What’s Stifling the Creativity at CoolBurst? Essay
What’s Stifling the Creativity at CoolBurst?
With the competition getting hot, a beverage company must learn how to fire up its creative juices. Suzy Wetlaufer is a senior editor at HBR. Luisa Reboredo had never been one to count her hours in the office, let alone take all the vacation days she had accumulated in her z5 years with CoolBurst, a Miami-based fruit-juice company. Now, as the newly appointed CEO, she seemed to live at work. The job exhilarated her, and she had big plans for the company’s future-if she could just get performance on track first. It took a great deal of pleading, therefore, for Reboredo’s 18-year-old son, Alfonse, to get her to attend Miami’s popular outdoor art festival with him one Saturday in May. She had regularly been working weekends, using the time to pore over CoolBurst’s books in an effort to figure out why annual revenues were stuck at $3o million and why profits hadn’t risen for four years straight. Finally, the two struck a deal: Luisa would attend the art festival in the morning and spend the rest of the day at the office.
They arrived at 1o, and already the sun was baking the festival grounds. Alfonse, almost a full foot taller than Luisa and a basketball star at Southwest Miami High, put his arm around his mother. “Mom, this is great you’ve got to get out more often,” he practically sang. “You’re missing the action stuck inside that office.” Luisa sighed. Raising Alfonse by herself hadn’t been easy, and now that she had reached the top of her career and could comfortably afford his college tuition, the last thing she wanted was to have the company she’d helped to build collapse beneath her. Just the thought of CoolBurst’s stagnant performance suddenly made her tense. Why was it, she wondered, that CoolBurst wasn’t growing anymore? For over a decade, it had been the most successful juice maker in the Southeast.
Practically every school in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina had a CoolBurst vending machine in its cafeteria, and thousands of restaurants listed CoolBurst’s apple, grape, and cranberry drinks by brand name on their menus. In fact, CoolBurst had grown so steadily over the years that its parent company, a Chicago based conglomerate, rarely interfered with operations. Lately, however, Luisa had been receiving weekly phone calls from the higher-ups in Chicago inquiring about budget projections, expenses, and personnel changes. “Morn, stop thinking about work!” Alfonse shouted, interrupting Luisa’s thoughts. “You should see the expression on your face!” Luisa tried to smile but shrugged instead.
“I’m sorry, Alfonse,” she said. “Let’s look around.” Her son readily agreed, steering her toward a row of paintings by a local artist they both liked. Then Alfonse stopped for a moment. “Wait a second, Mom,” he said, “let me grab a drink first. I’m burning up.” Alfonse dashed over to a man selling drinks from a cart a few yards away. The cart was topped by a large red umbrella emblazoned with the words Destroy Your Thirst! Drink a Thirst Smasher. A moment later, he was back, unscrewing the cap of a red glass bottle shaped like a rocket. “Alfonse!” Luisa practically gasped. “How could you?”
“How could I what?” Alfonse replied, somewhat irritated. “I couldn’t get a CoolBurst around here if I tried, More. I suppose I could sprint over to the high school, but that wouldn’t exactly be convenient. “Besides,” Alfonse added, “everyone knows CoolBurst is for kids. These Thirst Smashers are something new. Get a load of this flavor-Mango Tango. It tastes fabulous.” Luisa cringed-she knew all about Mango Tango. In fact, the flavor had been invented in CoolBurst’s own labs, a collaboration between chief scientist Carol Velez and CoolBurst’s then marketing director, Sam Jenkins. The two had concocted Mango Tango and four other exotic drinks on the sly about a year earlier. But when they presented them to the company’s then CEO, Garth LaRoue, he had been so angry about their unauthorized use of time that he had practically fired them both. Velez hadn’t had her heart in her job since.
