Stabbed with a Silver Spoon

19th February 2015 | Posted in Organisational Development

A friend drew my attention to this article from Stuart Marconie in the New Statesman the other day.

For those that don’t know him, Stuart is an intelligent and witty music journalist and his intelligent and witty article wonders aloud whether popular music Slaveswill be any weaker as a result of being the playground of the privileged middle class rather than the workplace of the gritty working class. His conclusion is that, yes, it will be weaker because:

‘Conflict, be it generational, geographical or economic, is the turbine that drives art forward, the grit in the oyster that makes the pearl’.

This made me curious about creativity and innovation at work.

Creativity and innovation at work are outputs of tension and conflict.  They take place at the edge of teams where processes are handed over, in the marketplace where products and services meet the customer, in the strategy team where competition forces change and in the Boardroom where investors challenge the business for better performance. As any number of fat, lazy, dead or dying organisations demonstrate, the absence of tension and conflict is an unhealthy thing. As evolutionary biology teaches us, the organism that doesn’t innovate disappears.

The trick for the business and for HR in particular is to manage tension and conflict as healthy contributions to positive change rather than the draining distractions of politics and protectionism. Easy to say and hard to do, particularly given HR’s historic role in dispensing tissues and drying tears.

In that context, Stuart Marconie’s article, intelligent and witty though it is, argues itself up a blind alley. He sees it himself:

‘To be fair, I should point out that I am referring to mainstream rock and pop. Grime, hip-hop and dubstep are still rooted in an urban milieu of zero-hour contracts and pound shops’.

So what’s really happened in popular music is that the ‘turbine that drives art forward’ has gone elsewhere. Anyone that listens to popular music will tell you that creativity isn’t in four boys with guitars and a drum kit anymore. Wherever that met it’s peak is in the past and the future looks and sounds altogether different. Like Skiffle before it, the format has been exhausted and leaner, fitter, prettier, smarter artists prevail. As I once mentioned over a dinner table, the moment public schools started teaching the electric guitar was the moment that everyone had forgotten that punk and rock and roll before it were meant to be about rebellion, not chord sequences. The art form has been stabbed to death by a silver spoon.

Engaging the business in looking around the market for leaner, fitter, prettier, smarter competitors may be wise. Wondering how to balance tension and conflict with a positive and collaborative atmosphere might be good work for HR to do.

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