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Pretty much every company I have worked for has been managed by and has promoted two kinds of thinkers: Military thinkers and Bureaucratic thinkers. These two groups tend to encourage  status quo and typically make companies grow stale and lifeless. Or they drive them into the ground with poor decisions.

Military thinkers, like the leaders of Ancient Rome, see things in hierarchies, where someone has inherent power and almost everyone else is there to take orders. This can be efficient, and certainly works in a military, mission-driven environment where decisions can literally be about life and death. Buy-in from subordinates is absolutely necessary for success. But so is wisdom from the leaders. Neither of those are a given. The problem with businesses running on a military model is that, much of the time, the people making impactful decisions haven’t been in the trenches for years or decades. Some have never been there. An impractical grand idea is still impractical, even if subordinates buy-in completely.

Bureaucratic thinkers, like the Pharisees and Sadducees, see the world in terms of established practices and policies. If everyone stays within the boundaries of their job descriptions and employee handbooks and written procedures, then everyone is safe from conflict and litigation. Be the best box you can be; here are the specifications.

Creative thinkers don’t allow themselves to fit into a cardboard box, and find themselves asking the Why and What For questions that annoy the hell out of Bureaucratic thinkers, and make Military thinkers feel disrespected. But businesses that encourage the Why and What For questions keep their processes fresh, and position themselves to evolve as the landscape does. Creative thinkers don’t take orders well, and aren’t very good at understanding or even reading written policies. Everything and every moment is a negotiation between Will and Nature, and a complicated choice to be made. Surprise, innovation, risk and failure are among the possibilities. Stagnation is not.

I have heard of companies that foster this creative kind of environment, but I haven’t worked for one in years.

I would love to hear your examples of work environments where a creative mind was allowed to think freely.


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