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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Insights from a world-class dancer
Robert J. AllioS&L Contributing Editor Robert J. Allio is a principal of Allio Associates, located in Providence, RI (firstname.lastname@example.org). A veteran corporate planner and strategist, his most recent book is Seven Faces of Leadership (Xlibris, 2002).
The Creative Habit
Twyla Tharp Published by Simon & Schuster, 2003
Many corporations are trapped in a dysfunctional "search for success" cycle, repeating over and again the same tactics in a vain attempt to gain market share, reduce cost, or improve productivity. When they perennially fall short of their goals they exhort themselves to work harder in order to do better. Sadly, the end game for these corporate plodders who fail to find new solutions is often to just turn off the lights and close their doors or sell out.
For all of us who struggle with the challenge of innovation and of breaking out of the constraints of our industry and our organization culture, there is no shortage of advice givers. One of the most unusual offerings in recent years is Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this acclaimed choreographer's explication of the creative process provides a number of fresh insights that could help executives break their bad habits and take a chance on a new approach. Tharp's principal thesis is that being creative is not a once-in-a-while ritual – it should be a habit, a way of life. Adopting this mindset would radically change the way most corporate leaders promote innovation.
Twyla Tharp's own credentials are impressive, but the extrapolation of techniques from her creative success as a choreographer to lessons for promoting creativity that can be useful to a corporate executive may seem (pardon the pun) a stretch. Nevertheless, this literate memoir provides an abundance of practical advice for adventuresome CEOs who want to enhance their personal creativity and foster it throughout their organization. Her creativity workout programs include these suggestions:
Start with a "box". Collect relevant ideas and information from many sources, including the history of the institution.
"Scratch". Look for inspiration everywhere (but particularly in the best places!).
Identify the "spine". The spine is the intention of your work – the scenario.
Plan – but be prepared to adapt.
Don't use the wrong materials. Make sure that your resources are suited to the task at hand.
Get out of the rut. The rut is the consequence of failure to take account of the how the world has changed. Her prescription: see the rut, admit you're in it, and take action to get out of it – challenge the assumptions that underlie the current strategy.
Master the basic skills of your business – the fundamentals of good management. You're kidding yourself if you put creativity before craft.
The Creative Habit is a vademecum, a guide to the creative life. CEOs who have the courage to take profound advice from unusual sources can find personal and professional inspiration in its pages.
S&L Contributing Editor Robert Allio interviewed Twyla Tharp recently in New York City:
S&L: What's your advice for corporate executives who want to be more creative?
Twyla Tharp: Creativity entails tolerance of as many different points of view as possible. That is a huge component of creativity. It works the best in a democratic world. The other component of creativity is transactional – you can take a lesson from one kind of sphere and apply it in a totally different place. You don't have to learn your lesson in the same arena. Look for ideas everywhere.
S&L: I can accept intellectually that we must be tolerant of many points of view and look for ideas in other places. However, the challenge to a corporation is behavioral not intellectual. If you tell a CEO to be tolerant of many points of view, the CEO will often discount that advice. CEOs don't have the time to listen to everyone's points of view, and they tend to put energy into replicating a paradigm that has worked for their firm in the past even if no longer is appropriate for a changing world. That combination of behaviors has led to the demise of many corporations. How do you suggest they achieve behavioral modification?
Tharp: Leaders have to take chances in a zestful way, not in a fearful way. To be a leader you have to stick your neck out and you have to believe that you have learned your lessons well enough in the past to have in your gut the sense of what the next big success is going to be or what the next big thing is. You've got to be on the look out for that and you can't let yourself slip into this lower, conservative gear.