Many times on projects and presentations I hear both the empty words and principles and also the full words. I’ve always struggled to determine the difference between the two. I’ve listened to people state that their success is all about ‘their people’ and I’ve come away on one occasion believing them and on another occasion feeling that they didn’t believe their own words.
So what is the difference?
A phrase used by Ed Catmull in his book “Creativity, Inc.” defines the issue perfectly.
The Handle and the Suitcase
“It is up to the individual to remember that it’s okay to use the handle, just as long as you don’t forget the suitcase.” -Ed Catmull, Creativity Inc.
Ed Catmull shares a visual in his new book, Creativity Inc. where he asks us to “imagine an old, heavy suitcase whose well-worn handles are hanging by a few threads.” He describes the “handle” of that suitcase as those defining principles and phrases we use and promote. He then shares how, “the suitcase represents all that has gone into the formation of the phrase: the experience, the deep wisdom, the truths that emerge from the struggle.”
To me this affirms that one cannot promote and encourage without context. And that context can really only be gathered through experience and commitment. In a sense the person needs to be a practitioner and supporter. In many cases I was probably sensing that people I didn’t believe didn’t have the context or the suitcase in what they were presenting.
Catmull shows the disconnect that can happen. “Too often, we grab the handle and – without realizing it – walk off without the suitcase. What’s more we don’t even think about what we’ve left behind. After all, the handle is so much easier to carry around than the suitcase.”
This is key. If you aren’t committed to the entire principle, the suitcase is the first to go. As Catmull says, the handle is easy to carry by itself. This is happening recently with Innovation. People promote Innovation and then discuss how organizations can inject structure into the Innovation process. These methods or structures most of the time are the antithesis of Innovation. Methods and structures can go against an Innovation Mindset.
Catmull then continues to what I think is a brilliant way to restate the issue: “I often say that managers of creative enterprises must hold lightly to goals and firmly to intentions. What does this mean? It means that we must be open to having our goals change as we learn new information or are surprised by things we thought we knew but didn’t. As long as our intentions – our values – remain constant, our goals can shift as needed”
So saying we are committed to Innovation is hollow. Saying we are committed to the values of creativity and growth and empowerment and having a culture that encourages those will generate many more Innovations than an Innovation framework. Our commitment to values is critical, not a commitment to a framework.
Or as Catmull adds, “words like quality and excellence are misapplied so relentlessly that they border on meaningless. Managers scour books and magazines looking for greater understanding but settle instead for adopting a new terminology, thinking that using fresh words will bring them closer to their goals.”