The Intuition Network, A Thinking Allowed Television Underwriter, presents the following transcript from the series Thinking Allowed, Conversations On the Leading Edge of Knowledge and Discovery, with Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove.


JEFFREY MISHLOVE, Ph.D.: Hello and welcome. Today we're going to be examining creativity, both individual and corporate. My guest is William C. Miller, who is the principal consultant for SAI Associates in Mill Valley. He is a former senior research consultant for managing innovation and change at SRI International in Menlo Park, California, and he is the author of a book called The Creative Edge. Welcome, William.

WILLIAM MILLER: Thank you, Jeffrey.

MISHLOVE: It's a pleasure to have you here. You describe in your book the notion that individuals can exert a creative influence on their corporations, in their businesses or organizations, no matter what level of the organization they're at. This kind of defies, I think, traditional wisdom that says it's got to come from above. I'm fascinated by that.

MILLER: Well, it defies it actually in two different ways. One is that a lot of times we have a notion that the question of, "Are you creative?" is a good question, and I don't believe it is, because a lot of times we've so narrowly defined creativity that at least half of us say, "Well, I'm not the creative one. That belongs to this research over here, the person in the creative department in advertising." We kind of throw it away to other people. In all the experiences I've had, each person has some type of creativity that they actually do express. It's not even just latent; it's really there.

MISHLOVE: In effect you're saying that being creative is part and parcel of being human.

MILLER: Exactly, exactly. For example, I find that some people may not be the types who are the hands-on workers that, say, can do a new advertisement or write a good report or sculpt a new sculpture; but they may be the people who can produce a good conference, a good party. Their creativity is in bringing people together, rather than in producing ideas or things.

MISHLOVE: So the trick, I suppose, for an individual is to discover their own unique creative aspects.

MILLER: Exactly. Just to give you an example, there is a woman who is a seamstress in a garment factory. She told the story of a time when the pockets just didn't quite fit, and they kept having to recut them. So she and her partner redesigned the pockets and gave it to their manager, and the manager kind of took the attitude, "Well, you're not the creative ones. We'll worry about this." They came back a number of months later and said, "You were right." It's that type of initiative that can take the creativity into all levels. I find even CEOs -- one of the big Midwestern oil companies is asking the same type of question: "How can I have creativity all the way through my organization, not just in certain departments?"

MISHLOVE: It's an incredible resource, I guess, when a business has employees, and really every one is capable of making a creative contribution. And I think in today's economic climate people are demanding this kind of self-fulfillment from their jobs, the opportunity to be creative. So it's really just, I should think, a question of communicating that.

MILLER: Well, it's communicating it and finding a way to channel it in the group, because there is a big difference between my personally being creative in something I want to do, and us as a group being creative in something that we have to produce. And so on the one hand you're totally right in saying that it's coming from people individually saying, "Look, I have talents, I want to express those, and in doing the best job I can do it's going to be creative. I want to be able to feel like I make a difference." You know, it could be the person who's selling, and he wants to feel like he can put some creativity into that sales presentation, in a way that he takes customers that he's never really been able to work with before and finds new ways to do that. Or it could be someone on a manufacturing floor who says, "You know, I have found this defect in the way the tire stems work on this automobile line, and I want to be able to help develop some ideas about how to get better quality control in these tire stems." And that's their creativity.

MISHLOVE: I notice in your book that you have these excerpted quotes from all levels, from famous creative people to seamstresses and mechanics, who've all been able to make this creative input. I gather you must have interviewed many, many people in the course of your research.

MILLER: Exactly. It was part of the great fun of producing that book, not only doing some individual interviews, but my wife and I would also have what we called creativity dinners. We would invite a few people we knew, and they'd bring other people we didn't know, and we put a tape recorder in the middle of the table while we served dinner and said, "The price of admission is not to tell your ideas about creativity, but give us actual concrete stories of when you were creative, whether it was in ideas or material things, or producing events, or being creative in relationships, or being creative in how you organized some work." We found that at first people would say, "Well, I don't know if I'm really that creative," and by the time the dinners were over and the sharing, they'd think, "Gee, I never thought that the way I dealt with customers was creativity, but it really is, isn't it?"

MISHLOVE: I suppose it's a question of people looking at what are the most fulfilling moments of their lives. Everybody has these moments.