And Jenkins had left CoolBurst shortly thereafter to join Thirst Smashers, one of a half dozen start-ups that had recently begun venturing into the drink business in the Southeast. To Luisa, it felt as if every month a new company joined the competitive fray, each one coming from a different angle. Thirst Smashers was parking its drink carts on every corner. Drink-Ups, another new player, was selling carbonated juice drinks and advertising like mad on the radio with a jingle even she couldn’t get out of her head. But so far, Luisa reminded herself, none of the start-ups had put a noticeable dent in CoolBurst’s market share in schools and restaurants. The reason, she figured, was the company’s efficient set of systems, in both the factory and the field. CoolBurst’s purchasing agents and plant operations were located in Atlanta, where managers worked to make a high-quality product as inexpensively as possible.
The company’s salespeople were all over the Southeast, developing close relationships with their customers. An advanced-and pricey information technology system, which CoolBurst had installed in 1990, allowed salespeople in the field to place orders, which were filled swiftly by a fleet of CoolBurst drivers. And finally, the company’s labs were located at headquarters, where Velez and a small staff focused on improving the flavors of CoolBurst’s products and the efficiency of the company’s factory processes. CoolBurst is like a well-oiled machine, Luisa told herself: not many bells and whistles to what we do, but we do it well. Perhaps that was why it caused such a scandal when Velez and Jenkins got together to invent Mango Tango and the other new flavors.
Everyone in the company was sick and tired of the way Jenkins was trying to change things. Most employees considered him a troublemaker-a transplanted New Yorker and business school graduate who did nothing but harangue people to “think outside the box.” “What box is he talking about?” was the refrain from most of CoolBurst’s 200 employees, who were predominantly native Miamians who had joined the company after high school or college. CoolBurst had been an independent company until 1975, and it still retained much of its old organizational culture, which reflected the traditional, family-oriented background of its Cuban-born founder. Employees were loyal and conservative in both mind and manner. The company’s dress code was formal, even in Miami’s warm climate, and employees treated one another with a politeness that seemed like a throwback to the 195os. But as old-fashioned as it seemed, that politeness was an aspect of CoolBurst’s culture that employees valued highly.
No one at CoolBurst argued. No one swore. No one complained that the company’s offices were small and nondescript. No one ever answered the phone in any way other than the expected “Thank you for calling CoolBurst. How may I be of service?” The company was a calm and civilized place to work in the midst of a changing, chaotic world. It’s no wonder, then, Luisa thought, that Sam Jenkins rubbed a lot of people the wrong way: he was always confronting colleagues about their assumptions and ways of doing business. His favorite phrase was “Everyone’s entitled to my opinion.” And he seemed to delight in challenging rules and norms around the office. He often arrived late to work, left early, and blared rock-and-roll music from his computer’s CD-ROM drive. Some days, when he left at lunchtime, he would tape a note to his door that read, “Gone to the movies to get my creative juices flowing. Ha!” Even his office space seemed to challenge the status quo. The walls were covered with large, haunting photographs he had taken while traveling through Africa and India, and several fanciful “dream catchers” hung from the ceiling. When the phone rang, Jenkins always answered, “Yeah?” Worse, his behavior had a negative effect on the productivity of other employees. When Jenkins left early, other people followed. If the director of marketing worked half days, they figured, why couldn’t they?
As a result, the phones in customer service often went unanswered. Jenkins’s work habits seemed to suit him: despite his odd hours, he always got a lot done. But Luisa-and many others in top management-had noticed that allowing other employees this freedom didn’t seem to do much for the overall output of the company. Luisa liked Jenkins. She knew he had passed up high-paying offers in consulting and on Wall Street to take the job at CoolBurst because, as he put it, he loved business “in the trenches.” She also knew that, soon after starting at CoolBurst, Jenkins had quickly grown worried about the company. He told everyone who would listen that CoolBurst’s past success had been a simple matter of being in the right place at the right time-and a fortuitous lack of competition. “The bubble is going to burst one of these days,” he kept repeating. CoolBurst had to innovate, he warned-or it would evaporate. Jenkins wanted to lead the charge. First, he started working on the director of distribution, Roger Blatt. Why was it, he asked, that CoolBurst was sold only in school vending machines and in restaurants?
