into its own blind spots. It creates containers for the emerging future to land. It holds space for rich dialog and deep listening. It encourages an open mind, an open heart, and an open will that can trust the next steps into the fertile unknown will be blessed. Creative leadership models how to surrender what doesn’t work and gives birth to the next evolutionary step for ourselves as individuals, and the system within which we interact.

You can reach Paul Scheele at the Reclaim Your Genius website. He will be a presenter and panelist at the upcoming Creativity in Business Conference in Washington, DC October 4, 2009.

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