MILLER: Yes. And to me the creativity really is something that comes from that heart, of where are those fulfilling moments. Just recently, for example, I was working with a group of twenty-two scientists and industry experts around a particular material -- we were working for a chemical company -- where the material had the qualities of being heat-resistant and flame-retardant, and we spent the first day of a three-day workshop generating three hundred ideas about what else you could do with this material in making new businesses. But it was really kind of dry. We worked hard, and I went home that night and remembered one person who had said something that had gotten lost. He said, "You know, when I hear about a hotel fire in the Caribbean where seventy-five people died because someone torched the furniture, I know that if this material was in that upholstery it wouldn't have caught and those people may not have had to die." He says, "I want to find a cost-effective way to make this the material of choice for every furniture manufacturer." I told that story the next morning. I said, "Remember when Jake said that?" I said, "You know, we have a tendency to want to brain power our creativity here, and really come up with great ideas. And yet that was an idea that came from down here; it was an idea of the heart." And we went around the room and had each person share something of real central concern to them in life, where one person said, "Well, I'm concerned that so many people starve, and yet food rots in storage and transport." Someone else said, "Well, I'm concerned about what we do with the environment over here with acid rain." And someone else said, "Well, I'm concerned about fire and burns." And I had people, after hearing all that, get together in groups of fours and fives, just based on kind of a synergy that emerged, and I said, "Now spend the next hour to hour and a half just generating ideas about how this material might address your concerns directly and indirectly." And with those ideas coming from the heart, it totally changed the energy of this workshop, and really produced some dynamic businesses.

MISHLOVE: I would think that when people really get in touch with their essential values, their essential desires, that creativity flows much more naturally than maybe when they get locked into trying to think it out logically. I know there are many ways to do that logically, but sometimes -- well, people talk about creative blocks all the time. Writer's block is a common issue. How do people deal with that?

MILLER: Well, there's a couple of things in that question, I think. The first is looking at that there really are two primary ways we even generate ideas, or generate that impulse to do something new, and part of it is actually through logic. The right brain/left brain and all that theory -- the right brain's gotten the good rap -- well, the right brain is the intuitive side, and that's where creativity comes from.

MISHLOVE: Spatial, musical.

MILLER: Right. And the left brain, well, that's the dull side.

MISHLOVE: Linear, logical, rational.

MILLER: Exactly.

MISHLOVE: Ugly left brain.

MILLER: Right. And yet both are absolutely essential to creativity. If you look at Einstein just as a clear example, he took ten years of hard research and analysis to feed his intuition in order to come up with the insight. And then he spent another five to ten years reanalyzing that insight into a mathematical formula so we could do something with it. And it's that fluency, I call it. You know, the left brain deals with -- its language is words, and the right brain, its language is picures and images, feelings. It's like German and Chinese; it's like getting the fluency between those two.

MISHLOVE: In other words, what you're saying is there's a need for people to be well balanced.

MILLER: To be fluent in the techniques of both of those. That's part of overcoming the blocks. The other part that I find is that there really are two different approaches that people have to working through their own blocks. Let's say those blocks could be emotional; they could just simply be I'm dry of ideas, or whatever. One approach I'll call the affirmation route. You know, it's kind of like New Year's resolution time, but in a good sense. Like, "Here's what I want to become. I want to become a fluent writer, and I want to be able to write this story or article." And they kind of keep mobilizing towards that goal, and eventually can get there. The other side is what I call the hot stove theory, and that is where -- you know, when you touch a burner, you immediately will draw back from it, because your body knows that's hurtful. And there's something you can trust about your organism that says it will do something healthy called pull away. Well, there are a lot of things that we do in life -- you know, blocks are sometimes a symptoms of these -- that we're really actually burning ourselves, and we're numb to the pain, so it's like we keep the hand on the burner. One of those blocks might be the fact that, "Gee, since I so much want everyone to like me, I'd better not produce anything controversial."

MISHLOVE: That people might reject.

MILLER: That people might reject. And yet that's kind of burning ourselves, because it stops that part of wanting to express something new and novel.

MISHLOVE: It makes me think that we've been burned in the past by people's rejections, and we haven't quite overcome it.

MILLER: And often what we do when we get burned and it doesn't ever heal, we become numb, we go into shock, literally. And so the first part of what I called the hot stove theory is just to become aware, conscious of the here and now of "Ah! I'm blocking again." Or, "Gee, yes, I'm feeling afraid of criticism again," and so on, and just allowing that awareness, and allowing therefore some of the pain to start coming through, is the first step of letting our trustworthy side take over and move us toward something healthier. And I find that people start moving through blocks without ever having that kind of New Year's resolution effort.

