Managers Thrive in Meetings; Creatives Flourish Outside Them

In the bustling landscape of the modern workplace, two distinct species coexist: managers, who thrive in the structured confines of meetings, and creatives, who flourish in the expansive wilderness outside them.

This dichotomy, however, presents a paradox. As a leader, you might believe you’re fostering innovation, but the conventional manager’s schedule could be suffocating your team’s creative spirit.

This article explores this tension and offers solutions for leaders seeking to foster a more creative and innovative environment.

In my years as a creative leader, I’ve navigated the challenging terrain between two worlds. On the one hand, I’m a maker, a creator, thriving in the solitude of my thoughts, where ideas blossom into innovative solutions. On the other hand, I’m a manager juggling meetings, deadlines, and the constant demands of leadership.

I recall a week when I was working on a crucial project. My calendar, filled with back-to-back meetings, left me with fragmented pockets of time insufficient for deep, creative thinking. The mounting pressure was extinguishing my creative spark. Then, I realized the stark contrast between the Maker’s Schedule and the Manager’s Schedule, as Paul Graham describes in his insightful essay.

My solution was introducing a new role within my team – a generalist creative leader who could bridge the gap between the makers and the managers. This person, understanding the sanctity of the Maker’s Schedule, protected the creative team’s space, enabling them to enter a flow state. This transformative change allowed our creative team to work in large, uninterrupted blocks of time, fostering an environment where innovation thrived.

Renowned author and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss echoes this sentiment: “Large, uninterrupted blocks of time—3-5 hours minimum—create the space needed to find and connect the dots.” This perspective underscores the importance of respecting the sanctity of the Maker’s Schedule in fostering creativity.

However, the challenge arises when these two schedules intersect, especially in large organizations. As the Harvard Business Review article “Creativity and the Role of the Leader” suggests, “Leaders can’t directly manage creativity, but they can create conditions that encourage it.” This involves a delicate balance of fostering a culture of creativity while maintaining the necessary managerial structures.

Leaders should not be the sole source of ideas but should encourage and champion ideas from all ranks within the organization. Ferriss notes, “As Brad Feld and many others have observed, great creative work isn’t possible if you’re trying to piece together 30 minutes here and 45 minutes there.” This highlights the importance of creating an environment where ideas can bubble up from the ranks and leaders can champion these ideas.

Moreover, leaders should facilitate creative collaboration and encourage diverse perspectives. As the HBR article states, “Leaders must tap the imagination of employees at all ranks and ask inspiring questions. They must also help their organizations incorporate diverse perspectives, which spur creative insights.”

Let’s consider Amazon’s ‘Institutional Yes’ policy. This guiding principle defaults to ‘YES,’ placing the onus on the naysayers to demonstrate why an idea won’t work, not on the innovators to prove why it will. One of the outcomes of this policy: The birth of Amazon Web Services (AWS), Amazon’s highly successful cloud computing platform, is now a standard in the tech industry.

The secret sauce for fostering relentless innovation is giving creativity space allowing flow state to happen, and inviting new ideas by saying ‘yes’ more often.

While essential in certain stages of work, process management should be applied thoughtfully. It’s not appropriate in all phases of creative work. As the HBR article suggests, “The leader’s job is to map out the stages of innovation and recognize the different processes, skill sets, and technology support that each requires.”

In conclusion, the symphony of creativity requires careful orchestration of the Maker’s and Manager’s schedules and saying ‘yes’ more often. Leaders must foster an environment that encourages ideas from all ranks, facilitates creative collaboration, and thoughtfully applies process management.

Doing so can create a harmonious rhythm that nurtures innovation and creativity. As Paul Graham wisely notes, “Each type of schedule works fine. Problems arise when they meet.” Recognizing and respecting these different rhythms is the key to unlocking the full creative potential of an organization.


From Janitors to Jargon: Navigating the Big Four with an Unlikely Tool

👀 I’m about to tell you how I used my ‘humanity compass’ to navigate the wild jungles of consulting, where power suits meet PowerPoint slides, and where it’s easier to get lost in the jargon than to find a free meeting room!

