In government, we are unmercifully efficient at killing ideas and draining the creative spirit out of people. I’ve made a little list of very effective tactics we can use to cut off good ideas and shut down those artists in every organization BEFORE they get started. Here is my top 5:

1. Appoint a committee. Particularly, load the committee with skeptics, those with political agendas, those interested in protecting the status quo, and some big egos and you’ve pretty much killed the idea and isolated the artists right off the bat. This is the best and most common strategy I’ve seen used – brutally effective.

Alternate strategy: Appoint an artist who is passionate about the work. Even better, appoint a group of artists who are all passionate about the work and want it to succeed. Then give them the resources they need to get the job done and get out of the way.

2. Have lots of hubris and let loose with any of the following statements: What do you mean you don’t see it MY way. I know what I’m doing, who the hell are you anyway? I did this on my own with zero help from anyone else. I am what made this organization great. We need to stick with what got us where we are.

Alternate strategy: Recognize that all of us have blind spots and limited perspectives. More frequently than not, the very things that make us great are also our greatest weaknesses.

3. Get political. This happens when the person across the table is actually saying something that makes sense or might have some legs, but you see an opportunity to embarrass them to advance your own agenda and take them down a notch.

Alternate strategy. Focus on the problems you collectively face, not the label.

4. Over-react to bad news. Blow up every time someone comes to tell you things aren’t working out exactly as planned. Even better, look for someone who needs to be blamed and hammered – preferably in a public and explosive format.

Alternate strategy. Realize that things go wrong and if you are really doing transformative work, a lot of things go wrong. What matters is that people are learning, growing, and improving. You will put yourself in an information vacuum in a hurry if you can’t tolerate ambiguity and some bad news.

5. Keep people “in their place.” Keep an organization chart on your wall and know where everyone is on the “chain of command.” Blast and “set people straight” when they step outside their formal authority to try and be innovators.

Alternate strategy. Free the artists. Find people who are passionate about making positive changes and empower them, regardless of their title or position. If you set people free to do the incredible work they are capable of, the entire organization succeeds and its fame grows.

The next chance you get, free your artists and ideas.

Jason Glass
Des Moines, IA