MISHLOVE: In other words it's a kind of internal creativity. There's a creative part of ourselves, and when we are stuck it will somehow find a way to help us around, if we recognize that we are stuck and kind of trust that part of ourselves.

MILLER: In fact that internal creativity I think is the most fundamental of them all. You know, I've talked about maybe being creative in events or organizing or relationships, and yet we take a person who -- part of being creative in a group means I have to not only have an idea, but present it and sell it and have other people enroll in it. And yet here I am, I'm afraid of talking in front of groups. So that's my block.

MISHLOVE: Groups is a really big problem. This is where we have the notion of groupthink, and creativity being stifled in groups. That's why so many times we associate, I think, creative people as being loners, rather than people who operate in groups.

MILLER: And so part of it is -- just taking this example of someone who doesn't operate in groups well by being able to present ideas, and it's maybe that fear that blocks him inside.

MISHLOVE: I think it's a stronger fear than being afraid of death, to speak in front of a group.

MILLER: It comes out number one. And yet, people who will, say, do things with Toastmasters or with affirmations, however they deal with that, to get to the point where they not only aren't afraid but actually start to enjoy it -- that's a type of creativity where what you're creating is an internal experience without the situation changing. That's really kind of the first step.

MISHLOVE: A shift in awareness, a shift in attitude.

MILLER: Yes. But there's another part to that. You talked about the group creativity and working in groups, and how difficult that can be. One of the other aspects of honoring the fact that we have a role in being creative is the fact that when a group is responsible for taking a new idea -- it might be a new product, and now we're trying to put it out on the market, and one person has to be able to develop the marketing campaign, someone else the literature, and someone handle the customer service calls and so on. We all have a role in what it's going to take to make this successful, and one of those roles might be, "Well, I'm the champion, the quarterback of this. I so believe in this idea with my passion that I'm going to make sure it happens." There may also be someone else who says, "Well, what I'm good at is I can make sure this stays on track, budgetwise, performance-wise, get it done on time." And someone else, maybe the executive, might say, "Well, I can make sure that you have the resources you need, and if you get some flak from other people around the organization I'll kind of insulate you a little bit." It's what IBM did with their personal computers, and what a lot of different venture groups have done, is to kind of isolate it, let it incubate. With that type of seeing that we each have a different role -- now, I may not be the inventor, but if I'm the project manager, maybe I'm actually more important to the group being creative than the actual inventor of the idea.

MISHLOVE: What if you're the shipping clerk?

MILLER: And if you're the shipping clerk, where's your creativity?


MILLER: It can come in a number of ways. It can come perhaps in the fact that you see an inefficiency in the way the dock is organized. The fact that you live with it day to day -- you're the one who gets to see that. And being able to suggest or make some changes, even on your own, in that is one possibility. Another possibility is, say if you're the receiving clerk, and you've heard, for example, that the salespeople -- and this is a good organization that would pass this information on -- the salespeople have some difficulty in making sales because of the delivery cycle. They can't get the product out in time. And you say, "You know, one of the things that we could do around here that would speed up the materials handling by maybe three or four days' worth, is instead of unloading it here and taking it to here, then to here, then to here, but if we took it from here over to here, we could get it to the machines a lot faster." It could be that person who sees that type of flow. But it comes to the point that for organizations to be creative there are a lot of issues to pay attention to.

MISHLOVE: You know, while you're describing this I'm thinking to myself, creativity, say if you're the shipping clerk, might not even involve having a new idea, like Ford Motors' light bulb or something. Might it not involve simply putting yourself there, putting your consciousness there, so that when you talk to people who interact with you, other shippers or delivery people, they get to know you as a person, they get to remember you, you develop a personal relationship with them? Even that could be creative, I would think, and might in the long run pay big dividends for any company.

MILLER: Well, it could, and I think one of the essential parts of being creative is feeling your own power, feeling your own ability to have an influence and to make a difference. And that requires choosing where you are. Whether it's a shipping clerk or even a CEO, who sometimes can feel more powerless to get things to happen than a shipping clerk can feel, it's a matter of saying, "I've chosen to be here; in whatever this environment is, I'm here because I put myself here."

MISHLOVE: So it may not even mean changing where you are. It may mean choosing to be really where you already are.

