Your Creativity vs the Corporate Life Cycle – Part 2

(You may want to read the earlier post in this series to understand what Stage One and Two  are.)

Stage Three in the Corporate Life Cycle – your company is a major player in the field

Congratulations! You have joined a company that is a major player in its field. You have made the big time and your family is justifiably proud.

It may be several months before you realize that your creativity, which was why you were tapped for the job in the first place, is not acceptable in the new workplace. At this point, your career prospects undergo a major change…

You discover that creativity is restricted to a few select areas such as marketing campaigns and writing acceptable reports for your manager. Coordinated activity, not creativity, is what is needed by a management team that is struggling to get you all to march in the same rhythm.

It is vital that all parts of the corporation be defined to exacting standards and employee activity must meet expectations. Instead of designing better products or satisfying customers, your primary concern becomes "don’t do anything to embarrass your management".

This becomes an all-consuming task because your management (the Directors and VPs above you) are increasingly disconnected from real customers and their concerns. It often appears that they live in an echo chamber where all is in accord with top management wishes and any unpleasantness is carefully filtered out. Any news from you which disturbs the euphoric mood of the echo chamber will seriously impact your employability.

Of course, if you are doing your job and trying to handle customer needs and salvage a contract, you may just feel that you have been left out to dry. As time goes by you may become a little frantic.

You may even decide to compromise your integrity and focus your energies on keeping your head down, keeping your mouth shut, and accepting blame for everything you have failed to handle to management’s satisfaction.

It doesn’t matter that you pointed out a potentially damaging situation in time to get it handled and were told to stifle yourself. When the customer finally cancels the contract, you will be among the first to go.

I’m sorry if this sounds like an employment nightmare. Too many of my friends and I have lived it for it to be an anomaly. It is what often happens in a Stage Three company.

This is not an indictment of most modern companies, it is a reflection of the fact that creativity and efficiency are two distinctly separate activities.

As a company becomes more efficient it eliminates the unsynchronized moving parts that interfere with management concentration. I am sure that there are some upper management people who dream wistfully of an all-robotic workforce which flawlessly executes orders again and again without deviation.

As a CEO, it takes extreme courage to place your future in the hands of creative types who just might come up with a new product line or business plan that could wipe out everything you have struggled to build.

That is why there are so few companies that can reinvent themselves. They have a perfectly valid fear that the exciting new product may cannibalize their entire customer base.

I’m sorry that this is the case, but this essay is about you and your creativity, so we’ll leave them to solve that problem and let’s return to using your creativity.

If you have good product ideas and innovative business strategies in mind, by all means do everything possible to get your company to adopt them and give you a role in implementing the ideas for the benefit of the company.

Now, if you have been following me so far and your company is actually in Stage Three, don’t be surprised if your manager pats you gently on the head and urges you to stick to more productive activities like project dashboards in manager-friendly colors.

If you are unable to stifle your creativity to that extent, you will be far happier finding an outlet for it elsewhere, either in your own startup or in a company that is at the right stage to use your talents.

There is one more stage in the Corporate Life Cycle:

Stage Four – The company is in a long term decline

This is a situation you must examine very closely before you sign up.
I will complete this topic tomorrow.

This entry was posted in Working For Others and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

0 Responses to Your Creativity vs the Corporate Life Cycle – Part 2

  1. Wow, we really have been on the same wavelength, haven’t we, David? The inability of “successful” companies to reinvent themselves is one of the great stories of our time. Professional business-people, trained, honest, well-meaning people, watching their business decay as they go about things in exactly the same way they’ve done it for years, is one of the most amazing phenomena I’ve ever seen. Steadfast resistance to creative approaches is one of the signals that a company is in decline.

    Very nice series of posts.

  2. Melissa says:

    I find this series to be so interesting. My husband is an extremely creative entrepreneur. I on the other hand am the antagonist in your series. My role would be the one where I point out that your creativity is not in alignment with corporate policy or SEC guidelines and laws. I agree with the concept you have laid out. Although, I do see a movement afoot that contridicts your premise. At Ernst & Young as well as all the other Big 4 accounting firms, they encourage you to be yourself, individuality is supported, creative solutions are listened to and in fact expected. I do think though that this model is consistent with much more entrepreneurial organziations (partnerships) as opposed to the GE’s of the world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

2 × = two