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Ideaship

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Innovative, original ideas are a company's most powerful competitive advantage. Nathan Mhyrvold, former chief technology officer at Microsoft, has said that a great employee is worth 1,000 times more than an average one simply because of his or her ideas. In Ideaship, the sequel to his bestselling book, How to Get Ideas, Jack Foster shifts from how individuals spark their new ideas to how to unleash the creative genius of an entire organization.
To create an idea-prone workforce, Foster proposes a totally new concept of leadership: "ideaship." Leaders shouldn't be spending their time obsessing over profits or sales or quality or service. Instead, they should devote most of their energies to making the office a place where creative ideas flow, where the workforce truly believes in its ability to brilliantly solve any problem put before it. Above all, where it's fun to work.
With energy and humor, Foster draws on over thirty-five years as creative director of major advertising agencies-organizations whose only purpose is to constantly generate ideas-to offer dozens of fun, fast, often surprising nuggets of practical advice on how to create an environment where innovation and fresh thinking thrive. He reveals why you should only hire people you like, insist employees take vacations whether they want to or not, why efficiency is sometimes inefficient, and how sometimes you can accomplish more by playing the fool instead of the capital L "Leader."
Ideaship spells out proven ways to encourage creativity, simply and clearly and cogently, without a lot of charts and graphs and formulas and acronyms and statistics and fillers. It flips traditional leadership on its head and shows how simple acts of compassion, trust, and generosity of spirit, as well as some seemingly zany actions, can unleash unexpected, vital bursts of creativity.

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PART I WHAT IS IDEASHIP?

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I spent half my life in advertising. Half of that time I ran creative departments in advertising agencies, half in creative departments run by others.

I was telling a client of mine one day about the difficulties of running such a department, a department that is — by definition and design — a collection of misfits and free spirits, of original thinkers, of people who resist authority and reject dogma; and whose strength is their ability to discover — on command — fresh solutions to a variety of problems.

He thought about it for a while, and then he said: “Running a creative department is not a do-able job. Any attempt to direct or lead or run people who are like that will be counter-productive. They’ll rebel. Or they’ll clam up.”

Perhaps he was right.

But that’s because we were using the wrong words. “Direct” or “lead” or “run” don’t describe what I, and many like me, did.

We didn’t direct or lead or run our departments. We ideaized them.

We weren’t leaders. We were ideaists.

And the art form we practiced was not leadership. It was ideaship.

 

1. YOU HELP PEOPLE THINK BETTER OF THEMSELVES

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There are three reasons why it’s vital for you to help people think better of themselves.

First, what people think about themselves is the single most important factor in their success.

Their personalities, their actions, how they get along with others, how they perform at work, their feelings, their beliefs, their dedication, their aspirations, even their talents and abilities are controlled by their self-images.

People act like the kind of persons they imagine themselves to be.

If they think of themselves as failures, they will probably become failures.

If they think of themselves as successful, they will probably become successful.

More to the point: If they think of themselves as creative, as fonts of ideas, they will probably become creative, they will probably become fonts of ideas.

“They can do it all because they think they can,” said Virgil, and this fundamental fact about the triumph of self-image is as true today in business as it was two thousand years ago in Greece.

“Success or failure in business,” wrote Walter Dill Scott, “is caused more by mental attitudes than by mental capabilities.”9

 

2. YOU HELP CREATE AN ENVIRONMENT THAT’S FUN

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If you are to make people think better of themselves, the environment must be friendly instead of hostile, open instead of closed, supportive instead of discouraging, relaxed instead of rigid, inclusive instead of divisive — all the things that all the books on leadership and empowerment espouse.

But it must be more than that.

If you want ideas to flourish, it must be fun.

“Make it fun to work at your agency,” wrote David Ogilvy. “When people aren’t having any fun, they seldom produce good advertising. Kill grimness with laughter. Encourage exuberance.”

Mr. Ogilvy did not have to limit his remarks to advertising agencies and advertising. The same could be said about any kind of business producing any kind of product or service. For you know it’s true:

People who have fun doing what they’re doing, do it better.

“The number one premise in business is that it need not be boring or dull,” said Thomas J. Peters. “It ought to be fun. If it’s not fun, you’re wasting your life.”