MILLER: And then saying, "Now that I've chosen that, how can I invest myself into making this worthwhile for me and others?" And it brings up a point about the whole thing of why be creative, why grow inside, why do any of this? I used to think, well, gee, the reason I want to grow inside and to be more powerful or whatever, is so that I can have a better impact on the world around me, so that I can handle my job better or have a better relationship, and so on. And I've just begun in this last half year or so to begin holding the other half of that and put the two together, and that is that perhaps I have this job, or this relationship, because those give me the opportunity to learn what I need to learn in here, in terms of the quality of being able to love, or to have peace, or to be nonviolent, or those very, very fundamental values.

MISHLOVE: To provide the challenges that you need, in other words.

MILLER: So it's almost instead of saying that the company has hired me to provide a service to them in exchange for pay, it's like a notion of, well, I've hired the company to provide me with some experiences that will serve my growth, and that when that's finished I may let go of that company and move on to somewhere else.

MISHLOVE: The creativity there, I suppose, is entering into a psychological state of mind where you would be willing to pay them to do the job. And on top of that, you may get paid.

MILLER: You do, because pay and in fact all of economics is nothing more than exchanging value. I exchange the value of my labor for the value of a paycheck. Or other things -- maybe the value of the lessons of my personal growth. You know, we spend -- what is it, say forty percent of our waking life, typically, at work, if we work a hundred- and-sixty-hour month.

MISHLOVE: That's significant.

MILLER: And what better place is there to see the results of what you do, and to learn those lessons about how do we collaborate, how do we somehow synergize our differences, how do we express talents and support each other -- which are the very same issues of what goes on in the Middle East, or what goes on in Ireland, or what goes on in any type of global situation. It's the very same issues, just on a smaller level. And we need to take advantage of how to learn how to do that at our local level.

MISHLOVE: That's a very tricky issue -- how can an organization plan to be creative? Because one almost gets the sense that organizations run like big machines -- that maybe there's a little creativity at first, but at some point creativity -- and I'm sure many managers would say this -- can get in the way of a good organization.

MILLER: It feels that way, when you have this type of high quality -- do it right the first time, but make sure you do it right. It sounds like anything that's creative means tinkering with the right way, so it must be wrong. But there's a whole mentality that's changing around that, and I think what's changing -- and I'm talking about from the top levels down in corporate America -- is that it used to be where society and economics and everything didn't change all that rapidly. You know, look at the first two thirds of this century, and you could somewhat predict, make a forecast, and say here's how it's going to work. And in that you could look at the corporation being a productive machine, because mainly what you'd do is you'd find the big home-run product, the Tide, or whatever it was, and you'd produce that product for the next fifty years, and it's just a matter of getting it turned out with consistent quality. Now we're in an age that's very, very different. It's very fast social, political, economic change. You have product turnovers that happen every eighteen to twenty-four months.

MISHLOVE: Turbulent times.

MILLER: Very turbulent times. And where the main asset of the organization is no longer material goods, it's information. One good definition of information is it's the difference that makes a difference. And so we have organizations that -- now the balance between being productive versus being innovative with whatever the new products are going to be, the balance has shifted. It's a matter of how can the organization be more innovative constantly, because that is its survival. And that I think is what's driving us more and more to recognize the need for creativity all throughout the organization.

MISHLOVE: But we may not be, in many of our organizations, in the habit of being so creative, particularly the larger ones.

MILLER: We're caught in a crossfire on that right now, and changing that climate has to be done very consciously. It's not as simple as saying, well, we'll put in an incentive system, and have a suggestion box, and teach people how to brainstorm, and that'll make us creative. It doesn't work.

MISHLOVE: You've been involved at SRI in a lot of research that deals with this very issue, haven't you?

MILLER: Yes, very much, and one of the things that we discovered there was the fact that there are different styles in which people innovate, and that what's happening for some companies is having to change the whole style of how they innovate. I'll give you an example. You take a bank, before government regulation was lifted, so a heavily regulated environment. Their style of being creative would be: "Well, let's take what we have and modify it" -- I'll call it a modifier style -- "and we can experiment a little bit. We'll kind of test something out, and if it works, then we may do something else." Under deregulation, you now have competitors you never had before for a bank; like a stock brokerage firm is now a competitor. And so they're having to be much more vision-driven, which they never really had to do that much.

MISHLOVE: What does that mean -- vision-driven?

