We all know that creative effort is a disruptive nuisance, but few understand the enemy well enough to destroy it completely. For lack of a coherent strategy, organizations are rather haphazard and undisciplined as they go about the task of stifling new ideas and the troublesome people who canít resist coming up with them. In the interest of efficiency, I have compiled the following list of tactics.
1. Since intelligence is the single best predictor of creativity, donít hire very smart people.* "They are too intellectual to get anything done. Their ideas are impractical and they are unmanageable.
BY LESTER L. TOBIAS
2. Avoid new blood. If you must add people, hire only very conventional typesópreferably people who have never done anything remotely creative. Stick with ethnic and geographical "vanilla." Look for linear thinkers. Turn down applicants with broad intellectual and artistic interests, those who reject conventions, those attracted to complexity, and those with strong drives for autonomy and independence. Instead look for sociability, communality, and the desire to make a good impression; these traits have been shown to be negatively related to creativity. Weed out eccentricity. Hire clones.
3. The fact that certain types of people are most likely to be highly creative does not mean that other types are immune to the disease. So donít just hire blandnessócultivate it. Establish a corporate dress code. Use architects and designers who prefer beige and gray. Maintain symmetrical organizational charts. Keep that piped-in "easy listening" music coming. And, whatever it is, do it over and over again.
4.Discourage questions. By your bored glances and sneers, make it clear that too many questions are inappropriate and irrelevant. If a question does need to be posed, make sure itís never an open-ended one. Stick rigidly to the agenda at all meetings. Keep to a timetable, and end the meeting before the creative person hired by your predecessor has a chance to waste everyoneís time by meandering. Say things such as, "Straying is delaying." Whenever possible, use the grapevine to leak the acceptable answers before you ask the questions.
5.Demand instant documentation and cost estimates for all new ideas. Impose rigid deadlines, so people donít take off on flights of fancy. Demand prior assurance that missions will succeed, and let everyone know that "careers are on the line." Require numerous interim reports and pick them apart. (They will always prove to be easy pickings.) Subject ideas to frequent "reality testing." Especially in the early stages when people cannot possibly have thought things through. Say you are just trying to be helpful. Since creative people are often their own worst critics, the added strain of immediate testing will demoralize all but the most recalcitrant in innovators. Never let anyone off the hook on the basis of intuitions, but feelings or hunches. These are merely lame excuses for fuzzy thinking. Put up signs that say, "Keep it simple, stupid."
6.Stamp out solitude. Allow no time for random thought. Make sure everyoneís day is packed with real work. Since creative people often do their best thinking alone, encourage lots of meetings, suggest that the creative people use the meetings to improve their networking skills. Make them answer all the phone calls immediately. If they fight this by arriving early or staying late, complain about their being out of step and impossible to reach. If they usually arrive early, schedule important meetings late, and vice versa. This will teach them discipline.
7.Force everyone to work within the system. Promote only those who follow the rules most carefully. Never tolerate the suggestion that the system may contribute to a problem or that tinkering with it may effect a solution. Lecture the creative person repeatedly about the need to "play the system." Intersperse your remarks with phrases such as "management maturity," "selling your ideas" and "respect for the chain of command." Since creative people will realize that these suggestions do have value and cannot be easily dismissed, it will really mess up their heads.
8.Maintain a highly centralized organization. The more people and systems the creative types are accountable to, the less room they will have to get out of line. Added bonus: Most really serious cases of creativity cannot endure steep hierarchies or rigid structures. Therefore, they will leave and infect your smaller or more loosely structured competitors with their bothersome ideas.
9.Make strategic plans and goals as vague as possible, so the creatives never know where you actually want to go.
10.As you would with an outbreak of any infectious disease, maintain a sterile, clinical environment. Keep everything on a "need to know" basis. Otherwise, natural curiosity will lead people to meddle where they are not needed or wanted.
