Relationships and ideas

A few days ago I blogged about insight being “the popcorn of therapy” and sparked some interesting comments.

Today, this jumped out from a post by Rob Paterson.

Ideas do not change us. Only experience changes us.

I don’t want to set up an either/or here, but I find this axiom attractive. The bookstores are full of “how to” books. Blogs (including this one, from time to time) are not short of advice on what to do. Somehow, it seems the advice is not being followed most of the time. I find most of those “how tos” demoralising to begin with, and then a bit irritating.

I wrote this a while ago (on a now redundant part of this site):

It’s fairly common in business to champion creativity. Yet an emphasis on coming up with new ideas risks putting the cart before the horse.

Sometimes the demand for new ideas can demoralise many people who don’t see themselves as creative, yet actually play a vital role in making things happen.

Consultants and ad agencies are often appointed because of a big idea – which then fails in the real world because it is pursued without paying attention to the problems of execution.

I’ve witnessed quite a few businesses doing brainstorming and other creativity sessions on awaydays/offsites. If they’re lucky, they have an exciting day… then they return to their offices, the adrenalin rush long past, and revert to their normal, much less inspired, ways of working together. Sure, they went somewhere and had a few ideas. But they haven’t really changed the way they relate to each other.

Whilst saying “relationships before ideas” is a bit trite, as well as being an idea itself, there’s something in it, I think.

Rob puts it in more dramatic terms with this picture of Thomas Cranmer burning for his beliefs, sticking his sinful hand into the flames. Reminds of the Fritz Perls injunction to “lose your mind and come to your senses“.

Update: I’ve just read an interesting related story in the book Made to Stick. A school teacher creates an experiential lesson for her pupils, after the assassination of Martin Luther King. She divides them into the blue-eyed and the brown-eyed, and sets higher privileges for one group on the basis of them being smarter. The next day she says there was a mistake and switches the status of the two groups. On the third day, they get to discuss prejudice – with he benefit of a life-changing change of perspective.

4 thoughts on “Relationships and ideas

  1. Graham Hill


    I am not so sure that Rob is correct. Experiences by themselves are often not enough without a big idea to hold them together.

    Martin Luther King’s wonderful speeches and resolute civil actions were as much about the idea of freedom, as about the everyday experience of discrimination in the USA.

    And Toyota’s success as a company is as much about the much discussed but little understood Toyota Way, as about the everyday experience of working for Toyota.

    It is ideas that provide the essential framework with which to make sense of most experiences.

    Graham Hill

    Independent CRM Consultant

    Interim CRM Manager

  2. annette

    Interesting post Johnnie, I’d go so far as to say that making ideas relational is important. When I’m working with groups I always work on a real task as distinct from a fictional one – that way people relate the process to its implementation in a coherent way. When we differentiate ideas/creativity from their relationship with context and implementation they are bound to fail.

  3. Mark McGuinness

    I think there’s a common misconception that creativity = idea generation. If you leave out execution, then creative thinking gets divorced from action – and you can end up with ‘away day’ creativity/brainstorming workshops that have nothing to do with what happens in the office. Chris Bilton at Warwick Uni has pointed out that this kind of thing actually makes the situation worse – delegates get fired up with creative enthusiasm then frustrated when they have no opportunity to put their ideas into action on Monday morning.

    It sounds obvious, but you’re not really being creative until you’ve actually created something, not just thought about it. So if companies want more creativity (and it’s a big ‘if’) then it needs to be integral to strategy and actively promoted and supported in day-to-day operations. Much better to train managers to facilitate creativity in the office than send their teams on creative ‘away days’.

  4. Johnnie Moore

    Great comments. My general feeling is that our culture seems to encourage what I’d call “disembodied thought” and that great ideas and clever analysis gets a kind of automatic reverence. For every Martin Luther King speech, there are thousands of examples of empty rhetoric. We get confused by the organisational diagram which doesn’t really show the subtleties of what’s going on.

    Action is actually inherent in creativity; it’s our artificial rituals that seem to separate “having ideas” and “acting”. Funnily enough, I often find the “action planning” part of these rituals the least convincing.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.