Orville Wright Didn’t Have a Pilot’s License

Paul Hebert Change Management, Culture, Driving Productivity, Employee Development, Good HR, HR, Innovation, Paul Hebert

Ask someone over 60 what “piecemeal” work is, and they can probably give you an answer without thinking too much about it. Ask someone under 40, and they will stare at you blankly for a bit until they connect some long-ago memory listening to their grandfather or grandmother talk about their early work experiences.

Piecemeal work is a job where you get paid by the piece or unit. My grandfather worked in a “foundry” from when he was 10 (never finished 3rd grade) until he retired at the age of 65. His first job at the foundry was to straighten nails. For each nail he straightened he got paid a set amount. The more he straightened, the more he made. That is piecemeal work. And as you would expect, piecemeal work is horribly boring, a nightmare for quality control and a potentially hazardous way to pay people as they take on more and more risk to hit higher and higher production numbers.

Ah… the good old days of child labor, piecemeal work and no overtime.

Luckily for you and me most work today isn’t about pieces and parts. Most of our work is about managing processes, people and digital paper (shoehorning that alliteration in at all costs.) It’s also about coming up with new ideas for offerings, new ways of marketing, and new ways to cut costs or improve efficiency.

In other words, a huge amount of our time at work is spent being creative.

Two Questions

Question #1:

How many hours of training do you get for your “job” function or position? You know, training about “How to Management Millennials?” or “How to Manage Gen Z” or “How to Manage Gen X” (I really do think 90% of training today is about generational crap – or at least Twitter and Google seem to think so.) There might be a few thrown in on how to use MS Excel or MS Work better. Maybe one class on Sharepoint. Amirite or amirite?

Question #2

How many hours of training do you get on being creative? I’ll wait…

(singing to myself…
In restless dreams, I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence)


That’s what I thought.

We spend so little time and energy on what is arguably THE MOST important skill set for our employees.

Being creative.

No matter the job, creativity is THE job skill for today and tomorrow.

Creativity Means Performance

McKinsey (yeah … the guys with the big IQs) developed the Award Creativity Score (ACS) as a way to measure creativity in the advertising and marketing industry. They then compared a company’s business performance to their ACS scores and found those companies whose ACS scores were in the top quartile performed better than peer firms on revenue growth and total return to shareholders. Granted this is only one industry, but when they dug into the causes, they found things that any company can do to increase its own creativity. Some don’t apply to HR, but one really does…

Creative companies hardwire creativity and innovation into their daily practices.

According to the McKinsey study, creative companies make being creative a business priority. Those companies have their senior executives serve as role models, seeing themselves as being personally responsible for not only delivering creativity and innovation but making sure it permeates the enterprise. In addition, 30% of the firms in the ACS top quartile discuss creativity and innovation at more than half of their board meetings versus only 20% of peer firms.

But Paul, my executives aren’t creative and don’t care about creativity.

I get it. But I’m confident that even in those companies where executives don’t walk the creative walk, HR can and MUST step up and create ongoing training sessions and events for employees that help them understand creativity, activate each person’s unique creative abilities and help them apply it to their job.

HR is THE creative hub of the future successful company. Mark my words.

If we can teach our employees to read a P&L, we can teach them how to leverage their innate creativity.

Your First Creative Step – Please Take It

Here’s my recommendation for taking that first step on the journey to creativity. I would make every employee read “Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace” written by Gordon MacKenzie (no relation to the brainiacs above – and it is spelled differently) before you hire them.

Then, after they finished the book, I would ask them one question …

“Who gives you permission to be creative in this company?”

If they say:

“Orville Wright did not have a pilot’s license.”*

You high five them so hard it hurts. THAT is someone who will make a difference. That is someone who will look for better answers. That is someone who doesn’t look for permission to be creative. That is someone who knows it is their job to be creative.

Do that with your own direct reports. Have all managers trained to ask: “Who gives you permission to be creative in this company?” If they don’t mention the Wright Brothers – make them reread the book.

Seriously though.

Increase training on creativity. At least to the same amount as you have for training in MS Excel. Embed creativity in the performance management process. Have bi-annual employee creativity hackathons. Make creativity the one thing you will do better than all your competitors combined.

It is HR’s destiny!

So, let me ask this… If you want to increase the amount of creativity in your organization, who do you need to ask for permission to do that?

Your answer better be…. (SCREAM IT)!!

* See page 189 in the book.