The Ebb and Flow of Creativity – V1.3

Creativity is not binary. You don’t just switch it on – you adjust the dials and tease it out. Don’t fear it, play with it, iterate it.

Many organisations desire the benefits that creativity and innovation offer them and yet they are put off by, and often even fear the messy consequences that creativity brings with it. In June 2014 I published the first version of the Creativity Ebb n Flow Meter, a tool designed to help people see past that fear.

Creativity Ebb n Flow Meter

The purpose of this machine is to highlight the fact that creativity is not binary. You don’t just switch it on – you adjust the dials according to your organisation’s prevailing culture, and tease it out. Don’t fear it, play with it.

I received some great feedback when V1.0 was published and I incorporated much of that feedback into V1.2. This is the first time I have shared V1.2 on here, previously it has appeared on Twitter, Google Plus and Facebook, but not the blog. As you can see – V1.2 contains a few improvements, namely a wider choice of beverages, a suspend judgement button, and it is now powered by imagination. Sadly the ham and eggs option had to go – it made a funny smell and was just too messy.

Creativity Ebb n Flow Meter V1.2

Once again I benefitted from a lot of encouragement and feedback when this second version saw the light of day, and I have finally got round to incorporating that feedback into this, the third version of the Creativity Ebb n Flow Meter.

Creativity Ebb n  Flow Meter V1.3

This time the main changes are the inclusion of feedback, a pain dial, a deadline alert and a scarcity slider, necessity is the mother of invention and all that jazz. Wine is also now available. I’ve had a lot of fun designing and evolving this machine, and in addition, the three versions that have emerged also demonstrate the iterative nature of many creative processes. As you can see – I’m getting tight for space now, but if I was to make further modifications, what changes would you suggest?

More Than a Number

Why turning numbers and statistics into stories is so important.

I don’t know about you, but I’m often skeptical when businesses try to distil something important into a simple score.

‘Our employees are 42% engaged’ ‘Trust in our company is at 54%’ ‘Our net promoter index has risen to 7.6’


I get that it’s easy to throw out a stat or two, but they often lack any real context and more worryingly, they seem to be unquestioningly accepted as the ‘truth’. I am not convinced that you can reduce these things to a number, at least not in isolation. I want to hear and read the story behind the digits, I want to understand why 42%, not just 42%. To help illustrate my point, here’s a personal example for you.

I’ve recently returned from a great trip to Chicago where I headed to be at the annual Illinois SHRM conference. I’ve already written about the anticipation of the event here, and shared some of the Art for Work’s Sake experiences Joe Gerstandt and I helped to cocreate at a packed pre conference workshop.

The second day saw me presenting on collaboration. I was on the main stage at the Drury Lane theatre…Oakbrook, not London 🙂 As I was introduced, something quite unnerving happened. The main stage lights came on and all of a sudden I could not see the audience. Eye contact is very important to me when speaking – I get nervous in front of an audience and one of the ways I get past this is to engage directly with people, looking at someone as I am talking – trying to make direct contact, albeit briefly, with as many people as I can. These direct connections help me feel like I am talking in many one to one conversations – and my nerves ease. I tried to get past this blinding lack of contact and the only way I could achieve this, was by leaving the stage often, and walking around in the theatre so that I could see people and achieve the eye contact I needed. It puts me at ease, and so the audience seem to relax too. The talk unfolded and afterwards I got a lot of positive feedback from people in the room.

You often get scored after giving a talk at conferences, and this one is no exception. A couple of weeks after the conference I got some feedback. My scores for overall effectiveness look like this:

Excellent – 65%
Good – 26%
Poor – 8%

Those numbers represent a pretty good shape for me. People often ask me why I am happy to get some ‘poor’ ratings – and the fact of the matter is – I take risks when I present. I try to find thought provoking angles to share, and these are not designed to please everyone – otherwise I don’t think they would be particularly thought provoking. I often remind people at the start of a talk that this time is theirs, not mine. I am their guest and I’d rather they voted with their feet on realising that my content and style is not working for them, than sit and endure me. Anyway – those are the numbers, and they don’t really tell us that much…do they?

The written feedback is perhaps more useful? Here’s what it says:

  • Relevant & Engaging. Very Collaborative.
  • Not the most compelling speaker.
  • Maybe a smaller room for Doug who likes the more personal space. The audio was distracting as he kept moving into the audience.
  • Great to have interactive part, interesting, overall did great job.
  • Different venue to allow for collaborative experience theatre setting was awkward.
  • Engaging speaker – look forward to more.
  • Doug is fab & needs the space to interact with the crowd.
  • Low energy not sure of his point.
  • Speaker would be more effective/comfortable in smaller breakout sessions.
  • Common viewpoints & not engaging (head down) but had some points to ponder.

I’m so pleased that a few people took the time and trouble to write stuff down for me. These few lines are for me, much more helpful than the scores. As you can see – some people concurred with me that a space designed for a play, did not work (or at least suit me) as well as a more typical presentation setting. On reflection – I could have anticipated the stage light issue perhaps – but I responded as best I could in the moment and thanks to the feedbackers, I’m in better shape for next time.

So what? For me – this experience serves as a very useful reminder that while 65, 26 and 8 may have some worth – it’s the story behind the numbers that really adds value, and helps me get better. So the next time someone tells you their engagement score is up from 29 to 41, please don’t just take that at face value and move on. Ask them – why is this so, and why does this matter? We owe it to ourselves, and to those who would seek to convince us, to delve a little deeper, and get a little better.


It’s important to recognise good work. We know this and yet we stubbornly persist at not being very good at it. Too often we prefer to draw up totally bland recognition awards like this classic example I observed last year.  At the time, Peter Hros suggested that ‘You could use them all instead of wallpaper in the room where you go every time you feel worthless.’ Ahhh, the room of worthlessness, we’ve all been there eh?

On recognition David Goddin notes that ‘the recognition that people respond most positively to is immediate and authentic. It’s akin to the reflex praise we received as a children when we ate food, took our first steps, etc. At it’s heart is a true appreciation of what it took for the individual to achieve.’ I love the way David has described this and I’m clearly biased, based on this observation of recognition from Jonathan Wilson.

Jonathan and I were with a customer yesterday meeting their new Marketing Director, Sheila. During the conversation Sheila explained to us that when she started work with the company our report on how the company engages with and could improve engagement with its stakeholders was one of the first things she was given to read. ‘Your work continues to inform our decision making’ Sheila told us, and went on to explain how. We had a useful conversation and I look forward to more in the future. Our report is not brand new, but it was the first time Sheila had the opportunity to give us feedback and she chose to do so.

In the next few days you will observe someone doing good work for you and others. It may be a colleague, it may be a friend, someone serving you in a restaurant, it may be a supplier. It would be lovely if you could find just a few seconds to acknowledge that work. No need to nominate someone for an award or get a certificate printed. Simply observe, approach and recognise their contribution. Trust me, as a recent recipient I can tell you it’s a motivating thing when it happens.

picture credit