MILLER: Meaning they have to be able to look further out in the future and say, "Here's how we need to position ourselves competitively against a lot of people we never had to think about before. And we can't just take what we have and modify it, we have to maybe think fundamentally different products."

MISHLOVE: So this requires a certain style of creativity.

MILLER: Exactly. The creativity, rather than being, "Let's take what we have and tinker with it," it's like, "Let's leap out and maybe go ten years ahead and say, how would it be totally different? And once we decide what that is, we may also have to do a different style, which is just to explore not knowing where we're going." Now, for people to shift from this kind of, "I'm going to modify what I have," to this other type of thing that says, "I'm going to really set some far-reaching goals and kind of explore out here on what this new turf is," that's a hard shift for people to make, and yet that's also what I think we're facing. And that's part of the crossfire that we're also in. It's a difficult time, and like I said, you simply can't do it with the simplistic notion of what it takes.

MISHLOVE: What are some of the other styles of creativity that you've encountered in your research?

MILLER: Actually it's a combination of these four styles I mentioned -- the modifier, the experimenter, the explorer, the vision driver -- those four. But then being able to see that those actually come down to us as individuals, that we each personally have some combination of those styles that we're most comfortable with, and those come very close to our own values. When part of what we value is high achievement, for example -- the person who wants to get ahead, wants to perhaps make a lot of money or be highly esteemed and get promoted a lot, probably is vision-driven but still somewhat conservative in terms of wanting just to take what we have and modify it a little bit. But you have some other people who say, "You know, what I find most important is just what I feel. I like the challenge just for my own sake; I don't care what anybody else says." Those are the people who tend to kind of reach out and explore new territory.

MISHLOVE: So the trick in an organization is to get the right people doing the right task, and acknowledging the diversity of creativity.

MILLER: Exactly. A perfect example of that is in a manufacturing company I worked with recently, where they said, "We need to totally redo the way we manufacture here in some way. I mean, look at what the Japanese are doing compared to what we're doing. And so we'll set up an innovation committee." And what they did is they unconsciously chose all their what I call the explorers -- the ones that like to go, "Let's just kind of blue-sky it." And yet the rest of the organization, these people say, "Well, here's what we have now; how can we kind of modify it and change it?" So the further along they got on this project, the more this committee was called the oddballs -- you know, "What are the crazies going to come up with now? It's got to be irrelevant to what we think needs to be done and changed." So they unconsciously, unfortunately, set it up to split the very effort they needed to pull together, and in realizing that, now what they've started to do is say, "We need someone who is very goal-oriented, but someone who can explore, and someone who can really stabilize us in terms of here's what we do now, and how can we work with that."

MISHLOVE: It also strikes me that what businesses, what organizations would need to get to at a time of conflict like this is what you mentioned earlier -- coming from the heart, getting right back to what are their basic values that they can all agree on and work together towards.

MILLER: Yes. And that's part of this having a common vision. But it's more. It's not only that we agree, "OK, here's where we're going in the future." John Sculley from Apple Computer says, "Our dream is to change the world." He says, "Now, it may sound like a bold dream, but if you're going to have a dream, it might as well be a bold one." Well, for people to buy into that and feel, "OK, we agree, that's what we're trying to do here" -- the Macintosh team had some of that feeling. They weren't just making a product; they were doing something that they felt was really going to make an impact on people in a very new way. But at the same time we have to feel like we're getting there together, and that's the attunement, that's the heart part. We can agree on something up here, but unless we're feeling like our values really do mix here, and that we are doing this together, then the creativity as a group can come through, beyond just that individual creativity we first started out with, and we can honor each other with that.

MISHLOVE: That seems very key, the honoring of each other, because of the commonality of values. From that then creativity can flow in a group, just as when a person comes from their heart it can flow individually so well.

MILLER: Right. And yet, one of the major blocks that I've seen is we have in this culture a belief that I am what I do. You know: "Hello, Jeffrey. How are you? What do you do?"

MISHLOVE: I'm a TV producer, right.

MILLER: And so when someone comes along and has an idea that may change what you do, it's not that you're just putting on a new suit called a new job or a new task. It's like all of a sudden I've challenged you --

MISHLOVE: William, we're out of time. I don't think we're going to have time to finish that, but thanks so much for being with me. It's been a pleasure having you here, and I really feel we have addressed creativity from the heart in this program.

MILLER: Thank you. I very much enjoyed being here with you.


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