Fredrik Haren is having fun again. He's giving a lecture on creativity to a group of senior Human Resources professionals. Haren is the 30-something author of the Ideabookfrom Sweden. He challenges us to use our imaginations and tell him "What is impossible?". An animated discussion follows ...Fredrik Haren is having fun again. He's giving a lecture on creativity to a group of senior Human Resources professionals. Haren is the 30-something author of the Ideabookfrom Sweden. He challenges us to use our imaginations and tell him "What is impossible?". An animated discussion follows over the next time-sensitive few minutes with answers flying liberally from the minds and mouths of the group of about 150 in the audience. Answers get planted onto a flip chart at the front of the room. I give one of them, "2+2=5 according to linear mathemics theory". At the end of the answer period he looks somewhat disappointingly at the list. "Is that the best you can do?" he asks. "You suck!"

Then he proceeds to dissect the list of about 20 "no repeat" answers and our attention is placed on an overhead slide. One by one he reveals a prepared list of things that people ALWAYS say are impossible. 7 of the 10 go something like this, Fly, Walk on Water, Time travel, Live forever, walk to moon/sun/end of the universe, don't age. As he does this he crosses all of the answers from our flip chart, except one which I thought was just obvious and not particularly imaginative, mine. Then he asks me why I'm here and what I do and as I explain that I operate a creative training company and am here as a columnist for Training & Management Magazine in India, he smiles.

"No wonder." he remarks. Apparently I'm the only one in the room doing anything in India, and in Asia, with one exception, a gentleman from China.

Diversity has apparently not hit here I think, as I survey the group. 80% are female, 95% are caucasian, representing the HR senior ranks in Canada's heartland of blue chip corporations, government and publicly trade firms.. Most are in their 40's and 50's. Not a particularly creative segment, when you consider the lack of advances that HR has made in the last 10 years in terms of being taken seriously as a strategic business partner. It comes as no surprise that HR continues to be a target for down-sizing here. It's all about their capability to add value or the lack of it.

He says to us again. "You guys suck at this! You're terrible!!"

He says "Think of the possibilities. He looks at us directly, holding up 2 ink markers, one in each of his outstretched hands. You could have said that these two markers shoot straight up into the air, fly around in all directions, join back together and mate in mid-air and then burst into fireworks. But you didn't. You're boring."

"The value of knowledge is going down" explains Haren. "The value of creativity is going up." He quotes Lichtman "When all think alike, no one thinks very much."

He explains that what really happened in the exercise was this. We didn't imagine. Instead we, with our over-educated minds, tried to remember, a process with which there is very little actual creativity going on. We haven't trained our imagination enough for these kinds of ideas, and we're not ready for it. We were not taught to question things or to challenge metaphors. He also says that we either haven't been taught to be creative or we are afraid to use it for fear of making a fool of ourselves.

He cites another unsurprising thing. When people are asked, "Where do you get great ideas?", the funny thing is no one answers "at work". Instead they say their best ideas happen in the shower, during a drive, when they are training or learning, listening to music, when they are alone, relaxed or outside in a park or natural environment. Most of the answers involve recreation.

"Brainstorming" he says "is designed by people who want you to get the same ideas as they do."

"There is higher value in doing things different, which means that we have to get better at it. We have to practice imagination."

CEO's generally don't like change. IBM for example is not changing the Thinkbook much because the CEO's who use it like it that way.

The watchword of business in the past decade has been "What is this?" Now we say "What is next?"

98% of senior business executives say creativity is the most valuable competitive power. 45% think they are creative. Only 2% train their workforce for creativity.

He proceeds to give us some defining facts about North Americans, who are generally not well travelled as per their European counterparts. 24% of Americans can't put America on a world map. 30% don't even own a passport.

He talks about the contrast of these facts with his own small firm. He has 3 employees in Sri Lanka. He pays them $3.00 per hour Cdn. They are creative, exhuberant, excited and clued in about the world. They know at least 2 alphabets each and speak a minimum of 3 languages well, including English.

Then he quotes another Swede, furniture empire IKEA's founder, "Most things are yet undone, we have a glorious future."

And he quotes surprisingly, Ghandi, who said there are 4 responses to new ideas. “First, they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.”

How's that for progress?

It ends and we all feel like sitting ducks in the world economy. After the lecture I meet Fredrik and we exchange cards. I, at least, have made a new friend. His website is www.interesting.org/fredrik

Author's Bio: 

Arupa Tesolin, a Trainer, Speaker & Innovation Coach, is the author of ting! - A Surprising Way to Listen to Intuition & Do Business Better, and one of the world's leading authorities in business intuition and developing intuition skills in the workplace. www.intuita.com