Note that neither Ogilvy nor Peters had any doubt about which is the more important — good work or fun. The fun comes first.

 

1. FOLLOW THE GOLDEN RULE

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It is more than a lesson in morality and a guide for getting along. It is a cardinal principle of ideaship.

All the good people you work with believe they can do more. Much more.

Indeed, most dream of running the company, or at least some department in the company, just as you did when you were in their positions.

Most dream of coming up with ideas that will invigorate or revolutionize the company, just as you did when you were in their positions.

The way you wanted to be treated then is the way they want to be treated now.

You didn’t want to be treated as a servant or a follower, as a person who could not think but only take orders. Neither do they.

Instead, you wanted to be treated as the person you would one day become. You wanted your boss to see the potential within you.

So do they. And just as you are only as good as you think you are, so are they.

You must help make the people you work with believe in their greatness. Unless they do, they will never attain it.

In short, if you want them to explode with creativity and attack their work with alacrity, you must treat them not as slugs, but as people who bubble with ideas.23

 

2. CARE ABOUT THE PEOPLE YOU WORK WITH

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Remember that the people you work with are not workers or helpers or assistants or trainees or lackeys or gofers or employees or inferiors or superiors. They are people. And if you think of them as people — separate, important, unique human beings — they will sense it and will respond by trusting you, by helping you, by accepting your suggestions, even by forgiving your blunders.

Indeed, if people believe that you are acting in their best interests, they will support your actions, even if what you are doing is not in their best interests.

But if people do not believe what you are doing is in their best interests, they will not support your actions, even if what you are doing is in their best interests.

None of this can be faked, save by a consummate actor, which you probably are not. It must come from the heart. You must care about them as people. You must like them. If you cannot, forget about becoming an ideaist now before you waste half a lifetime striving only to ultimately fail.

Of course some people in management positions feel they should remain aloof from their “troops,” that getting to know them personally weakens their authority and limits their ability to lead.

 

3. REMEMBER THAT THEY WORK WITH YOU, NOT FOR YOU

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4. MAKE SURE THEY LIKE YOU

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That old saying about not caring whether people like you or not just as long as they respect you is one of those rules that may have worked in yesterday’s military, but it has no place in today’s business.

Certainly you must earn the respect of the people you work with. That’s a given.

But make no mistake about it — you are running a popularity contest, for it is simply no fun to work with someone you dislike.

And when people aren’t having fun, work becomes work, and thus drudgery, and thus uninspired.

Happily enough, it is easy to make sure that the people you work with like you.

Simply make sure that you like them.

Over and over again in my career, I saw proof of the power of liking people.

Large creative departments in advertising agencies are usually comprised of groups of writers and art directors. These groups are headed by creative directors. During the course of a year, switching often occurs among the groups, with art director A going from Group X to Group Y; writer B, from Group C to Group D, and so on.

 

5. TAKE THE BLAME, GIVE THE PRAISE AWAY

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In your position as ideaist, you’ll be blamed when things go wrong, and you’ll be praised when things go right.

First, take the blame.

After all, it probably is your fault. You assigned the work. You hired the people who did the work. You helped train them. You helped set up the systems and procedures they followed. You helped create the environment they worked in. If they didn’t do the job well, it’s at least as much your fault as it is theirs.

And even if it isn’t your fault, blaming others lessens everyone — you and the ones you blame. It is a lose-lose situation.

Taking the blame is a win-win situation.

Besides, if you don’t accept the blame you’ll be secretly scorned by those above and below you, so you might as well own up to it and get on with your life.

Second, give the praise away.

If you don’t, you’ll be secretly resented by everybody who worked with you on the project.

Besides, the more you give it away, the more people will think you’re just being modest; the more you don’t give it away, the more they’ll think you’re just being greedy and egotistical.

 

6. HIRE ONLY PEOPLE YOU LIKE

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No matter what their resumes say; no matter how many degrees or honors or awards they have; no matter their parents, their teachers, their mentors, their education, their job experiences, their contacts, their business associates; no matter how good their previous work; no matter how much they know, or how well they talk or write or present or handle themselves; no matter how glowing their references and accomplishments; no matter how perfectly they seem to fit the jobs you have to fill; no matter where they went to school, or what they’ve done, or who they know, or where they’ve worked, or who they’ve worked with, or what they’ve worked on — if you don’t like them, if you don’t feel comfortable and at ease with them, if you don’t think you could drive across the country with them in a Volkswagen Beetle, don’t hire them.

