Back in the early 1970s, pianist and composer Claude Bolling had the original idea of recording an album that was a mixture of classical and jazz music. It was to feature Bolling on piano accompanied by someone on flute (with drums in the background).
Bolling was fortunate to get Jean-Pierre Rampal to play the flute part. Rampal was considered to be one of the very best (if not THE very best) classical flute players of his generation.
Bolling showed Rampal the basic music and asked Rampal to do some jazz improvisation around it, like bending the notes or modifying the rhythm. It was reported that Rampal was a gasp at the suggestion and replied something like this:
“I am the world’s greatest flautist and will play your music to perfection. But I do not improvise. If you want me to play in such a manner, you will have to write it into the music.”
So Bolling meticulously incorporated “improvisation” into the musical score. Rampal played it as written and it sounded like improvisation, even though it was anything but.
The album was released in 1976, called “Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio.” It topped the charts for about two years and stayed on the Billboard sales list for 530 weeks (nearly 10 years). It became one of the largest selling albums ever released on a classical music label. Little did most people know that the great jazz parts on flute were not improvisations, but just excellent technical reproductions of a musical score.
You’d think that all great musicians would be great creative artists. After all, what is more creative than music? Well nothing could be further from the truth. Jean-Pierre Rampal was not creative with his flute. He could only play what was put in front of him.
Yes, Rampal was the best at playing the classical flute, but that does not make him creative. It just meant he was a great craftsman. He mastered the craft of playing the flute. That was an excellent skill..but it was not creativity.
Compare Rampal to Ian Anderson, the flute player in the band Jethro Tull. Anderson may not have had the same level of technical craftsman skills as Rampal, but he had extreme levels of creativity. Anderson can get creative sounds out of a flute that virtually no one had done before him. Anderson also wrote all the original music he performed. Anderson was a true creator.
I’ve known many musicians over the years. Many of them are great at their craft, but only a few are what I would consider to be musically creative.
The same is true in cooking. There are people who are excellent at the craft of cooking and can prepare great meals. However, all they can do is follow a recipe. Yes, they follow it to perfection, but they have no aptitude for creativity in the kitchen. Others, can go into the kitchen without a recipe, look at the ingredients in front of them and invent a marvelous new dish from their creative mind. This second type of cook is harder to find.
The point here is that we should never assume that just because someone can do a job at high levels of perfection that they are naturally creative. He or she might just be a great craftsman. Creativity is something very different and the most creative ones may not have the best skills at performance.
This is especially true in the world of business. Top performers in their fields—like operations, sales, accounting, and personnel—may have excellent skills in their particular craft, but in all likelihood, they are not the most creative ones in their organizations.
Part of the strategic planning process requires creativity. If you load up the strategic planning team with your top performers, you may only end up with a bunch of craftsmen…great people, but not the ones that can invent a truly creative strategy. They could all be like Jean-Pierre Rampal, ready to execute with perfection, but waiting for a creative Claude Bolling to put the notes in front of them.
Make sure you look beyond excellence at a craft and enlist some of the more creative ones in your organization to help with strategy.
The principle here is that the complete strategic planning process requires a variety of skills. Therefore, you need to seek out a variety of people to work on the process. Otherwise, you may not get all the skills you need.
One of those skills is creativity. Your most creative ones are not necessarily your best performers. They may just be great craftsmen.
Instead, the truly creative ones may be hidden in your organization. They may not even look like your best performers. Rather than wearing formal apparel like the craftsman Rampal did when performing, they may wear shabbier clothing like the creative Ian Anderson did when performing.
The most creative ones may be among your youngest employees, without much experience. After all, your most seasoned employees may be so wrapped up in the status quo that they cannot see anything new or different. Instead, it may be the fresh face that is most likely to question the status quo and see a different way to approach the business.
Indeed, the employees at the top with the most experience are probably the ones with the most to lose if the status quo (which they have perfected as a craft) is replaced by something new (and requires new skills to execute). Therefore, if you load up your strategic process with only older, experienced people, you may end up with the opposite of creativity—resistance to change and barriers to new ideas.
No, it is the younger group that has more of a vested interest in the future and may be closer to understanding what the next generation of customers want.
As Gary Hamel says in his book, “Leading the Revolution”, if you want a revolutionary new strategy, you have to have revolutionaries on the team. Or, in Hamel’s words:
“Most companies are not led by visionaries; they’re led by administrators. No offense, but your CEO is probably more ruling-class than revolutionary. So don’t sit there staring at the corporate tower hoping to be blinded by a flash of entrepreneurial brilliance. Administrators possess an exaggerated confidence in great execution, believing this is all you need to succeed in a discontinuous world. They are accountants, not seers.”
If your corporate tower is full of craftsman administrators, you may need to look outside the tower to find your creative revolutionaries. They may be out there in some remote outpost far from corporate headquarters. They may not even be employees. Wherever they are, find them and put them on the team. The level of creativity in your strategy depends upon it.
This is not to say that unconventional creative young people are all you need to do strategy. No, you need both the Claude Bollings and the Jean-Pierre Rampals to create success.
My point is that you need a variety of skillsets to pull off a great strategy, and the skillset of revolutionary creativity may be the hardest to find. They are probably not the person in the office next door. They may not even have an office or cubicle at headquarters. In all likelihood, you probably don’t even know their names.
Therefore, if you do not take pro-active effort to seek them out, they will not be found. And that will be to your great loss.
Don’t think you can avoid the hard work of finding the creatives by hiring one of the big strategic consulting firms. My experience in working with them is that the big consulting firms probably have even fewer creative types than you do. These big consulting firms may be the most skilled craftsmen at running the process, but I wouldn’t rely on them for the big, new idea. That’s your responsibility.
Take your responsibility seriously and seek out the right mix for your strategic team.
It is a mistake to load up your strategy team with only your top performers. Top performers may only be great at their particular craft. They may be lousy at out-of-the-box creativity. The truly creative revolutionaries are probably hidden in your organization. If you do not take the time to seek them out, you will miss out on their insights. That will probably result in a poor strategy. And no matter how good your top performers are at executing their craft, great execution of a poor strategy rarely leads to success.
I received an autographed copy of Leading the Revolution directly from Gary Hamel. To reciprocate, I gave him a copy of my book Fast Forward. Hamel just threw my book into a pile of old boxes, presumably to be tossed out. I guess he was not seeking to hear new voices to help with the revolution. So much for practicing what he preaches. Don’t do the same. Please put the ideas of this blog into practice.