Ever tried striking up a conversation with a security guard on a bustling Tuesday morning? As counterintuitive as it sounds, that’s where my day used to begin at one of the Big Four consulting firms (pre-pandemic stuff, folks).

Yes, you heard it right—I converse, not merely exchange a rushed, mumbled greeting. And not with the high-flying senior partners or the client relationship gurus, but with Mike, the security guard, the ladies at reception, the people working in the print shop, and so on.

The corporate world often fosters a peculiar kind of tunnel vision. Picture this: employees, each a cog in this grand machinery, bustling about like purposeful ants, eyes glued to screens or focused straight ahead, ears tuned into a symphony of productivity—keyboards clicking and the constant hum of ambitious conversations.

In this orchestrated chaos, they tend to cocoon themselves in their professional bubbles, letting their gazes glaze over the world outside their immediate tasks. It’s an ironic ballet of hundreds of people in one shared space, each seemingly oblivious to the other’s presence.

The security guard’s greeting, the janitor’s nod, the friendly smile of a colleague from a different department—each one often overlooked in the rush of deadlines and targets. There’s a palpable disconnect, a silent wall erected by unacknowledged presences and unreturned greetings. This veil of indifference, though invisible, can be as tangible as the glass walls of their meeting rooms.

“Paul knows everyone!” 👋🏼

In this whirlwind of a consulting world, where roles are as distinct as chalk and cheese, and hierarchy is as visible as the neon ‘Exit’ signs, my interactions are fueled by something less obvious but more potent—humanity.

Did I mention awkwardness as a byproduct?

The roots of this ethos trace back to my hometown, Chandigarh—a city that has perfected the art of living life in the slow lane. Here, my journalist father and schoolteacher mother introduced me to a timeless principle: every human deserves respect.

It’s an approach I’ve taken from the serene bylanes of Chandigarh to the high-powered boardrooms in Toronto, treating everyone as a human first and a job title second. At times, the irony of fancy titles is that they create walls. Not on my watch!

Channelling my inner Atticus Finch (thanks, Harper Lee!), I’ve discovered you never really understand a person until you consider things from their point of view. So, whether it’s the night shift janitor or the senior partners, I approach each interaction with curiosity and an equal dose of respect.

Does it make a difference?

You bet it does! It’s like sprinkling a bit of Dale Carnegie charm into each interaction, resulting in relationships as robust as a well-brewed cup of chai. Think Chris Gardner from “The Pursuit of Happyness”—from homelessness to owning a brokerage firm while preserving his humanity. Now that’s a journey worth emulating!

So, if you’re ready to dodge those status-quos and disrupt the usual, here’s your how-to guide for putting ‘human’ at the forefront of your life:

Humanity Before Hierarchy: The CEO or the janitor? Both are humans first. Remember, folks, roles don’t define people; their humanity does.

Listen and Empathize: Channel your inner Dale Carnegie and view the world from others’ shoes. You’ll be amazed at the wisdom you unearth and the connections you cultivate.

Promote Open Communication: Create an environment where everyone feels valued and heard regardless of status. That’s where respect flourishes, my friends!

Lead by Example: As clichéd as it may sound, actions DO speak louder than words. So, demonstrate respect and kindness, and inspire others to follow suit.

In summary, I didn’t just survive the corporate world; I seasoned it with my unique flavour. My philosophy is simple: see the human first, the role second. And that, my friends, is how I discovered that respect isn’t just the secret ingredient for building strong relationships—it’s the spice that enriches life.

So, ready to tear down those invisible hierarchies and embrace our shared humanity? As you’ll soon discover, respect has the power to spin the most compelling tales—even in the most unlikely corners of the corporate world.

Also, the gossip is next level!


The Chacha Chaudhary Guide to Leadership

TLDR; Navigating the business world is a bit like being the characters from Chacha Chaudhary comics. There’s Chacha, the small old man with a red turban known for his intelligence. Then there’s Sabu, his loyal friend from Jupiter, who is as strong as he is tall, often saying, “Sabu ko jab gussa aata hai, to kahin jwalamukhi phatata hai.” (Whenever Sabu gets angry, a volcano erupts at some distant place.) In leadership terms, Chacha is your sonar and radar — your ability to navigate and perceive — while Sabu is your altimeter, guiding you to scale the right altitude.