What about opening up new channels? How about handing out CoolBursts to everyone who stepped off a plane at Miami International Airport? Blatt nearly roared when he heard that suggestion. There were a hundred reasons why that couldn’t be done. For one, the airport had extremely tight security regulations. And where would the drivers park? How could they possibly get the juice to the gates? And what about keeping it cold? Finance certainly wouldn’t approve the idea anyway. Blatt’s final words on the matter were strong: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” For a while after his run-in with distribution, Jenkins restricted his creativity campaign to his own territory. His first idea was to get CoolBurst-or maybe even its corporate parent-to cough up some money for advertising. Sure, CoolBurst had advertised in the past, but minimally, and never on TV.
In fact, all advertising had been designed in-house and usually consisted of point-of-purchase posters. Jenkins had a different plan in mind. CoolBurst needed fresh minds from outside the company to help create a new vision of the brand. After making his case for three months, he was given a modest budget. He immediately hired a New York firm well known for its jazzy TV commercials. But the agency didn’t last long at CoolBurst. In their first meeting with CoolBurst’s management team, the account executives launched into what they called a “creativity-enhancement exercise.” After dimming the lights, they urged the CoolBurst managers to close their eyes and imagine themselves on a desert island, dying of thirst. “Suddenly, an angel arrives and offers you the drink of your dreams. Let your imagination go-you can have anything you want-no constraints,” incanted one ad executive. “Let yourself fantasize.” “That’s enough!” snapped LaRoue, who was still CEO at the time. “I’m all for new ideas around here, but these kinds of mind games are a waste of time. Either you’re born creative or you’re not.
Fantasizing about an angel isn’t going to do us a bit of good. We all should be back at our desks working.” LaRoue’s comments hadn’t surprised Luisa. He was nearing 6 5 and had been at CoolBurst his entire career, starting as a stock boy in the factory. He valued tradition, just as he valued self-discipline and respect for authority. He had quickly come to distrust Jenkins, and, after the incident with the advertising agency, he had strongly urged Luisa to get rid of him. Even if she had wanted to, Luisa didn’t have the chance. A few days later, Jenkins and Velez presented their four new drinks to LaRoue, only to be shouted out of his office. When Luisa found Velez back in the lab later, she was dejectedly pouring the prototypes down the drain. Luisa stopped her before she emptied the Mango Tango, and took a taste. It was delicious, and she told her so. “It doesn’t make any difference that it’s delicious,” said Velez. “You can’t do anything different in this company. Everyone gets hysterical.” “Well, I won’t get hysterical,” Luisa said, “and I may soon have the final say as the new CEO.” “Forget it,” said Velez.
“That’s not what CoolBurst is about. We’re not a creative company. We’re just a little juice company that knows how to do one thing well-make plain old juice and deliver it to plain old schools and restaurants.” She looked Luisa straight in the eye. “We’ve got one creative person here, and he makes everyone nervous. Even if you told everyone it was okay to be creative like Sam Jenkins, no one would know what to do. How do you make a bunch of people who are happy doing the same old thing come up with new ideas? It’s just not the CoolBurst way.” Velez’s assertion didn’t make Luisa happy, but it couldn’t be denied. CoolBurst wasn’t a creative place, and it didn’t attract creative people with the exception of Jenkins and Velez. And when it did find that rare creative person who wanted to make a difference, management didn’t know what to do with him-apart from forcing him out the door. As Luisa stood outside in the blazing sun with Alfonse-who was polishing off his Mango Tango Thirst Smasher-she couldn’t stop thinking about Velez’s assessment of CoolBurst.
Was the company really a lost cause when it came to the issue of creativity? Were its employees really as stolid as Velez thought they were? And was there some way to get everyone-from distribution to manufacturing-to think of new and exciting ways to revitalize CoolBurst’s product line and way of doing business? Was there a way, Luisa wondered, to make CoolBurst a more welcoming, nurturing place for creative individuals like Jenkins? Sure, some of his ideas were off the wall; Luisa smiled to herself as she remembered his plan to have thousands of bottles of CoolBurst wash up on the Miami beaches during spring break. But others, such as exotic new flavors, were terrific. “Hey, Mom, you’re still thinking about work!” Alfonse broke into Luisa’s thoughts once more. “Let’s have some fun. Let me buy you a Mango Tango!” HBR’s cases present common managerial dilemmas and offer concrete solutions from experts. As written, they are hypothetical, and the names used are fictitious.
