Management: Engage your employees

We recently had the distinct pleasure of bringing an internationally recognized expert, Sir Ken Robinson, to speak on the difficult subject of creativity.

He was a keynoter at TEC’s annual Inspirational Leadership conference, co-sponsored by BizTimes Milwaukee, Godfrey & Kahn, Schenck Business Solutions, Smart Interactive Media and St. Camillus Printing & Graphics, all Milwaukee-area businesses.

To say that he brought the house down would be an understatement, and I only hope that I can share at least a small glimmer of his powerful message in this short column.

I encourage you to look at the human creativity potential in your business as a virtually untapped competitive source that, in these troubling times, could be used as an important business tactic.

In his great book Out of Our Minds – Learning to be Creative 2001, Capstone Publishing), Sir Ken discusses these four topics.


Intelligence plays an important role in creativity, but it isn’t the only factor. Obviously, every business has to play with the deck of cards that it has been dealt.

My experience is that, at times, we tend to use the wrong yardsticks to judge the intelligence of our employees. We judge according to their level in the company, educational achievements, past business experience, and so on.

Intelligence is multi-faceted and has many hidden components to it. How many times over the years have I had an employee say to me, “If they only asked me, I could have told them what the problem was and fixed it right away.”

The message here is to look at those hidden gems in your company who can contribute to your business creativity process and, thereby, provide timely solutions to your thorny business problems.


Sir Ken makes a strong case for the fact that imagination plays a very significant role in the creativity process. It’s an elusive term, wouldn’t you agree?

Remember the old phrase, “Imagine the impossible and it just might happen?” Well, put in a business context, we have to ask the question, “Where do we provide an environment or place for imagination to flow in the workplace?”

This may sound silly, but Microsoft does it by encouraging employees to think “big” while walking the company campus, working out in the gym, playing video games on breaks, or just sitting around in company-sponsored innovation circles over a cup of java.

The point is that you really can’t formalize imagination in your company’s handbook or by proclamation. But it’s a key component of creativity. Companies can spark imaginative thinking in numerous ways, such as by providing a soundproof room with soft lighting and soothing light music.


We’ve all participated in a brainstorming activity at one time or another during our business careers. The point of emphasis here is “one time or another.” Companies that promote creative thinking practices brainstorm all the time.

And it isn’t done among managers at one level of the company, but across the entire organizational structure where different levels of discipline and expertise can participate. 

Finally, you must fully understand the rules of engagement for brainstorming before it begins. There’s no such thing as a bad idea. Look for connections between seemingly totally opposite concepts, and search out non-linear solutions.


Intelligence, imagination and brainstorming can’t occur in an organization that has a rigid, inflexible, by-the-book way of getting things done. NASA scientists use the term “boundary crossing” to refer to how different scientific disciplines come together to find creative solutions to problems with the space shuttle, for example.

Creativity occurs in environments where people respect and recognize individuality within a team setting and where people consider the team’s hierarchy important only for the benefit of outsiders. Finally, while the creative process does lend itself to training, the training is fruitless if the company’s culture is antagonistic to change and innovation.

Sir Ken states in his book, “Creativity is not a separate faculty that some people have and others don’t…creativity is possible in all areas of human activity and it draws from all areas of human intelligence.”

Until next month, here’s to your creative juices flowing competitively in your business as you take advantage of Sir Ken’s observations about mankind. 

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