“Chacha Chaudhary ka dimaag computer se bhi tez chalta hai.”
(Chacha Chaudhary’s brain works faster than a computer.)

If you’re familiar with this phrase, then I’m pretty sure you’ve enjoyed the fun-filled and enlightening Indian comic series.

Before Batman or Superman, there was Sabu.

Drawing inspiration from this comic gem created by Pran, let’s navigate the tricky terrains of leadership, where Chacha Chaudhary and Sabu are your trusty companions.

Have you ever been so engrossed in the minute details, like Sabu stomping on problems with his colossal power (reactive), that you miss the broader landscape?

Or, have you been like Chacha, navigating the way forward (proactive) but forgetting to deal with the ground-level chaos? If you’re smiling knowingly, you’re in the same intergalactic spaceship as most leaders out there.

But why should you bother to balance the Chacha approach with the Sabu style? Pran was onto something.

The simple answer is: to avoid being stuck in a cycle of firefighting or losing sight of strategic goals. As the comic book business sage, Peter Drucker, would probably have said if he were a part of the Chacha universe, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”

Your Altimeter: Sabu represents altitude

“Sabu ko jab gussa aata hai, to kahin jwalamukhi phatata hai.” (Whenever Sabu gets angry, a volcano erupts at some distant place.)

Just like Sabu, ready to flex his muscles to solve immediate problems, micro-leadership is all about the here and now. It’s working in the business, tackling issues as they arise, and ensuring the smooth running of day-to-day operations — present value.

This present focus is critical. It keeps your business ship sailing, it’s the rocket fuel for your enterprise. But being Sabu all the time, you might end up stomping around so much that you lose sight of the broader universe.

Your Radar and Sonar: Chacha represents navigation

“Chacha Chaudhary apne gyaan aur samajhdaari ka sahi istemaal karte huye apne dushmanon ko shaant kar dete hain.”
(Chacha Chaudhary, using his knowledge and wisdom, pacifies his enemies.)

On the other side, we have Chacha, our beloved elder, always planning, strategizing, and looking at the broader picture. This is akin to macro-leadership, where you work on the business, focusing on future growth and industry shifts — future value.

This futuristic vision, like Chacha’s quick-witted problem-solving, sets the course of your spaceship. But remember, being Chacha all the time, you might forget about the Sabu-tasks, the immediate issues that need your attention.

Your Tactical Squad: Billoo, Pinky, and Rocket represent boots on the ground

So, how can you balance the Sabu approach and the Chacha style? Here’s your tactical team: Billoo, Pinky, and Rocket (the dog, of course).

Billoo — Self-Awareness:
Just as Billoo knows his love for cricket and knack for mischief, understand your natural inclinations. Are you a Sabu or a Chacha? Recognize your strengths, and work on your weaknesses.

Pinky — Time Management:
Pinky, always organized with her daily tasks, teaches us the importance of time management. Allocate specific time slots for the Sabu tasks and the Chacha strategies.

Rocket — Delegation and Trust:
Just like the gang trusts Rocket for his loyalty and capabilities, trust your team. Delegate tasks and empower them to handle some Sabu tasks while you focus on the Chacha strategies.
Tingu Master and Raka: Regular Reviews and Continuous Learning

Tingu Master, the eternal student, and Raka, the immortal villain who always learns from his mistakes, highlight the importance of regular reviews and continuous learning. Always be willing to evaluate and adjust your approach, and never stop learning.

Remember, both Sabu and Chacha are crucial for your business. You’re not just a leader for today but also a guide for the future. So, please put on your turban, flex your muscles, and let’s navigate this Chacha Chaudhary leadership universe together.

“Buddhi gyani ka muqaddar hoti hai, shakti balwan ki naseeb hoti hai.” (Wisdom is the destiny of the intelligent, power is the fortune of the strong.)