Naked, he ran through the dark streets of Syracuse. His damp footfalls and shrill screams echoing off the Sicilian architecture. While the footfalls have been forgotten, Archimedes’ alleged cries of, “Eureka!”, are still synonymous with the theory of displacement nearly 2,500 years later. Wow, he must have been a weirdo to run screaming through the streets, but undoubtedly a genius weirdo.
Henry Ford was renowned for his love of carrots and once sponsored a 14-course meal with every course containing carrots. Thomas Edison, once deliberately and macabrely electrocuted an elephant called Topsy, and let’s not even address Albert Einstein’s choice of hairstyle.
Aristotle once famously stated that, “there is no great genius without some touch of madness”.
But, if this is true, how can the madness/weirdness be appropriately ‘managed’ to benefit from those who are able to see the world through different eyes and bring innovation to the corporate space?
The first thing to note is that trying to overly control a creative genius, using the same rules and policies that have been applied to the rest of the corporation, is going to ensure that you stifle any potential for positive disruption. This is not to say that rules, policies, and that demonised word, ‘governance’ do not have a place, but rather that they should be appropriate for the required outcomes, not just a generic ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. For example, if you expect your creative geniuses to deliver quickly and maintain momentum, don’t force them to use archaic procurement processes that require completion of forms, in triplicate, with 17 signatures each. Tell them what needs to be achieved, but don’t tell them how to do it.
Next, you need to make them feel valued. It is an unfortunate reality that creative geniuses often come with an oversized ego. But this should be acknowledged, rather than ignored in a vain attempt to contain that ego. If not, they will leave the organisation.
Arguably worse than that, they may stay, but their spirits will leave, which only results in a chair being occupied, but very little more than that. If you think a genius with a large ego is hard to manage, try managing a disengaged genius, or moreover a genius hell-bent on exacting revenge on an oppressive manager. Give them the freedom to experiment and the opportunity to truly see their ideas fly.
So, in summary, you need to control that which does not like to be controlled. Easy, right?
Actually, it can be, just ensure there is a clear vision of the end state and the bare minimum of rules to support that. After that, just let your creative geniuses feel valuable. And, let’s face it, if they are geniuses then they are indeed incredibly valuable to the future of your company.
by Brad Carter