11.Insist that all outside education be directly relevant to the specific tasks at hand. Restrict allowances for professional meetings, publications and memberships. In this way, you can be sure that all new knowledge will complement all old knowledge in an orderly way that does not throw the organizationís equilibrium off balance. You will ward off contamination by virulent ideas.
12.Never forget that honest work is serious and that "serious" is a synonym for "humorless." Frown on any display of enthusiasm. Keep your cool and see to it that others keep theirs. Something happens to people when you arouse their playful sides. They loosen up and start to break out of constraints.
13.Naturally, youíre obligated to make noises about your support for risk-taking and the need for people to try and fail. But donít you fail to let your real feelings show. Make speeches praising innovation (as an abstract concept), but mandate that the organizational culture retains its "proven efficiency." Hand out books about right-brained thinking, but donít change a thing about the way people are managed or rewarded. Holler that you wish people would look at things from fresh perspectives, but never tolerate unconventionality. Most important, do nothing to compromise your own comfort level.
14.Never offer reassurance. The Achillesí heel of creative people is the vulnerability they experience while developing a new idea. Do nothing to quell their anxiety. Fear of the unknown is your great ally in the battle against creativity. Furthermore, since creative people sometimes do need a dose of structure and realism to stay grounded, why not just let them fall on their faces? Itíll teach them a lesson about hard reality.
15.Encourage a corporate mind set that sees creative people as stupid or contemptible. Label them "flakes." Publicly criticize their lack of timeliness, their crazy filing systems, the amount of organizational disruption they cause, their long conversations that seem to go nowhere, the high research and development costs they generate, their pie-in-the-sky ideas and their prima-donna mentalities.
16.When dealing directly with creative types, never miss a chance to put them in their place. Look for the vulnerable moment, when the creative is likely to be beset by self-doubt. A project isnít going well? Bring up past failures. Point out that any of your other people would have come up with a solution by now. Use words and phrases such as "poor implementation," "indecisive," "undisciplined," "unfocused," "directionless," "distractible," "perfectionistic" and "egomaniacal."
17.Praise ideas only after they have proven successful or when someone elseís experience (preferably that of a highly regarded competitor) shows they work. If you absolutely must accept a creative idea, provide no feedback whatsoever to its creator. You wouldnít want this personís head to swell, thereby undermining your attempt to create an egalitarian culture.
18.Make sure that anyone with any real power stays 10 miles away from the creative person or project team. This way, when push comes to shove, no one with any clout will defend the project.
19.Discourage initiative. Tell people exactly how to do their jobs. If you canít, hire consultants to do so. Expect mediocrity and aversion to risk. Give people very little control over their environment. This will foster pessimism and helplessness, which you can then call "being realistic."
20.When anyone becomes preoccupied by an idea or goal, tell them they can think about it on their own time but not on yours, If possible, refer them for treatment. The elegance of this suggestion lies in the fact that virtually every "big" creative idea is preceded by a period of preoccupation, even obsession. Kill the obsession and nip creativity in the bud. Similarly, move people around every two or three years so they never become immersed in any one body of ideas.
21.At all costs remember this: Never examine yourself. Never ask yourself about the potential consequences of your actions, your need for control or method of exerting it, the frequency or quality of your praise, your fears of disharmony, risk or ambiguity. Never seek feedback from othersóespecially not from screwy creative people whose opinions are tainted anyway. Donít probe your own intellectual style, especially if you tend to be the type who likes to make quick decisions, wrap things up and cut out superfluous complexity. And never, never search for veins of creativity within yourself.
Lester L. Tobias, PH.D.,is a partner in the Westborough, MA office of Nordli, Wilson Associates, management and consulting psychologists.
*A surprising common misconception holds that creativity and intelligence are not related. This myth can come in handy if anyone questions your apparent bias against hiring smart people. The truth is, however, that hundreds of reputable studies have confirmed the strong link between intelligence and creativity.óL.T.