How to Channel Your Creativity
In thinking about innovation, I wanted to pick the brain of an expert—so I interviewed Steven Kowalski, who works with executives and key talent at Genentech Inc. to build leadership and organizational effectiveness. Genentech is one of the world’s best-known oncology companies, with products like Avastin for colon and lung cancer treatment and Herceptin for breast cancer. Kowalski is also the founder and president of Creative License, where he has provided organizational development consulting, training and entrepreneurial coaching to clients in the U.S. and Europe since 1995.
Q. What kinds of initiatives are you spearheading around innovation at Genentech?
We are working directly on improving people’s ability to access and apply their creative potential. Often this requires a shift in day-to-day behavior. Starting with our various leadership teams, we have brought in content from the famed Creativity in Business program at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and adapted it for groups around the company. In addition to cost savings and reduction of development time, we have seen significant positive changes within the culture of groups that have participated.
We build innovation into our hiring practices—we interview [candidates] based on their flexibility, creativity, activating innovation in others and adaptability. Right now, we’re working on helping people get better at that set of skills.One of the things that we’ve done is to deliver a series of business-focused creativity workshops. Traditional creativity workshops can look soft and mushy, like getting a group of executives together to work with Playdough or make collages — but instead of that kind of creativity for its own sake, we’ve worked hard to ground creativity strongly in business. We have a culture that cares about results, so we’ve decided all creativity exercises need to be tied to the actual business. We’re getting people to work on their business using the tools from Stanford.
One tool is called “Relax the Judge.” If I were to [quiet] down that critical voice in my head, what would I see anew? What would the difference be in our collaborations, [both] scientific and manufacturing? This new awareness is enabling more possibilities and moving relationships forward more quickly.
Q. What do you recommend to executives attempting to lead a more innovative organization?
Leaders set the tone for their organization. Modeling best-practice behaviors is number one in terms of embedding day-to-day behaviors that support creativity and innovation as cultural “habits” in their organization (openness, willingness to be influenced, listening, clear and timely communication, etc.). Next, ensure that people have the opportunity to self-organize around how work gets done. That means leaders set a vision for outcomes, working principles and success criteria, but then get out of the way of how that vision is realized. Finally, cut down the multitasking. We need to be present and focused in order to activate our creativity.
KARLIN SLOAN, M.A., is founder and president of Karlin Sloan & Co. (karlinsloan.com), based in New York City and Chicago, which provides executive coaching, team building and leadership development services. Email Karlin at email@example.com.