When creativity leadership goes wrong


When a hospital was set a target to reduce the number of patients waiting on trolleys before being transferred to beds, the very able and creative management team working in the wards were able to meet the target quite easily. What they did was to remove the wheels from the trolleys and re-classify them as beds. Another target was to reduce the number of patients in beds waiting in corridors before being moved into a ward. Again, the department was able to meet the target.

What they did was to re-name the corridor ‘Ward 4b’.

The final and most damning example of a target set and met by a hospital was when surgeons were instructed to increase the number of operations per day. They met the target by swapping the order of the operations they performed and did the quickest and easiest ones first. These operations were of course the least life threatening too. The delay of more critical (and more time consuming) operations meant that people died.

These examples show are real lack of creativity leadership. The way these targets were delivered but have been in such a way that lacked real understanding or shared vision about what the purpose of the targets actually were. The chances are that a highly qualified surgeon is probably doing a very good job within the time it takes to perform that job. They probably can’t do it any quicker, and probably shouldn’t. Setting such a target as ‘get more done’ is not only destructive and counter-productive as was shown, it was also totally ignorant of what processes are involved in the micro-management of the tasks the surgeon performs.

So if dictating ignorant targets is not the answer, what is? The answer is that a different kind of leadership is required. Creativity leadership is about facilitating the creativity of the experts to achieve a shared vision. In the case of the surgeons a more collective and holistic discussion should have taken place to find out where time savings could be made within procedures that still achieved the main overall goal of getting real people back to health and out of danger and not a production line. This is hard for most managers, especially those who have been promoted quickly without much training. It is so much harder to do things holistically successfully. It’s harder to build an abstract jigsaw of people, processes, time and resources. It’s much easier to bark orders and targets. But being able to see the big as-yet un-materialised picture and pull everything together to make it work better is what modern business needs. That’s what creativity leadership is.

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