Leadership Has Taken Control & Destroyed Creativity Throughout The Ranks

Last night, I heard David Brooks say this:

Now you have very few entrepreneurs. You have very few people thinking creatively…. there’s not as much entrepreneurship and the main cause is because the leadership of the body has taken control and destroyed creativity throughout the ranks…

Can you guess which giant, soulless corporation he was talking about?


What was surprising to me was that he was talking about Congress’s failure to pass healthcare reform. He claimed that it was a failure of creativity, a lack of ideas, and a lack of entrepreneurship that ultimately doomed reform. Here’s the longer quote:

What hasn’t happened is you don’t have people waking up thinking, ‘How creatively can I come up with some piece of legislation that will do somebody some good?’
When I started covering Congress in the 1980’s there were a bunch of entrepreneurs…. and so you had startups in the back rows of the House, and then they finagled their way through the committees.
Now you have very few entrepreneurs. You have very few people thinking creatively….but there’s not as much entrepreneurship and the main cause is because the leadership of the body has taken control and destroyed creativity throughout the ranks, and that’s a fault of both Nancy Pelosi probably and Mitch McConnell which has centralized everything and so the committee system is broken and the startups are broken.

Act More Like A Startup?

In other words, if only Congress could act more like a startup, they’d finally be able to get something done!

If you’ve spent any time inside a big organization, you’ve no doubt heard that more than once. And you’d be forgiven if you’d thought it yourself, once or twice or 1000 times. I know I have.

Usually, the next thing that happens after someone says “we should act more like a startup,” is that you talk about some new way of acting, or some new process, or a new product development method, or some intervention designed to get you to act more like a startup. And this is good as far as it goes, but it’s often the case that these efforts to change aren’t considered holistically, and while you sometimes see good local results, you rarely see the kind of broadly distributed or long-lasting change that people are looking for.

A Startup is a System

Startups aren’t startups because they do product development differently than big companies, or because they have a different culture than a big company, or because their people know different things than big company people. They’re startups because all of those things — and more — are true. Every company is a system, and to change that system, you have to consider all of the parts of that system.

It’s tempting, when you see a startup shipping great products, to think, if only we could make stuff as great as they do. Or when you read about some startup with an amazing sense of mission to think, if only we could re-energize our culture to be more like that. And those are worthy goals, but they don’t stand alone. Instead, you change those things together, and at the same time.

Change Those Things Together, And At The Same Time

My colleagues Jeff Gothelf, Barry O’Reilly and I have been looking at ways of doing just this. We’ve been working together coaching teams inside of large organizations — banks, healthcare companies, and more — and we’ve seen what’s working and what’s not — what’s holding people back. We’re developing tools that allow leaders to coordinate change-making by taking the experiment-driven approach embodied by Lean Startup, the collaborative approaches of Lean UX, the attention to large-scale change of Lean Enterprise, and the continuous listening embodied in Sense & Respond to synthesize an approach to changing the enterprise — to turning the aircraft carrier.


Business Agility Workshop

Jeff, Barry and I are excited to be offering two workshops in this approach this coming fall.

If you’re a product leader, you may have a pretty good handle on what you need to do to make better products. But you can be hindered by culture and process inside your organization.

The same is true for people working on culture and capability development. You probably have a good handle on culture change and skills development. But how do they interact with product and process?

This workshop is for leaders in any discipline who want to understand how people, product, and process interact to create — or block! — your transformation efforts.

Smart organizations constantly work across all three of these dimensions. They evolve their systems of work, their products and services, and their organizational design to radically improve performance. They enable business agility by building adaptability and responsiveness, and using experiment-driven approaches to change and innovation.

Want to find out more? Here’s a link to the workshops we’re offering in NYC and San Francisco. We hope you’ll join us there.