what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

creativity and offices

The picture is a favourite of mine – and shows some of the activists (or municipal change agents) with whom we worked in Kyrgyzstan. It was a 2-day session we had at Lake Issy Kul – and we played and worked hard. You can see their enjoyment. Perhaps a Dilbert or Feiffer cartoon would have been more appropriate to today's theme - but, given events in Kyrgyzstan, I wanted this picture up
I’ve worked very creatively in the last 2 days on a subject about which, in another place 2 months ago, I could not conjure up a single idea – let alone a creative one! What is it about an office environment that kills creativity? In both Sofia and Bishkek, I had my very comfortable flat just 5 minutes walk away where I sometimes go to write. In Bishkek I had an excellent team with whom brainstorm sessions took place – sometimes over yahoo. In Sofia we had a nice little conference room – and had some good brainstorms there which helped the grey cells. I thought at one moment of having a weekly session – where each of us (we were 6) shared something which was enthusing us (preferably a professional paper or book!) I’m very sorry now that I didn’t introduce this – particularly when thing were lagging with the contracting authority!
The office in Tashkent had 4 researchers and a great local project manager with whom I could brainstorm in a large conference room. Perhaps that’s the reason why I was able to produce so many (unasked for!) discussion papers.
Here in the mountains, I create the atmosphere I want – no interruptions – fresh air - inspiring view – and don’t feel guilty about surfing the internet or having music in the background. I just need the occasional feedback – best with a skype conversation.
You cannot turn on creativity according to the scheduling required by action plans – and the best work is probably done as a labour of love!

So how should managers deal with contracted staff who are suffering what the authors call “writer’s block”? In every project, I’ve had one team member who seemed indolent and whom I had to (or wished to) “let go”. I wasn’t trained in how to deal with them. Perhaps it was my fault that I couldn’t create the environment for them to flourish? I know in my case that I suffer from insufficient positive feedback to the stuff I produce. When I start a new project, no one knows about it – although I have had my little book “In Transit – notes on Good Governance” to give a select few. But it is now rather dated (1999). Another challenge?

I had forgotten about the Discussion papers which I produced between 2000 and 2002. One on training one I had used as the basis for the larger paper on Training I produced for the Sofia project (see website). But I felt good about the 60 page paper I produced (and used again in Azerbaijan) on the experience of Western European countries in “transferring functions” (upwards, downwards and sideways) between 1970 and 2000. Noonme else had produced the sort of typology I used. I’ve now uploaded that paper to the website – which has become a real resource for change-agents – with 21 papers waiting for you.

My reading didn’t too well yesterday – the emphasis was on writing with a bit of flicking of the 30 odd papers I downloaded to help my work on the paper. Mainly they related to the evaluation of national administrative reforms – about which not a great deal is written. Finland has probably got the strongest record – the UK publishes a lot but it is mainly celebrationary stuff about their various strategies. A useful discussion on the theme is Evaluation as useable knowledge in public sector reform by Jean Thoenig.
Another good paper I read yesterday was by the Head of the UK Academy of Government I think it calls itself now. The paper has the intriguing title of The Relentless Unforeseen and is at last a paper from someone associated with government which does not pretend that government is or can be all knowing and all-powerful. He contrasts the problem-solving approach which most governments take with that which selects desired outcomes and sets up strategies for their achievement (firefighting versus prevention).

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