Inside Business: Managers told to get doodling

Managers are used to doing all sorts of crazy things to motivate subordinates and improve performance, writes Roger Trapp. But few can have expected to be required to take up the arts.

Yet the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina, wants them to do just that. "At least for a little while," say the organisation's David Horth and Charles Palus, they should doodle with the artist's pencil or the poet's pen in order to "learn how to tap into creative skills that too often lie dormant".

The business world they write, in the latest issue of Strategy & Business magazine, produced by Booz Allen & Hamilton, the management consultancy, "demands leadership that is creative and contagious, capable of inspiring and sustaining creativity throughout an organisation". The problem, they add, is that training in the management of innovation has been an afterthought or confined to executives working in research and development, the area that is often seen as creativity's only home.

They claim that getting executives to draw and to create and interpret poems, stories, music, collages and dreams helps them explore their own situations and see the problems they are confronting in a more rounded way.

For example, they worked with a team that was seeking to deal with a long-standing product problem in a manufacturing operation. The team was composed of key managers from a variety of functions and they were tackling it as if it were purely technical. The centre's approach helped them to "see how the problem was ingrained in the culture and politics of the company". It turned out that throughout the organisation fear and anxiety about potential upheavals were getting in the way of finding a solution. Once the team appreciated the complexities it was able to come up with a more comprehensive and effective approach.

In getting there the staff at the centre had helped participants develop "R-mode thinking", more commonly known as right-brain thinking, where the intuitive and imaginative skills lie. The idea is to provide more of a counterbalance to well-developed L-mode, or left-brain, thinking, where the analytical and associated skills are.