bMighty: How does creative thinking happen and why is it important?
Scott Berkun: A better, and simpler, question is how does thinking happen at all. Most people don't like to think -- it's much less work to borrow or buy thoughts someone has already thought up for you. Thinking is rare -- and sadly that's one of the main reason's it's important: Most of us depend on minority of people patient enough to get to the core of a problem or question before they pick a side. Good thinking trumps creative thinking -- they're both rare, but find me a good thinker, a good problem solver, and it'd be very hard to convince me how she's not creative, too.
bMighty: How can managers encourage creative thinking?
Berkun: Trusting people, allowing them to make mistakes as long as they learn from them. It's really quite simple when you see it done, but it's so rare, and against the punitive, perfection-obsessed mindset we're taught in America to put out faith in. Easy trick: take 4% of your annual budget. Every quarter, give 1% of your budget to the person with the most creative idea, as chosen by your team, to make a prototype. Can't afford 4%? Then do it with time. Give the winner a week, or a day off, to make that prototype. Can't afford a day a quarter? Then you can not afford creativity -- it is out of your managerial price range and it's time for you to change your budget, or stop pretending you care about creativity.
bMighty: How would you define a "bad" manager?
Berkun: Two criteria: 1) he fails and 2) people hate working for him. A mediocre manager meets one of these criteria. A good manager, none.
bMighty: What are the secrets of a good manager?
Berkun: Shhhh. Don't tell anyone. There are no secrets: if you actually follow any of the zillions of books out there on management, and do what they say instead of just thinking about it, you'll be an above average manager. We don't need secrets: We need self-aware managers who practice what they preach.
Tools Don't Fix Problems, Managers Do
bMighty: Are there tech tools you would recommend to help a manager succeed?
Berkun: Tools are rarely the cause of management problems. They don't fix them either: The person wielding the tool does. No tool makes an idiot wise, a liar honest, or a coward brave. There are fine tools out there, but the problems they solve are rarely strategic and are often symptoms not causes. When I see a project in trouble I don't ask, "What tools are you using?" I say, "Who is in charge? What have they done? What are they going to do?"
bMighty: What are the approaches to managing projects that you used during your time at Microsoft that work well for small and midsize businesses? What approaches don't?
Berkun: I believe in managing people. All projects are made of people. Their passions, complaints, skills, egos, loves, humors, fears -- the whole thing. Start with your team, understand their strengths, weakness, assets and liabilities, *as people*, and only then devise a plan. If you are people centric the size or domain of your business does not matter: If the VP thinks people first with his staff of 10, all of them will tend to do the same to their respective staffs of 10. I'm not saying I'd manage projects the same regardless of size -- there are scale effects -- but I am saying thinking people first never fails. You maximize people's contributions to your project when you demonstrate your willingness to engage them as people.
bMighty: Why did you start blogging?
Berkun: I'd been writing online for years. It's really just better tools for doing it. I started using Wordpress in 2005.
bMighty: How do you measure the success of your blog?
Berkun: Links and comments. I get a lot of traffic but I think traffic is overrated. Until someone links to something I wrote or leaves me a comment, even if it says "thanks" or "this wasn't horrible", I'm not convinced anyone read the whole thing. I'd definitely trade less traffic for more activity from the people who do visit.
bMighty: What's the best blog post you've written this year?
Berkun: Can't say as I have no idea how to define best -- do you? I can say the most popular is either "Asshole driven development" or "How to write a book" but in life the most popular thing is rarely the best.
bMighty: Other than your own, what blogs do think are "must reads" for business and technical decision makers?
Berkun: I can't think of a single blog that's a must read -- blogs tend to tease and provoke more than teach and engage -- they're more like intellectual appetizers than meals, you know? When I think of must reads I think of books - and I'd offer Drucker's Innovation and Entrepreneurship as a must read for anyone doing either. If you're into decisions, read Sources of Power by Klein -- it will be the best decision you've made in awhile.
Naomi Grossman is assistant editor of bMighty.com.