We invite you to write to Case Suggestions, Harvard Business Review, 60 Harvard Way, Boston, MA 02163, and describe the issues you would like to see addressed. How can Reboredo foster creativity in her current employees and nurture creative individuals who join the company in the future? Five experts examine the issue of building creativity in the workplace. CoolBurst has creative thinkers in its ranks right now, and Reboredo can draw on that creativity without causing a corporate crisis. PAUL BARKER has been at Hallmark Cards for z8 years and is general manager of its Everyday Cards division in Kansas City, Missouri. He has managed a variety of departments, such as the greeting card studios, the photography group, the digital studio, and the specialty-gift design department. He also has led the development and marketing of Everyday Cards’ product programs. At least Luisa Reboredo wants CoolBurst to become a creatively competitive company.
The first step toward successful change is having an engaged CEO who truly believes in the company’s vision. But right now, she seems to think that achieving success has to be a radical, wrenching experience. It doesn’t. She also seems to think that all change is big change. It isn’t. CoolBurst has creative thinkers in its ranks right now, and Reboredo can draw on that creativity without causing a corporate crisis. Sam Jenkins was too much too fast for a company that is accustomed to a quiet cultural evolution. The trick is to encourage meaningful change gradually so that the troops that made the company so successful in the past are not threatened but engaged. How can she do it? The first step is to change her own mind-set. Reboredo must stop thinking about CoolBurst as if it were frozen in time, relying solely on its past successes. Sure, the company has done things a certain way for many years-and it has done them extremely well. But yesterday’s and today’s experiences are part of a much longer journey.
Reboredo must come to understand that she can-and should-use the past and the present to build the future. CoolBurst has a heritage and a culture to be proud of, and she shouldn’t discount that. But there’s no need for her to remain mired in them, either. Reboredo must also revisit her perception of what creativity is and where it resides. Creativity at CoolBurst need not and should not be confined to the marketing and product development departments. Her people in inventory and operations need to be creative as well, as do her administrative assistants. She needs to tap into every employee’s creativity if the business is ever going to live up to its potential. With those things in mind, Reboredo should start thinking about long-term goals. What is her definition of victory? Where does she want the company to be in three years? In five? A good leader will develop new long-term goals even as the old long-term action plans are being played out.
The trick is to understand how past successes can be linked to a future vision. Then she must prepare a new action plan. If Reboredo goes to her employees with a message about change but with few specifics to back it up, she will scare them and fail to get them committed to molding a new future for the company. What are some specific, relatively safe ideas that her people will be comfortable with? What particular areas should Reboredo target first? Flavors? Distribution? She should encourage a step-by-step approach and be able to say to her staff, “If we start to measure ourselves against the alternatives available to our customers, and if we begin to look at this particular part of the product differently, what can we accomplish?” She can’t just flip a switch and say, “We’re there.” Once she has a well-defined plan, it’s time for Reboredo to talk with her employees- through personal meetings, memos, Email – employing any and all modes of communication used by the company. Her general message should be something to the effect of, “We’ve done well, and we can continue to do well as our industry evolves. Now let’s start adding a little bit more into our mix.” The beauty of Reboredo’s situation is that her current employees already have the knowledge they need to act on new ideas.
They understand what procedures work well, and they’ll know how to blend in new approaches. They’ll also know what kind of change won’t work given their current capabilities, so they’ll be able to assess degrees of risk from the get-go. As for getting her employees to think creatively, there are a number of things Reboredo can try. One exercise that can be particularly useful in identifying opportunities for improvement and change is to ask employees to think about how competitors view the company. Where is CoolBurst vulnerable? What might competitors do to take advantage of any weakness? Another idea is to get her employees out of the office for a day or for a few days-under the right circumstances and with the proper follow-up actions. For example, they might attend a sporting event where competitors’ drinks are sold, then return to the office and meet to discuss important findings. Time spent out of the office may appear to be wasted, but if it is spent thinking about the company and the product, it can yield great results.
