The Ongoing Struggle Between Good & Good: Process VS Creativity

Yesterday, two co-workers and I met with a consultant who specializes in process excellence coaching for senior leaders. The purpose of his visit was to gather baseline information, in preparation for a formal coaching session in November.

He came equipped with a list of questions to better understand our business, and there was one that really stood out. He asked, “What percentage of work time are your employees able to leverage their full potential and use all of their skills and talents?”

The three of us thought for a moment, and I replied 40%, one coworker said 60% and the third settled in on 50%. The consultant shared that he routinely asks this question during his preparation visits and that the average response is about 20%.

I marinated on these disturbing statistics the remainder of the day. What the heck are we doing as leaders that cause our employees NOT to use the remaining 80% of their potential?

After some follow-up conversations, a good night of sleep and a plan ride to Newark, NJ, I settled on this: it is a result of the ongoing struggle between good and good: process versus creativity.

As businesses try to get better at what they do, it is natural to create more process, more standardization and celebProcess VS Creativity | Image Courtesy Of jscreationzsrate less variation. Process is good, right?

At the same time, we talk about empowering our employees to make decisions. We encourage our employees to identify process defects and test solutions. And, we get excited when people “think outside the box” and “step out of their comfort zone”.

These are two distinct set of activities, that if left to their own devices will cause a power struggle, and contribute to that disturbing 20% of time using our full potential.

The solution? We need to find a way to marry the two together and design our work and performance expectations to allow for both sets of activities. We must lead our department in such a way that process complements creativity and creativity complements process.

What are you doing to increase your 20%? Think of how powerful that could be!

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© 2011 – 2012, Marci Reynolds. All rights reserved.


  1. Hi Marci, it always strikes me that when process works well then it reinforces creativity, a surgeon for example shouldn’t have to have his mind burdened by how many swabs he has put into somebody to make sure he takes them back out, that is what the process is for, his mind should be free to deal with the more creative (or alarming) parts of the operation.


    1. Author

      James..Thanks for your comment. What a great example of what we want “great minds” to spend time on,

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