Chicago Public Library Keynote

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I was honored to give the keynote at this year’s in-service day for more than 900 Chicago Public Library employees. Deputy Commissioner Andrea Saenz and Commissioner Brian Bannon invited me to speak about creativity and explain why it’s important no matter what your job or role at the library. They’re implementing a lot of changes at the library and not everyone is crazy about it. It was my job to make them feel more comfortable about the changes ahead.

Unfortunately, you can’t the slides I painstakingly selected for this preso. My part starts at 19:48.

The Status Quo

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A study from last year suggests many of us might not actually like creativity as much as we say we do. That should come as no surprise for anyone who has tried to push for change within their organization.  People talk a good game about creativity in the form of cliches, but their actions demonstrate otherwise.

Most of us like the promise of creativity and it’s potential outcomes, but we’re either worried or suspicious of the process. If you try to think about it from their perspective, it’s not unreasonable.

For those of us who like to push the envelope, upset the apple carts, and turn the world upside down, think about the following. Most of us only find creativity interesting when it’s new, like a puppy. Over time it’s novelty wears off and it’s just a dog. We still love the dog, but we were smitten with the puppy.

Ask yourself whether you’re trying to solve problems with the status quo, or just trying to express yourself. The former is the difference between creativity and innovation. The status quo is innovation’s rival. It’s probably the result of a prior innovation which took a lot of work and requires a lot of work to maintain.

Those who built and benefit from the status quo have a vested interests in it, even if it’s not getting the job done. The really innovative people in an organization are the ones pointing out  problems long before anyone else sees them, or is willing to acknowledge they could exist.

I’m not saying you should give up, even though it is an option, it’s just important to know what you’re up against. 

Pursuing something innovative for the sake of creative expression isn’t worth it. That might be what’s in the back of some people’s mind when they shoot down an idea. Anyone can have an idea, but somebody has to execute. If you don’t have ideas on how that will happen, or the impact on others, then don’t be surprised if they’re not as thrilled about the idea as you are. They might think your baby is ugly too.