Mike Bonifer of GameChangers reflects on creativity and the changing nature of work

My second interview in the Creativity in Business thought leader series is with Mike Bonifer, co-founder of GameChangers and author of GameChangers: Improvisation for Business in the Networked World. He writes about and teaches improvisation for business.

My second interview in the Creativity in Business thought leader series is with Mike Bonifer. Bonifer is the co-founder of GameChangers, and author of GameChangers: Improvisation for Business in the Networked World. He writes about and teaches improvisation for business. Bonifer has helped clients such as Disney, Universal Studios, Frito-Lay, Merril Lynch, DreamWorks and MBA programs to evolve their processes and brands to better participate in the global economy.

Q: How does your work relate to creativity?

Bonifer: GameChangers uses the techniques of improvisation to help clients build environments that liberate creativity across their enterprise. We do it in five steps: listening, connecting, collaborating, adapting and performing. Each of these steps is vital to the creative process.

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

Bonifer: A culture of continuous innovation and the improvised brand narratives of the networked world replace the hierarchical structures and inflexible scripted narratives of the industrial age. Work and play become inextricable. Personal lives and working lives co-habitate. Mobility begets serendipity. Communication leads to learning which results in transformation.

Q: Yes, when creativity is unleashed in a system, it is by its nature integrative and transformational, not just transactional. What do you see the role of creativity in this emerging paradigm?

Bonifer: The role of creativity is to inform every cell in the body of work performed by an organization or brand. In particular we focus on disintegrating what we call “the tyranny of the Creative Class,” which inevitably involves ego, status games and subjective judgments – all toxic to the creative process. We believe that everyone has the potential to be creative, no matter what their role in the organization is, as long as the working environment permits it. If you establish an environment that is receptive to creativity, that invites it, creativity will flow from it. Act on environment, and environment will act on you.

Q: An ongoing feedback loop. As you act on the environment it changes, and as it acts on you, you have the opportunity to change, and the cycle continues to evolve. What attitudes and behaviors do you see as essential for effectively navigating the new work paradigm?

Bonifer: For a conscious and disciplined focus on the five steps of the GameChangers methodology listed above, the most important attitude is openness. In the networked world, business opportunities are more abundant than ever, but they are also more fleeting. It takes an open mind to see and act on these opportunities without pegging them to an existing paradigm, scripting the outcomes before the outcomes manifest themselves, or acting on prior assumptions. The open mind allows for the most productive behaviors in every scenario.

Q: What is one method or technique you suggest to begin to cultivate a more open, adaptive and creative mind?

Bonifer: Begin with listening. Don’t waste time and money trying to inflict your brand narrative on the market. Instead, listen to what’s happening. Hear what your customers are saying (or not saying). Let your brand’s themes, and the actions that explore those themes, emerge organically from your skill at listening. When it comes to branding, your story is not your own, it is a narrative you create in collaboration with your audience. The collaboration can only be effective if you listen to, and honor, the realities of the marketplace.

To practice, go anywhere and listen for what is unfamiliar, what you do not normally hear; what is not part of the normal environment. Close your eyes and listen for what is audible beyond the sphere of what you expect to hear – listen, especially, for the unusual. If you want to think in unusual ways, listen to what is already unusual.

Creative thinking requires picking up on what is different – and it’s almost there right in front of you. If you are fully present, you will tune into the “different” things that already exist.

Q: Yes, you find a wellspring of creativity in the moment just by being present in the moment and listening below the surface – two behaviors all improvisers are trained to embody. And finally, what do you see as creative leadership?

Bonifer: Quickly identifying the “productive games” and casting the team best suited to play it. Even more quickly identifying and editing the unproductive game. This can mean re-designing the game, re-casting the team, or eliminating the game altogether.

You can reach Mike Bonifer at the GameChangers website. He will be a presenter at the upcoming Creativity in Business Conference in Washington, DC October 4, 2009.

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