Jenkins wasn’t wrong to leave work early and go to the movies, but the other employees began to copy his behavior without truly understanding his reasons. Jenkins knew how to use experiences outside the company to foster his own creativity. Those experiences helped him figure out what motivated different kinds of people and enabled him to identify what sorts of things influenced their tastes and lifestyles. More important, he knew how to bring those insights back into the company. Reboredo needs to get her people to think as freely as Jenkins did; she needs to get them out of the office and help them use those external experiences to energize the company. At Hallmark, we send some of our most creative people to places that on the surface appear to have nothing to do with greeting cards. For example, we’ll send groups of our writers and artists on trips to New Mexico or Wyoming. When these people witness a sunrise over an incredible mountain landscape, they tend to get a heightened appreciation for emotional experiences.
While in the presence of such breathtaking beauty, they are often able to tap into creativity they were unable to tap into back at the office. And by focusing that creative energy on the product, they can find new ways to express almost any emotion. They even can find new ways to wish someone a happy birthday. We do it with cards, but there’s no reason Reboredo can’t use similar activities to help her employees develop new ways to create, package, distribute, and market her company’s juice drinks. Mango Tango may have taken the lead, but CoolBurst is by no means out of the race. Reboredo is in a good position to start taking risks-and to start making mistakes from which she can extract some failure value. TERESA M. AMABILE is the M.B.A. Class of z954 Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School in Boston, Massachusetts. Her 20 years of research, summarized in Creativity in Context (Westview Press, z996), have focused on how the work environment can affect motivation, creativity, and innovation.
Jenkins may have been a pain in the neck, but he was right about at least one thing: when faced with increasing competition, a company must innovate or evaporate. Part of Reboredo’s job as CEO is to convince the Roger Blatts of the company that even if their way of doing business “ain’t broke,” that doesn’t mean it’s working. CoolBurst’s competitors are already winning the hearts, minds, and taste buds of a primary customer base- kids like Reboredo’s son, Alfonse. If CoolBurst continues to do business as usual, it most likely won’t be doing business for very long. What can Reboredo do? To begin, I’d encourage her to change her own thinking about creativity. Her predecessor, Garth LaRoue, sounded a bit extreme when he said, “Either you’re born creative or you’re not,” but he was expressing an all-too common belief-and one that Reboredo shares, whether or not she realizes it. For example, she says that CoolBurst doesn’t attract creative people. But all people with normal human capacities can be creative, meaning they can produce ideas that are both novel and useful.
And all areas of human endeavor-not just product development and advertising-are possible arenas for creative thinking. Certainly, not everyone will produce genius-level breakthroughs. But most of the creative work that gets done in the world gets done by ordinary people who continually try to approach their work with a fresh perspective-people who will never be famous. I agree that Reboredo should bring in some new blood. But if she thinks that the best you can do is to find creative people and then sit back and wait for them to create, she has failed to realize her own power to make a difference. Consider the following: In our research, my students and I have found that people are most creative when they have three things: expertise, creative-thinking skills, and intrinsic motivation. By expertise, I mean knowledge, experience, skills, and talents in the areas in which they are working. Reboredo should try to think broadly about the kinds of expertise that might be useful for her company in the future. By creative-thinking skills, I mean ways of coming up with fresh perspectives on problems and ways of approaching work from new angles.
These skills can be developed, even though I share LaRoue’s skepticism about quick-fix creative-thinking exercises. Research, however, supports the idea that people can learn to think in more original ways through careful training in creative problem solving techniques. By intrinsic motivation, I mean a combination of one’s own internal drive and the environmental factors that support it. Reboredo must find people who are passionately interested in taking on the challenges of CoolBurst’s business-people such as Velez and Jenkins, who had the drive, even though the company killed it. Reboredo must try to create an atmosphere that will allow creativity to bubble up freely: She might, for example, think about setting aside some resources specifically for innovative projects and allotting time for experimentation. The famous “z5% Rule” at 3M, whereby scientists are expected to devote 15 % of their time to invention, is not a bad guide. She might also think about creating work groups composed of people with diverse sets of skills and perspectives – anything that stimulates interest and engages employees in creative pursuits.
