How many ideas should move from selected to implemented?
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Robert Richman, Product Manager of Zappos Insights, says the most successful companies will be those that have people with the best ideas, and who can execute them most effectively.

My tenth interview in the Creativity in Business Thought Leader Series is with Robert Richman, Product Manager of Zappos Insights. Through service and culture, Zappos built a billion dollar business that Amazon recently acquired.

Zappos Insights is the division that teaches other companies how to create great service and culture. Before landing at Zappos, Robert was a successful serial entrepreneur: he was co-founder of the Affinity Lab in Washington, DC, a renowned creative workspace for entrepreneurs; started a print magazine from scratch; and served as the online marketer and leadership coach.

Q: How does your work relate to creativity?

Richman: In general, I’m constantly creating new business ideas and information products.  From a marketing standpoint, I take different techniques and put together a collage campaign that works best for the audience or client.

In my work as a coach, and especially now with Zappos, I realized that business today is almost entirely communications. Everything from managing to presenting to writing up a product specification is an act of communication. So I feel that as a leader I’m constantly creative by choosing the words and language I use to communicate.

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

Richman: The new paradigm of work will sound crazy to those who are still trapped in our current paradigm. Try this on, and see if you believe it or if it sounds absurd:  It is possible to LOVE your Monday morning. And I don’t mean just for the CEO. I mean for everyone in the company, even customer service call center representatives. That’s the model we are creating and living here at Zappos.

I believe the new paradigm will not be about faster, better, cheaper. It will be about who has the best ideas and who can really execute on them.  In order to do this, we’ll have to change the whole paradigm of the 9 to 5 job. That makes it about time rather than results. The current paradigm says we need employees for a full day, five days a week.

The smart ones will think in terms of their goals and give greater flexibility to employees who really deliver results. They’ll also realize that employees come up with great ideas while away from the office.

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

Richman: It’s huge. In so many areas, other countries can do what we do faster and cheaper. But we still have an edge in creativity.  We can create the new ideas that will solve the world’s problems.

Q: What attitudes do you see as essential for effectively navigating the new work paradigm?

Richman: The first would probably be the ability to adapt and deal with change. We feel the need to control everything. But creativity is often about accessing our deeper impulses and intuition that can guide us to what we need to do.

The second would be an attitude of service. That’s all business really is. Giving something of so much value that someone is willing to part with their hard earned money to get it. How well are you serving your customers? Your employees? Your vendors? Your partners? How do you know for sure? This is where creativity really helps.

Q: What is one technique that people could start applying today to bring more creativity into their work or their business organization?

Richman: People are a storehouse of ideas. We all have tons of them if we really let ourselves free. The problem is that often times our ideas are shut down, or people criticize them, or we bring up suggestions and nothing happens. We all can get dismayed by the process of creativity when it’s not rewarded. So in that sense, I don’t think the problem is a lack of ideas, or creativity. The problem is how do you recognize an amazing idea, and how do you get it to become reality?

This is the technique I use to bring an idea to life. Every time I’ve used it, my idea becomes real.  First is what’s called “the test.” An idea must pass this test or it has a strong chance of failing.

1. If I know it will fail, do I still want to do this? If you answer no, then I’m sorry to say that you probably don’t have what it takes to keep working on your idea when times get tough. You’ll simply give up. But if you have an idea that would be worth the journey, worth the learning, no matter how it works out, then you have an idea that’s worth pursuing.

2. If I know it will be a huge pain in the butt, is it still worth it? Sometimes ideas sound fun, even if they’ll fail.  But what if it takes you 10 times longer than you thought it would. What if it breaks all along the way and you need to fix it. What if you need to get a lot of help when you thought you could do it all yourself? Is it still worth it? If it is, then you have the passion to make it real.

Second, if your idea has passed these two tests, the next thing you have to do is remove your need for permission. I’m not just talking about approval. I’m talking about permission. If you hear yourself saying any of these things:

  • I need more time.
  • I need an investor.
  • People won’t give me help.
  • I don’t have the right partners.
  • My spouse won’t like it.

Then you’re looking for the permission from someone or something else. You’re giving yourself an out if you do this. Instead give yourself permission, and fully commit to it. That’s when the answers start coming, because you’re looking from a place of commitment and belief, rather than looking for permission.

Q: Finally, what does creative leadership mean to you?

Richman: Creative Leadership to me is the ability to tap into one’s intuition to determine what action to take. I believe when we are very calm, collected, and in touch with our bodies, we have a natural intelligence and leadership that emerges.

The Creativity in Business Thought Leader Interviews are conducted by business creativity catalyst Michelle James, CEO of The Center for Creative Emergence.

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