Leading Creativity without Chaos

Fri Oct 10 2015 Michael McQueen

Speaking at a recent Global Access Partners event focussing on the workplace of the future, I had the pleasure of sharing the stage with co-founder of Atlassian Software, Mike Cannon-Brookes.

Atlassian are recognised worldwide for their innovative workplace culture and have been rated Australia's Best Place to Work twice in a row. After introducing himself as the conference's token 'guy wearing a t-shirt talking about technology', Mike launched into some fascinating insights on how he and his company consistently attract and keep top talent in a highly competitive environment. He spoke about the importance of an organization's purpose and having staff that feel connected to it. He highlighted the value of an open and transparent culture where people feel valued and empowered. But the most insightful comments Mike made related to the way he sees his role as a leader.

3 brunsbuuttel nuclear"I am like the guy running a nuclear reactor" he said. Unpacking the metaphor, Mike described the challenge of leading an organization of disruptive creative-types without things descending into chaos. In the case of a nuclear reactor, cooling rods determine the level of activity and energy being produced in a reactor - push the rods in and the activity stops, pull them right out and the energy produced rises exponentially.

"This is like my role as a leader at Atlassian" he said. "If I do the equivilent of pushing the cooling rods in too far, there will be a great deal of order, consistency and compliance but at the cost creativity and innovation. By the same token, if I pull the cooling rods right out, creativity and innovation will go off the scale but we're likely to blow apart at the seams. Every day I am adjusting how far I need to push the cooling rods in and there's no magic formula."

The challenge Mike describes is one common to many of my clients at the moment. We all recognise the critical importance of fostering innovation and agility in business today but this always has to be done within the boundaries of common sense. How far in or out do you have the cooling rods right now? Do you need to loosen things up and allow for some more chaos or are you a free-wheeler that might need to put some clearer boundaries in place? Either way, it's never a set-and-forget scenario but one which requires constant focus and discernment.