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Team Creativity At Work I and II: Creative Problem Solving At Its Best
Edward Glassman, PhD : Can Government Be Truly Creative & Innovative?

Can Government Be Truly Creative & Innovative?

By Edward Glassman, PhD

Can government agencies be truly creative and innovative? Of course, you say. We just have to get government officials to attend a creativity & innovative meeting where...

  • paradigms shift & problems pass through bizarre redefinitions (problem definition)
  • people offer hundreds of loopy ideas (brainstorming)
  • people combine nutty ideas to make weird proposals
  • workable, useful and amazing, highly effective, high quality, profitable solutions emerge to solve important questions in the end
  • all this during the 3 to 4 days that the meeting lasts.

Sound easy? Well, I have a prickly feeling in the back of my neck that tells me truly creative & innovative government won't happen soon.

I have seen many government idea-generation sessions fall short of attacking problems truly creatively because of the fear that offending and dippy temporary ideas will go public and invite the attack and ire of others, and spoil chances for future careers.

And I remember one creativity session I led for the executive council of a large, prominent university where one of the deans quietly asked a student assistant to secretly destroy one flip chart paper because she didn't like one of the ideas. It offended and insulted her, she said later.

Far-fetched brainstormed ideas just cannot exist or survive in the practical political world that doesn't understand the absolutely temporary nature of the bizarre ideas generated in a creativity session. Or their necessity to achieve profitable solutions.

But all my experience with semi-creative creativity sessions pales with comparison to this paraphrased April 25th 2010 report in BBC news —

{***** "The Foreign Office apologized for a foolish document which suggested the Pope could be invited to open an abortion clinic and bless a gay marriage during his September's visit to the UK. The document also proposed that the Pope could apologize for the Spanish Armada or sing a song with the Queen for charity. The Foreign Office stressed the ideas, which resulted from a brainstorm on the visit, did not reflect its views.

The Bishop of Nottingham said, if anything, it was "appalling manners,"

The UK's ambassador to the Vatican, Francis Campbell, has met senior officials of the Holy See to express regret on behalf of the government. Foreign Secretary David Miliband is appalled by the incident.

An investigation was launched after some recipients of the memo, said to have been circulated to a restricted list, objected to its tone. "This is clearly a foolish document that does not in any way reflect UK government or Foreign Office policy or views. Many of the ideas in the document are clearly ill-judged, naive and disrespectful," he said. "The text was not cleared or shown to ministers or senior officials before circulation. Once senior officials became aware of the document, it was withdrawn from circulation.

The individual responsible has been transferred to other duties. He has been told orally and in writing that this was a serious error of judgment and has accepted this view.

The Foreign Office said the memo had resulted from discussions by a group of three or four junior staff in a team working on early planning for the papal visit. A source told the BBC News website the individual since moved to other duties had called the group together for "some blue-skies creative thinking about how to make the visit a success," but their discussions had become "a joke that has gone too far." *****}

WOW. What a commotion. Such a fuss. Which government official in the UK, or anywhere else will hold meetings like this. Any official who requests secrecy opens his career to a possible default, especially by offended coworkers.

On the other hand, hope exists. The mere fact that the foreign office in the UK held such a brainstorm meeting indicates that some people in that government want to foster more creativity & innovation in their work. Decades ago, the same problems with brainstorm meetings that now exist in government existed in corporations, and look how prevalent these meetings now are in corporations. •

© 2010 by Edward Glassman. All rights reserved.

Edward Glassman, PhDEdward Glassman, PhD was the President of the Creativity College®, a division of Leadership Consulting Services, Inc., and Professor Emeritus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he headed the Program For Team Effectiveness And Creativity. More »