“Creativity is you flirting with your own mind.” (Episode 51)

Interview with Richard Jager, Randstad for Germany/Austria/Switzerland.

The quote above was not the first thing Richard Jager said to me, but it made such an impact on me that it became the headline to this text.

Richard is the CEO of Randstad for Germany/Austria/Switzerland. Randstad, of course, is the HR services giant with 40 000 employees, out of which 7000 are under the leadership of Richard.

Richard started working for Randstad as an consultant in 1997 and has been with the company since then, in good times and in bad. (One example: earlier this year they saw 20,000 (!) of their temp workers lose their contracts in one week, but now the business is back to pre-covid levels – talk about rollercoaster ride.)

My conversation with Richard centered around the need for creativity as a way of enjoying what you do. We often talk about creativity as a competitive edge, as a way to disrupt the markets, or as a way of self-expression, but rarely do we talk about the creative process in itself having a value for our well-being.

Richard confessed to me that he easily gets bored. “I just came out of a meeting with my CFO where I realized that I had nothing in my calendar for the next three months that made me really excited. I told him: ‘We need to figure something fun out to do!’”

For Richard having a fun creative project to look forward to has a value in itself. Knowing that it is there creates excitement, energy and positive vibrations.

The job of a CEO is full of important meetings, hard decisions and necessary tasks, but Richard makes sure to also set aside time for creative projects for the sake of having creative projects.

Creativity is like the spice in a dish. It’s not the main ingredient, it might not take up the most space, but take it away and the dish falls flat. If you do not set aside time for fun, creative projects in your job your work – heck, even your life! – might fall flat.

Think of it like a relationship. Not every moment in a relationship is romantic, not even the majority of the moments are romantic, but if you do not make an effort to create these romantic moments now and then the relationship falls flat.

And that is why I found Richards quote so spot on: “Creativity is you flirting with your own mind.” Neglect giving your mind these moments of positive energy that being creative creates and your mind might just decide to break up with you. 

And as a leader it is crucial that you make sure that your people get these creative moments. Richard shared numerous examples of how he as a leader had created these creative moments for his teams.

He told me how he, in a previous position at Randstad, had invited all his sales people to, once per year, nominate one client that the company should fire! Everyone got to nominate one annoying client and give a short speech for why they should be fired. Then a name was picked out of a hat and the Richard would call up the client on Jan 2nd and end the relationship with everyone on the sales team there on the conference call to hear the annoying client get the boot. A fun and edgy way of letting off steam and then the sales team could go back and focus on all of their great clients.

Not all ideas of Richard have worked out (that is true for all of us), but he is not affraid to try. (Quote from Richard: “I have lost money faster than God could print it.”) But Richard knows that by taking risk and encouraging people to try new ideas some great ideas will come out of the process in the end.

(Another Richard quote: “Too many people are too afraid to be fired. If people where not so afraid to be fired the world would be flying around with millions of more innovation.”)

And while not all ideas might make it, Richard keeps trying new things, sometimes with the pure purpose of encouraging creativity. He told me how he once had suggested to his management team that they should spend one hour per month figuring out how they, as a team, could create a better bank robbery than Hollywood can come up with. Not (!) because they were going to rob a bank – obviously! – but only as a way to have a creative challenge they could go crazy with.

In his budget process Richard likes to suggest they should tripple their revenue, only to see what kind of creative ideas comes out of the budget process when people try to reach a crazy goal and to create some positive, creative energy in something – budget process – that is usually not very fun.

If creativity is the spice of life, how much creative inspiration do you need in your life to get you excited and motivated enough to get through the work week? If creativity is your mind flirting with you, how much flirting do you need to stay interested in your relationship with your mind?

Some people need a lot, some people get by on very little, but everyone – every human being – needs some kind of creative energy to stay excited, motivated and energised. 

As Richard Jager said to me. “I need some fun creative project. We all do, it motivates us. And when people are motivated (by a creative project giving them energy) they do better business.”

I asked Richard to end our talk by giving some advice as CEO for how to make sure that people get their creative flirts. He said, with a laugh:

“1) Get the right people

2) give them enough time and trust (and some money)

3) and then try to encourage some real crazy shit.”

4) And laugh about failure together in order to create safety

Creativity is a wonderful, powerful thing that makes the world better. That alone is a reason to invest in it. But the creative process is also, in itself, something beautiful. Few things light up a human being more than the feeling of having a great idea or the anticipation of getting ready to make a great idea come to life. When you realise that as a leader, you realise that encouraging creativity in our people is crucial for multiple reason.

As for yourself: Do you have enough creative projects in your life right now to trigger the creative energy that you need to be happy? If not, what are you going to do about it?




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