These fifteen brainstorming prompts will help you and your team solve problems together.
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This week’s interview in the creativity in business thought leader series is with Larry Blumsack, founder and director of Zoka Institute, a creativity and innovation consulting, training, and coaching company.

This week’s interview in the creativity in business thought leader series is with Larry Blumsack, founder and director of Zoka Institute, a creativity and innovation consulting, training, and coaching company.

Informing his work is over 40 years of parallel careers as a serial entrepreneur/business leader and as a “creative” – he has owned several businesses; worked marketing, sales, and television; is a founding member of the theater department at Northeastern University; and a syndicated critic, columnist and commentator on the arts for American radio, TV and print outlets and more. Having in depth experinece with both creative and business cultures, Blumsack teaches business organizations how to build creative cultures within their organizations, and individuals how to tap into their own creativity.

Q: How does you work relate to creativity?

Blumsack: I use arts-for-business based activities to solve business issues, develop strategy and for critical thinking, creative problem solving and collaboration. Using visual and performing arts activities forces people to step out of their comfort zone and requires them to use non-traditional methods to address everything from strategic planning to specific business research, or silo problems.

America’s educational process has strip-mined creativity – the mantras of “no you can’t and here’s the answer,” “mistakes are bad,” and “you have to be serious” have permeated both our educational and business environment to the detriment of building and maintaining of any kind innovative and creative culture.

Q: What do you see as the emerging paradigm of work?

Blumsack: Looking beyond linear, process-oriented solutions only. We need to encourage failure as a learning step instead of punishing it; provide employees a level of freedom and the environment to explore new ideas; and encourage cross-silo collaboration. In a work culture, everyone needs to feel that they are valued, engaged, and participating.

Q: What do you see the role of creativity in that paradigm?

Blumsack: I call it the “habits for a competitive edge” – habits that draw from the visual and performing arts that also utilize tools of spirituality to incorporate a sense of much needed ethics in business. The habits are engaged mindfulness; look and see, listen and hear; yes and; and storytelling. Our lives are built on speed. Companies like Google, General Mills and many others are beginning to realize that speed is not the road to innovation and sustainability as a company. They have instituted mindfulness training which is based on meditation practices into their organizations to step up their creative and innovative thinking.

Engaged mindfulness is about stopping all the monkey chatter and mental multi-tasking we do throughout our day. Art and sculpture are tools to sharpen one’s ability to look and see. Music opens up one’s ability to really hear all that is coming into the ear. Yes and, the heart of improvisational theater, is the perfect mantra to institute at all meetings and personal.

It is said the emotion is the fast track to the brain and what better way to connect with someone that through the art of storytelling. The key is to use different art forms because some people are visual, some are auditory and some or kinesthetic – no one form serves all.

It is rewarding to see senior executives, management teams and staff release and experiment through the arts to solve real business issues.

Q: What approaches and techniques do you recommend for effectively navigating the new work paradigm?

Blumsack: Understanding the value of managing FOR creativity – like a theater director – instead of trying to manage creativity. Learn how to think like a visual or performing artist. Learn that there is no one solution to anything. One must try and experiment with a number of approaches in all aspect of running a company or problem solving. A creative culture respects all ideas regardless of where they come from. And many great ideas come from places you least expect it if failure is acceptable.

Q: What is creative leadership to you?

Blumsack: The creative leader needs to be like the director in the theater who musters a variety of creative and talented actors, musicians, dancers, choreographers, lighting/costume/sound designers, authors, lyricists, etc. That director’s job is to tap the creative talents of the team and mold them into an exciting, cohesive production.

Creative leadership values employees and realizes that innovative and creative ideas – when encouraged – can come from all levels of the company from the shipper/receiver and receptionist to the highest executive.

Creative leadership understands Thomas Watson’s (founder of IBM) answer when asked the secret of success – increase the rate of failure. Creative leadership understands the collegial, respectful culture that Edison built into his company so he could have 10,000 attempts (not failures) in creating the light bulb and numerous other lasting inventions. And Creative leadership means one understands and practices “yes and” at all times.

You can reach Larry Blumsack at the Zoka Institute website. He will be a presenter at the upcoming Creativity in Business conference in Washington, DC on October 4, 2009.

Listen to this podcast to find out what roles curiosity and humility play in innovation.