The Noble Workforce

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In a March article for The Huffington Post, consultant Karen Noble makes an urgent appeal to managers to focus on workforce morale. Her specific suggestions call to mind some of the practices that Eric Liu and I outline in Imagination First. Noble frames her argument by referencing two surveys: the Conference Board shows 45% of American workers dissatisfied with their jobs, and Opinion Research Corporation shows 25% ready to leave their positions once the economy stabilizes. Based on her years of experience as a consultant, Noble claims that low worker morale is a serious obstacle to innovation—and we need the latter to remain economically competitive. So what steps can managers take to satisfy employees and, in doing so, set the U.S. on the right economic track?

Image by Jacob Bøtter*

Noble points to “flexibility,” “innovation zones,” and “service” as three means of boosting workforce morale. The second of these connects most closely to what Eric and I deal with in our book. Noble recommends the official establishment of regular times and/or places in which free-form brainstorming can take place. Eric and I propose something similar in describing our first imaginative practice, “Make Mist.” Noble also writes that the motto “‘Failure Welcomed Here’ should be explicit, because encouraging failure often unleashes people’s capacity to succeed.” Eric and I make a related argument near the end of Imagination First, urging readers to “Fail Well”—that is, to realize that our errors may be as useful to us, if not more so, than our successes. Not fearing failure means taking chances, and taking chances can result in big, bold ideas.

The strong sense one gets from Noble’s piece is that more open, imaginative workplaces are necessary if we are to combat the “rising tide of disquiet among the still-employed, a tide that could potentially capsize our long-term economic wellbeing.” Her extensive background in the business world adds weight to her pleas, which coincide with one of the messages of Imagination First: “unless we feed our collective capacity for imagination, we can be sure that…innovations will be fewer and farther between” (27). Innovation, just about everyone agrees, is a key to global economic leadership. The equation, then, seems clear: truly imaginative environments produce innovative (and happy) workers, and such workers enhance America’s position in the global marketplace.

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The Spaces Between

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Image by Ladonite / Brendan*

Image by Ladonite / Brendan*

As a dancer and someone who frequently experiences works of art in many disciplines, I’ve come to see over the years that constraints are often more conducive to artists’ imaginations than so-called “freedom.” Let’s say you’re a choreographer working on a commission. If you know that the area of the stage is only so many square feet, the piece must last no longer than twenty minutes, and the budget will allow for just four dancers, then you are able to focus on one thing alone: how can you make the most complex and beautiful dance possible within these limitations? But does this suggest that embracing boundaries is also a valuable strategy for business, government, and other institutions? Continue reading