Also, although there is little evidence that the physical environment significantly affects creativity, I would encourage Reboredo to try toning down the formal atmosphere at CoolBurst. A slight change in the dress code or in the office setup could signal to both old-timers and newcomers that it is now acceptable to do things differently. Above all, she should try to ensure that the company’s managers-including herself-do not display an attitude that implies a knee-jerk protection of the status quo. Through open communication, she and other members of her team can help employees orient the company toward industry leadership by encouraging them to look consistently for new and better ways of doing business. Reboredo must try to step back and understand how her behavior-and that of other senior managers-are seen by her employees. And the next time someone creates a delicious new flavor, she should be sure to celebrate the breakthrough by walking it through every department.
Similarly, if someone suggests a new way to look at distribution systems, she must be sure that people make a serious attempt to see if the idea can work. My suggestions imply a good deal of newfound freedom for CoolBurst’s employees. How much is enough? Achieving the right balance between freedom and control is probably the most difficult task Reboredo faces in trying to foster creativity. Although Jenkins’s unusual hours may have helped his creative productivity, such flexible schedules can cause trouble if no one is watching the store. Reboredo must try to establish a culture in which everyone knows what the goals are and everyone feels personally committed to meeting them. That way, even freedom has direction. And she should consider changing the performance review and reward system to reflect the company’s new culture. People should be talking about their work within and across levels. They need to understand that CoolBurst is a place where great work is equitably recognized and generously rewarded. They shouldn’t be looking over their shoulders, waiting for that review in which they are confronted with their mistakes.
Reboredo must want people to work hard because they are challenged by difficult, interesting problems that they care about, not because they are pushing against arbitrary deadlines or because managers have dangled a carrot in front of them to make them behave a certain way. Reboredo seems to realize that there are different ways of thinking about creativity and that there may be ways of fostering it within the company. She should trust her instincts. She knows the business, and CoolBurst has a solid foundation on which to build. She is in a good position to start taking some risks-and, in the process, to start making mistakes from which she can extract some failure value. She shouldn’t be afraid to take those risks; it’s the only way to regain the lead her company once enjoyed. Reboredo simply does not have the leadership qualities to set the necessary change process in motion. MANFRED F.R. KETS DE VRIES is the Clinical Professor of Management and Leadership and the Raoul de Vitry d’Avaucourt Professor in Human Resource Management at INSEAD in Fontainebleau, France.
He also is a psychoanalyst. Poor Reboredo! She is faced with a challenge that she is barely aware of. As her son so accurately points out, she has been missing all the action. Ironically, if she had spent less time in her office and more time with her son and his friends (who constitute an important customer base with which she is remarkably unfamiliar), she might have realized sooner the need for a new image and more exciting products. There is a great difference between working hard and working smart! What Reboredo needs to do to save the company-and make no mistake, it is in danger of collapse-is to dramatize CoolBurst’s precarious situation in the market. She must make her employees aware that competitors pose a real threat to CoolBurst’s stability. And she must do away with the current corporate culture of command, compartmentalization, and control. Such a climate only stifles creativity and innovation. She must create an environment in which there is what psychoanalysts call transitional space-in other words, where there is room for people to play. For creativity to flower, rules and regulations should be minimized.
Reboredo must become the kind of leader who envisions, empowers, and energizes. That is, she must question the status quo, provide a new focus, and encourage commitment and motivation. She needs to allow her employees to experiment and make mistakes; moreover, she needs to ensure that they are willing to take risks. Is she up to the challenge? For the moment and for the purposes of a best-case scenario, let’s give her the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps her own natural creativity had been stifled by her predecessor, and now, as the new CEO, Reboredo will be in a position to see and act differently. She may become courageous enough to follow her own impulses and shrug off her old control-oriented management style. If that is the case, she might even be able to forge a new competitive and creative spirit out of the pride her employees take in their past achievements. That is, she could use her employees’ tradition of loyalty to the company as a lever to rally the troops. Wouldn’t it be nice if Reboredo were to have a chance encounter with Jenkins at the art festival?
