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10 “commandments” for stopping creativity in its tracks

By Jake Sheperd, Synthesis Co-founder, Technical Director & Hero Builder

How could we craft a company that destroys and stifles creativity and innovation? The sort of company where Dilbert, the comic strip character, works.

Surely knowing how to create and encourage creativity is more useful than knowing how to destroy? I would argue the opposite. Creativity is innate and will thrive in the right environment.

In the words of Frederick Brooks, the famous Computer Scientist; “As the child delights in his mud pie, so the adult enjoys building things, especially things of his own design. I think this delight must be an image of God’s delight in making things, a delight shown in the distinctness and newness of each leaf and each snowflake.”

Unfortunately, the culture at many companies destroys this built-in creativity. The question is how?

Here are the 10 “commandments” that should be followed if you want to minimise creativity and innovation at your company:

  1. Don’t allow people to try anything new! In fact, if they take a risk and it blows up in their face, make sure to criticise and undermine – ensure they never try to do so again.
  2. Occasionally, staff may come up with ideas and suggestions. Make sure to point out all the problems associated with them. Nothing should ever succeed unless it has management support. More importantly, the “higher ups” need to take credit for any and all ideas that do succeed.
  3. Pull rank. Show your staff who is in charge. Don’t even bother to explain your decisions because then you run the risk of having them questioned – this will undermine your authority.
  4. Staff should never feel that they make a difference. They are there to follow management decisions, ideally unquestionably. That is why the company vision and any core decisions should only be disclosed on a need to know basis.
  5. Always hunt for problems and under no circumstances should you recognise positive contributions from employees – after all that is what they are paid to do.
  6. Positions of authority are given to friends and family regardless of merit. In fact, natural leaders are a threat to existing management and should be given as little authority as possible.
  7. Micromanage. Everyone needs to work for a salary, but they don’t really want to do the work so they will shirk their responsibilities at every turn. Don’t trust your staff because they will stop working the moment you turn your back.
  8. Enforce strict lines of communication. Lambast anyone who goes over the head of their manager or who speaks to people in other areas without going through proper channels.
  9. Corporate politics is important. Make sure you cover your bases so no blame lands on your lap – always have a scapegoat at hand. The company’s best interest should take a back seat to the interests of “number one”.
  10. Never waste time and money on growing the skills of the people that you lead. They will just increase their market value, demand higher salaries and then leave when other companies make them a better offer.

Unfortunately, many of the people I speak to in the South African corporate world recognise these “commandments” and see them acted out on a daily basis. I have no doubt that each of these would make for a great Dilbert comic strip.

In the comic strip, there is a pointy-haired boss who is the unnamed, oblivious and unethical manager of the engineering division of Dilbert’s company. He is hopelessly incompetent at management, does not understand technical issues, but always tries to disguise this, usually by using buzzwords that he does not understand. The challenge facing CEOs and other leaders is to craft cultures where the pointy-haired boss could never find a home. It is my experience that good company cultures make employees feel valued, connected and that they make a difference. In addition, employees are supported in their growth journey and are encouraged to take risks, even if it means that they will fail from time to time. These healthy cultures support a fertile environment where innovation and creativity can blossom.