Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Jazz and A Kid with Cardboard Boxes: Can Associations Energize Creativity & Innovation?

Innovation and creativity seem to be the current rage in the association and nonprofit communities.

Those of us attending the ASAE Great Ideas Conference were enthralled as John Kao  entertained and inspired us on a jazz piano and a live video connection with a jazz pianist in San Diego. (FYI: using 4-5 notes suggested by the audience, the San Diego pianist improvised a tune ... he was playing it in San Diego and, thanks to an internet connection, also playing the keyboard on the piano in Colorado Springs. Interesting technology for collaborative efforts for organizations!)

“Every note is a choice,” John told us. “When we understand the rules (of jazz), we can throw them out and create/innovate. The rules allow jazz musicians to play together. It allows us to be in a community and to play up when others are better than you.”

Interesting: learn the rules so you can throw them out and be creative.

In their book Managing Content Marketing, Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose devote most of a chapter on the need for “style guides” to help foster creativity in content marketing. They included a quote from Jon Stewart (the Daily Show) who said in an NPR interview: “I’m a real believer that creativity comes from limits (and structure), not freedom.”

Interesting: create a social media style guide so your writers can know the context which provides them more creativity for their writing.

So, where are we as association professionals?

Do our organizational “rules” and “structure” provide our volunteers and staff enough rules to allow them the flexibility to create and innovate? Or, rather than guidelines, have the rules become so rigid and detailed that your staff needs to get approvals to send a Tweet or post to Facebook? (I’m not joking, we had an RFP for social media that included a statement to expect five to seven days for approval of Tweets!)

As one who loves creating and innovating, I loved this video:

The other day, the folks at KaBoom tweeted this wonderful video about a kid and his cardboard boxes. It reminded me of my kids playing in the basement, not with store-bought toys, but with boxes, pans and other tools of their imagination. For me, my childhood creativity usually started in the woods and fields around our house.

A side note: think what this kid could do if he had the $75,000 the General Services Administration spent on a “build a bicycle” team building exercise last summer! 


  1. Interesting quote from Jon Stewart. Fine line between guidelines that allow for creativity and rules that become too rigid. I remember the same kind of principle from writing: You can only break the rules after you know them. Steve, you may like my "4 Innovation Lessons from Football" post where I answer the questions: "What did coaches and teams do to create competitive advantages while staying within the confines of the rules of the game? Just how did they create innovation in what might be perceived to be limiting circumstances?"

  2. Good points Jay! And thanks for sharing it with me. My sport is hockey. While not focused on innovation, you may find my post 10 lessons for Association Management Professionals from Ice Hockey of interest.