Getting together over pina coladas and reminiscing about old times, how things could have been different, might be just the stimulus she needs to get moving. Perhaps she would ask Jenkins to come back to CoolBurst. Having him back in the company would be symbolic of a change in the tide. Perhaps it would start a trend toward hiring the kind of people needed to revitalize CoolBurst and toward prompting the people inside to think and act more creatively. The newly charged Reboredo might also take the initiative to reconfirm her mandate with CoolBurst’s corporate parent. If she were to find out exactly what the senior managers in Chicago thought of the Miami operation, she would be in a stronger position still. Unfortunately, that best-case scenario is probably not the most likely. In fact, my sense is that Reboredo simply does not have the leadership qualities to set the necessary change process in motion. She seems much like one of CoolBurst’s products-a loyal soldier without much flair or passion. And, as things stand, there does not seem to be enough pain in the system to force her to change.
The ! company’s lackluster performance and the increasing pressure from the parent company have not motivated Reboredo and most of her colleagues to challenge the status quo. And consider her track record: What is most disturbing about the Mango Tango incident is that Reboredo tasted the new product and liked it but failed to do anything about it. She made no effort to rally support for the new flavor, to build alliances, or to convince the CEO of the product’s value. Instead, she preferred not to rock the boat. Given that, how can we be confident that she can be an effective catalyst for change? I suspect I’m not alone in my assessment of Reboredo’s performance and potential. The senior managers at CoolBurst’s parent company are probably thinking the same thing. Indeed, the Chicago-based conglomerate does not seem to be the paragon of patience. Its managers are quite frustrated-and they have every reason to be. In which case, Reboredo may soon have the opportunity to spend lots of quality time with her son. Most likely, the senior managers in Chicago have already reached the conclusion that Reboredo must be replaced. If they haven’t, I would recommend that they do so. It has been said that chaos breeds life while order breeds habit.
My sense is that only an outsider, preferably one familiar with the industry, can stir things up at CoolBurst-enough to breathe life back into the operation. Of course, if they do replace Reboredo, she will not be the only person to leave. The new corporate culture will surely not suit everyone. It is possible that after so many years of socialization centered around rules and regulations, few people at CoolBurst still have a creative spark. After all, a climate of experimentation requires the presence of people who do not have to be prodded to do things, individuals with a high tolerance for ambiguity who are eager to learn and adapt. Can that latent spark still be fanned into a flame? For the sake of CoolBurst’s current employees-who do have a good deal to be proud of-I hope so. In economic theory, Gresham’s law states that bad money drives out good money. Similarly, we can postulate a law of creativity whereby noncreative people are bound to drive out creative people- or vice versa. There can be no compromise if CoolBurst is to turn itself around and meet its new challenges successfully.
It may be too late for Reboredo, but with the right leader, CoolBurst might rise to the occasion. GARETH JONES is the British Telecom Professor of Organization Development at Henley Management College in Henley-on-Thames, England, and a visiting professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD in Fontainebleau, France. Prior to this appointment, he was senior vice president of human resources at Polygram International in London. ELSPETH McFADZEAN is a member of the information management faculty at Henley Management College. She also is on the board of directors at TeamTalk Consulting, a company based in Milton Keynes, England, that specializes in group facilitation and creative teamwork. Reboredo should not become a “slash-and-burn” manager who on the way to the future ignores or puts down the company’s past. It’s clear that Reboredo must help unleash the creativity of her employees.
But she should try not to become a “slash-and-burn” manager who on the way to the future ignores or puts crown me company’s past. That kind of behavior will only discourage her employees and stifle their creativity. Instead, she must identify CoolBurst’s existing strengths and attempt to build on them. She should consider that she already has high-quality, low-cost manufacturing in place and that her salespeople and delivery systems are responsive to customers’ needs. She should celebrate those great achievements with her employees and then move on. Creativity at CoolBurst should grow out of a sense of accomplishment. How can she move forward? First, there are several things she should do quickly: * Promote Velez-give her a fancy title and real scope in which to innovate. That will convince Velez that Reboredo means business. Velez, it must be remembered, was at least half of Mango Tango-and we think she still has a great deal of potential.
