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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

"Catching Fire" In Government: How We Will Get Our Creative Back

Image source: Wikimedia

If you oppress people they will rise up at some point and reclaim their freedom. Many popular shows today are centrally focused on that theme: "Catching Fire," "The Walking Dead," and even one show actually titled "Revolution."

Physical oppression is horrible to watch - I had nightmares from "12 Years A Slave." But the ultimate freedom is freedom of the mind, and that is invisible. You can only see the effects when it's not there.

Crayola crayons don't work as well as oil pastels. But as a kid I loved the 64-crayon boxes anyway. A colleague in government told me she did too. And then she relayed what happened to her in kindergarten.

"The teacher only wanted us to bring the 8 crayon box. She could tell that I was using other colors. I really got in trouble for that."

I would like to say that I can't even imagine what kind of human being would tell a 5 year old to restrict their creativity in such a petty way. But unfortunately I can.

In "Catching Fire" they try to control what people think, by alternately scaring the hell out of them and then distracting them with propaganda.

In the government we have for decades tried the exact same thing. It isn't out of "badness" but because we need order. In a huge bureaucracy you have to obey.

We are in a crisis of innovation. We have to be crazy creative to get ourselves out of the mess we're in. But we've taught everyone to restrict their thinking.

Religious people are in this crisis. They (we, because I am in a sense religious) shelter ourselves from outside influences. It gives us unshakable values that we treasure, values that keep us intact through incredibly challenging and degrading times.

It also closes us off from necessary growth and improvement.

Think about the fact that we need soldiers. A free thinking soldier with moral doubts means we are dead. But then again, a soldier who easily dehumanizes others is a very grave danger to society as well.

But all these debates are old now. We have to get back to being little kids taking charge of very grownup things. Forget the 64 color box of crayons, we need 128 or even 254. We need virtual crayons.

To do this we have to invest in people. Not just those who are new to the system. We actually owe a debt to those who "grew up" here in government, so to speak. Who gave up a lot - who have given their lives, who sacrificed their own need to constructively dissent - in order to serve the institution, to be part of the team, and yes, to put food on the table.

We will get our creative back when we train our existing employees on the job, for the skills they need now, not just on the technical side but with respect to culture, communication and emotional intelligence.  It is time to empower everyone as a personal "innovation hub."

It's not the job of leadership or management anymore to think us out of the dilemmas we face. We need a "people's uprising," of rebels who want to practice "creative self destruction" so as to enable our mutual survival. The system serves the people not the other way around, and the only way to get there is ourselves.

How about we throw out those 8-crayon boxes, and give all the kids a multitude of crayons instead?

* All opinions my own.