If you do, you will eventually have a problem. Guaranteed.

They will not be fun for you or other people to work with. They will not add to the camaraderie that is essential when people work closely with things as fragile as ideas.

 

7. TRUST THEM

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8. PRAISE THEIR EFFORTS

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“Appreciation is to talent,” wrote Baltasar Gracian in 1653, “what the West wind is to flowers — life and breath itself.”

“I have yet to find the man,” wrote Charles Schwab, “however exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater efforts under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism.”

“A great manager,” said Reggie Jackson, “has a knack of making ballplayers think they are better than they think they are. He forces you to have a good opinion of yourself. He lets you know he believes in you. And once you know how good you really are, you never settle for playing anything less than your very best.”

“One thing scientists have discovered,” wrote Thomas Dreier, “is that often-praised children become more intelligent than often-blamed ones. There’s a creative element in praise.”

All these people and thousands like them have recognized the same thing — praise makes people better.

But some leaders feel praise should be meted out grudgingly, and only occasionally, and only if richly deserved; that too much praise lessens its effect, that each accolade makes the next one less meaningful, that bosses should be hard to please and stingy with compliments.

 

9. ALLOW THEM THE FREEDOM TO FAIL

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It doesn’t take a genius to praise people when they do a great job. Even poor leaders are smart enough to do that.

The ideaist looks for ways to praise them when they fail. For this is when people are most vulnerable. This is when their self-images can take a nosedive.

Remember, one of the reasons good people are good is that they believe in themselves and in their ideas, they take chances, they swing for the fences. Criticize them or make no comment when they strike out, and they’ll start trying to punch the ball into right field.

When they go for broke, praise them for the effort, for trying to do something others might not even attempt, whether they hit the ball or not.

I realize that this advice flies in the face of that old management dictum that you should “never confuse efforts with results.”

But results seldom happen without effort. And my experience with creative people convinces me that if you don’t acknowledge and praise effort, it will eventually wither like an unwatered flower.

 

10. HELP THEM ACHIEVE THEIR GOALS

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Napoleon, they say, never asked his men to win a battle. That was what he wanted. Instead of victory he promised them food when they were hungry, furloughs when they were homesick, recognition when they were forgotten, rest when they were weary, shelter when they were cold.

In the same way, you should avoid trumpeting corporate goals. “We’ll be one of the biggest agencies in town” may well be what you want. But “You’ll be rich and famous” may well be what they want.

At least once a year, sit down with people and find out what they want. Then work with them on achieving those wants and goals and aspirations.

I remember being stunned during one such meeting to learn what one of our art directors wanted. What she wanted more than anything, she said — more than a raise, more than a title, more than a business of her own, more than more responsibility or authority or recognition or meaningful assignments or leisure time — was the assurance that when her car broke down, someone would come and fix it free of charge right away without any hassle.

 

11. NEVER LIE ABOUT ANYTHING IMPORTANT

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12. SHOW SOME ENTHUSIASM

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13. ASK THEM TO HELP YOU

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14. GET RID OF THE WORD “I”

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“I”is a dividing word. It divides people into two groups — you and everybody else. And an ideaist must bring people together, not split them apart. If no nation can long endure divided, certainly no organization can.

Nor is “I” accurate when you use it to claim credit for an idea. Ray Bradbury once told me that he never knows when something he read twenty years ago will “collide” with something he read yesterday to produce a new idea for a book or a story.

In the same way, you never know who planted the seeds of the idea that grew in your mind. Was it a chance remark of your husband or wife? A sign you saw on the way to work? A comment made in a meeting? A look on someone’s face? A remembrance from your childhood? A movie? A song? A poem? You owe a debt to millions for every idea, every solution, every suggestion.

Learn instead the word “we.” It is more binding and accurate. And it makes working with you more fun, for it is fun for people who give credit, and fun to feel responsible for a company’s success.

 

15. PLAY THE FOOL

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