* Start a suggestion scheme-a simple box, perhaps. Many successful Japanese organizations use such simple methods to great effect. It might jump-start CoolBurst as well. * Listen to her son! Reboredo does spend too much time at the office, and she is too close to the issues to see anything clearly. Perhaps she is a bigger part of the problem than she realizes. The fresh air seems to have done her good-she should take in a little more. More broadly, Reboredo needs to think about ways to put the entire company on a new, creative-track. We suggest that she do the following: Encourage employees to take more risks. Reboredo must keep in mind, however, that employees will do so only if they believe that they work in a nonthreatening and supportive environment. Employees who face censorship and ridicule or who feel that they are at risk of losing their jobs are less likely to propose new ideas. Reboredo might consider establishing a system of collaboration that could be used by all the company’s problem-solving groups and think tanks-a system in which team members would suggest new ideas anonymously and then develop the best ideas further with the group.
That would facilitate consensus and reduce people’s fear of risk. Use creative problem-solving techniques, which can help groups and individuals view any situation from a different perspective. Reboredo must be careful, however, and remember what happened when the representatives from Jenkins’s New York agency led their creativity-enhancement exercise. Advanced paradigm-breaking techniques, such as the wishful thinking exercise they tried to use, can be too much for people who are new to such things-too much because they may require a great deal of patience in trying to generate practical solutions. Reboredo would be better off starting with a paradigm preserving technique, such as brain writing, in which group members write down their ideas on paper and then have a facilitator share them with the group. This technique is particularly effective because it maintains anonymity and in doing so encourages equal participation.
Reboredo then might consider moving on to a paradigm-stretching technique, such as object stimulation, in which group members come up with a list of objects unrelated to the problem at hand. Each individual in the group then chooses an object perhaps a gardening tool or an animal-and describes it in detail. Such an exercise can be more effective than a beginner exercise because it trains participants to look at a problem- as they would look at an object- from many angles. Encourage employees to challenge their own perceptions of CoolBurst’s products and processes. Employees should especially challenge any procedure that seems to be in place simply because “that’s the way it has always been done.” Reboredo might try forming a creative problem-solving team that includes employees from different functional areas in the company and from different levels.
She might also think about hiring a trained facilitator to help. Such teams are effective because they tackle issues from so many different viewpoints and draw upon so many different skills and experiences. Think positively. That may sound trite, but it’s valid. Reboredo needs to encourage her employees to think positively when they are presented with new ideas. She needs to consider what might have happened had LaRoue taken Jenkins’s suggestion to open up new distribution channels. What if CoolBurst’s managers had tried to figure out a way to make the idea work? Blocking new ideas (no matter how silly they may seem) only discourages people. In the process of exploring Jenkins’s idea, those managers might have come up with a plausible new distribution scheme. She should hold off on critical examination and risk assessment-there will be plenty of time for that later in the process.
Reboredo should invite her employees to think about where they would like the company-or their department-to be in five years. Then she should encourage them to develop a plan for how to get there. Employ rebels. Reboredo must hire people who are unlike most of those already at the company. These new hires will at first see CoolBurst differently than any of her current employees. She should try to learn from their perspectives and try not to let them sink into the existing culture. She needs to channel their ideas positively and appropriately. Allow time for pet projects. Reboredo should consider setting aside time for employees to pursue their own work-related interests. The company will benefit tremendously, even if only a few new ideas come to fruition. Ensure senior managers’ support. This is a critical point.
Often managers say they are supportive but don’t behave as though they are. Senior managers must provide sufficient resources and training if any of Reboredo’s efforts are to succeed. And each and every manager must be committed to the program-even Blatt. Perhaps Reboredo should consider sending him to a creativity seminar so that he can experience firsthand the powerful nature of innovative thinking. We’re confident about CoolBurst’s future if Reboredo makes a start on this program. One last thought: liberating creativity is a continual process -not a one-shot deal! Reprint 975 11 To order reprints, see the last page of this issue.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 20 November 2016
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