Here’s How To Grow Creativity In A Toxic Culture

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Synopsis

How could one simple principle your parents taught you at a young age be the key to growing creativity even in the most toxic cultures?

A long time ago, I worked at a hotel front desk. Not only did we check people in to the hotel, but we took calls and booked reservations on the phone as well. This was in the days when internet hotel sites were fresh on the market gaining popularity. My supervisor, Tom Eastman, and I noticed an interesting pattern: Customers would go to these websites and check what was available, but instead of booking the room online, they would call our hotel directly. They wanted to talk with a real blood pumping person whom they could trust. This meant if they didn’t book a room through us, we had missed an easy opportunity.

Tom and I began to work on a clever plan (it was mostly Tom, I just had the pleasure of helping). After some creative problem solving, new strategies and a 5% commission he put in place for front desk agents, we got it tweaked to the way we wanted it. During it’s implementation, it became obvious Tom was on to something big. With an influx in business, we stopped discounting rates, sold more premium rooms and our rates rose along with revenue. In less than one year, revenue coming in from the front desk doubled. We no longer needed the online discount sites at all, almost shutting their channels off completely.

Convincing hotel management at first wasn't easy, but as the results (and cash) poured in we knew their minds would change. We were wrong. Even in the face of overwhelming success, management focused more on the revenue they were losing on commissions than the new revenue stream Tom had created. Bad went to worse as Tom's direct report informed him at the front desk meeting only hours away, he would announce the cancellation of the commissions.

As our boss, I'll call him Bob, got ready to spill the bad news, Tom taught me a creative lesson I’ll never forget. He jumped up, interrupting Bob, telling everyone the concept that had been so successful was all Bob's idea. Tom praised his "bold thinking" and "innovative approach" and then started applauding him — everyone joined in. Stunned by this turn of events, Bob had no idea what to do except welcome the credit and allow the program to continue. Tom’s selfless approach saved us our commissions, saved morale, and kept revenues high, but most importantly Tom demonstrated something quite significant that is often overlooked in the business arena.

It turns out selflessness isn’t just a nice-guy approach to take. Biologist E.O. Wilson gave a talk at Harvard University on April 13 about what scientists refer to as “eusocial” behavior. In the natural world eusocial behavior is exhibited by naked mole rats in Africa, ants, bees, some crustaceans and humans. Wilson believes this eusocial or selfless behavior is responsible for the overwhelming success of these species. For example, ant's biomass is greater than all nonhuman land vertebrate on the planet, I'd call that an successful species.

We’ve always been taught being a team player is good and selfishness is bad, but on a biological level a selfless outlook is a significant factor, if not, the significant factor responsible for pushing teams to greatness. “Groups consisting of altruistic individuals beat groups consisting of selfish individuals.” said Wilson.

What does this mean? Even if you don't have the authority to rehabilitate or remove a "Bob" in your company, creativity can still thrive when you are willing to tip the scales of selflessness. It’s definitely not fun to let someone else get the credit, but if you truly care about your team’s success, there’s no other way. Use your humility to cancel out immodesty and grow creativity. When you choose to be a “Tom” creativity can exist even in the most toxic of cultures.

This piece originally appeared on Cultivating Creativity on 4/15/14.

Justin Brady is a writer and speaker focused on cultivating creativity. He founded the Iowa Creativity Summit and lives in Des Moines, where he owns Test of Time Design, a meaningful marketing agency. Find him on Twitter @justinbrady

Source: Alvin Powell "Survival of the selfless

Tags: eusocial behavior, innovation, justin brady, selfless behavior, team performance, teamwork

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