Visit any Google campus, from Mountain View, California to Dublin, Ireland, and you will be struck by the efforts the company has made to create a fun, spirited, sensory rich environment. Replete with ski gondolas in Zurich, a sidewalk café in Istanbul, vegetable gardens, even nap pods. Lego Play Stations and Tinker Toys. And plenty of free food and snacks, including M&Ms.
And Google is not alone. At Spotify’s New York offices, team members are provided with musical instruments and Marshall amps, gourmet snacks, ping-pong tables, crayons and colored markers. They even have a house band and encourage frequent extemporaneous jam sessions.
While such things may at first seem like frivolous assaults to our business-minded sensibilities, they are in fact highly effective in fostering creativity and innovation. And it isn’t just high-tech companies that understand this. Even the likes of Clorox and Gap have embraced similar concepts to stimulate creativity in the workplace.
Bernie Dunlap, the former president of Wofford College, once said “What we need, if we are to be creative, is an innocent eye.”
This quote reminded me of the seminal work of Eric Berne, the father of Transactional Analysis. His “Parent-Adult-Child” (P-A-C) ego-state theories of human interaction are still, six decades later, used across a broad spectrum of applications. Not only in clinical psychology and interpersonal relations, but as they are refined and further developed, they are bringing new organizational and leadership dynamics in business.
In highly authoritative, hierarchical, “command and control” organizations, the prevalent interactions are Parent-Child, whereby a vested voice of authority exercises control over a subordinate. The predominant themes are telling, ordering, controlling, derived from what are sometimes referred to as “taught” concepts traced back to our experiences from early childhood. In the early 20th century, many companies used this, especially as servicemen returning from active duty in the military expected their commands to be followed explicitly.
In highly effective organizations, the most prevalent day-to-day business interactions are Adult-Adult, whereby decisions are made collaboratively through logical, fact-based reasoning, derived from what are referred to as “thought” concepts. This is the root of organizational empowerment.
However, highly innovative organizations understand the power of the “Child” ego state in nurturing creativity. It is when we are in this state that we are most imaginative and inspired. This is the wellspring from which free-flowing, unrestrained and original ideas germinate, ultimately resulting in innovative new technologies, cutting-edge products and market disruptions. Successful innovative companies create environments that nurture interactions among these highly creative ego states.
This is precisely what Bernie Dunlap meant when he referred to the roots of creativity lying in an “innocent eye.”
So what is the best organizational dynamic for highly successful, innovative businesses?
It is an environment where day-to-day decisions and actions occur through Adult-Adult interactions AND where opportunities are created for meaningful Child-Child interactions to spur new ideas and innovation.
The dynamic that is clearly not appropriate for successful organizations is Parent-Child. Unfortunately, either this fact is lost on the majority of today’s business leaders or, more commonly, it is acknowledged but not committed to practice. Old habits and paradigms are hard to change.
Here are a few questions that should run through every CEO’s mind. In the spirit of Eric Berne and the principles of Transactional Analysis, how does my organization stack up? Is my organization’s leadership style more Parent-Child, or are its members empowered to make collaborative decisions through Adult-Adult interactions? Is a nurturing and safe environment provided for creative ideation from the Child ego state? How can I lead my team in applying these principles to enhance the effectiveness and success of our company?
In 1964 Eric Berne published Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships. His intent in writing the book was to convey the concepts of Transactional Analysis in a way that the layperson could understand and commit to practice. This groundbreaking bestseller is as applicable today as it was fifty years ago. It’s a good place to start if you haven’t read it and would like to learn more.
For over thirty years, Mike has been actively involved, as a coach, entrepreneur, scientist, business executive and management consultant, in the areas of executive leadership, organizational development and change management, strategic planning and execution, and financial analysis. He has provided strategic, operational and financial leadership to small and medium-sized firms, as well as Fortune 500 companies and large government organizations, in a broad range of industries. Mike holds BS and PhD degrees from the Georgia Institute of Technology and has had additional training in finance and accounting, strategic planning and management, leadership development, and succession planning, from various top-tier institutions.