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Are you creative?

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As part of global pharmaceutical giant Glaxo Wellcome's executive development programme, leaders are finding new ways to release their own potential and generate creative climates for staff.

This case looks at a 'storyboard' exercise used to encourage creativity and an exercise to create supportive work climates which are both used in the company's programme. This supportive toolkit is aiding Glaxo Wellcome's executives to help its staff reach their full potential.

Developing an entrepreneurial and innovative culture at Glaxo Wellcome

How do companies that are responding to a major shift in their market prepare for their future? How do you release the potential of all your employees and generate climates of self-renewal? What are the links between personal growth and organizational transformation?

Creating an entrepreneurial and innovative culture at Glaxo Wellcome is critical to our business strategy. We are a research-based health care corporation. The company seeks to find innovative medicines that will improve quality of life; since 1990, 30 per cent of its revenue has come from new products; it invested £1.2 billion in research and development in 1997. As a result of this investment, Glaxo Wellcome aims to increase R&D productivity threefold to produce 20 new compounds from exploratory research each year, leading to the launch of three significant new products annually.

The company is already recognized as the international leader for developing novel treatments for gastrointestinal disease, viral diseases such as HIV/AIDS and respiratory diseases, particularly asthma. Around the world Glaxo Wellcome scientists are researching better treatments in the areas of anasthesia, anti-infectives, cardiovascular/critical care, CNS, cancer and metabolic diseases such as diabetes.

But as we move into the 21st Century, advances in the drug discovery process will lead to paradigm shifts in the way that medicines of value will be available to society. To prepare for this paradigm shift, Glaxo Wellcome has invested in developing its top team of 300 senior leaders.

One component of the development programme is to support leaders to find new ways of releasing their own potential and generating creative climates.

The company perceived the need to transform in order to maintain its position as the world's leading health care company. Glaxo Wellcome's market dominating products such as Zantac and Zovirax have been moving out of patent protection since 1990; new products are now deriving 30 per cent of income.

There have been the inevitable challenges associated with rapid growth in the past few years. The issues raised by the large scale merger between Glaxo and Wellcome are still being resolved, the tendency for a wealthy company to breed slack and complacency needed to be challenged, and a strong devolved operating philosophy needed to be integrated to cope with the need to respond globally. There was a strong desire to build a distributed entrepreneurial and innovative culture, a culture that would encourage transfer of learning, the creation of new knowledge, and the sharing of experience for economies and global benefit.

Generating uncertainty…the classroom experience

Transformation is simulated in the classroom environment, and participants return to find their environment has changed. Roundtables have been replaced with open space, background music is played and the participants are invited to explore their creativity.

An experiential session is offered for senior leaders to experience uncertainty. I encourage the group to try something that they react against - to use the safety of the learning environment to venture into new territory, to experience uncertainty to test their limiting perceptions.

"There was a strong desire to build a distributed entrepreneurial and innovative culture, a culture that would encourage transfer of learning, the creation of new knowledge, and the sharing of experience for economies and global benefit."

The creativity session is led using co-facilitation by an External Facilitator and the author. Both have worked with the group as team coaches for eight days and, most importantly, both are credible and trusted by participants.

Using Dennis Postle's hierarchy of learning modes, the participants are invited to think about their own creative moments from both a cognitive and emotional place (Figure 1). In smaller groups they share experience and look for patterns and open their minds to new concepts of generative climates.

After the large group session, a series of creativity exercises are offered with support; participants are encouraged to try something they initially thought was not their forté. All of the creativity exercises are designed to allow participants to generate new knowledge; some people choose to work on their work problems, others prefer to look creatively at one of their personal development goals.

Just one of the exercises, 'Storyboard', illustrates a change a participant would like to make. Its objectives are to:

  • Help you to express your future ambition
  • Allow you to see the gap between current and future state
  • Enable you to generate some transitional steps
  • Tap into your subconscious wisdom

Participants find a space, often a table outdoors – from there a facilitator supports the process. Step one is to draw a picture of the future in box 6. You then go back to box 1 and capture how thing are today. Transition steps are drawn in boxes 2-5 (Figure 2).

I have used the storyboard technique with many groups who are undergoing significant change. After the storyboards are complete, participants are invited to share their hopes, dreams and aspirations. With intact teams, groups can see what they have in common and what is different. For individuals, the exercise usually helps them to discover meaningful ways of determining transitional steps towards the future - it appears less daunting.

Other exercises include guided imagery - participants are taken through a relaxing process to tranquil music and then given the opportunity to take themselves on an imagined walk through a beautiful garden. At the end of the imagined walk, they look at a problem and access their subconscious; coloured pens and paper are available to help them capture their thoughts.

One recent participant said: "I achieved in 20 minutes what I estimated would take me two days to do."

The day ends with the coach in small home groups to allow time for reflection comparing and contrasting experiences generating creative climates.

A large plenary session of 28 participants opens the second part on the next day. After a short dialogue to share lessons leant from the creativity exercise, participants begin to explore what this means from a systemic perspective, what process supports generative climates. A collaborative inquiry is initiated with participants opting to explore questions that they care about (Figure 3).


It is tough for the executives to realize the impact they have on the creative ability of their employees. The goal of Glaxo Wellcome's executive development programme is to equip executives with a new toolkit for their return to work to support them as they seek to release the full potential of their people.

'Using experience for learning'

Figure 1 - Dennis Postle's 'Using experience for learning'



Figure 2 - Storyboard

Exploration of what process supports generative climates would involve the following questions:

  • How can you create and embed generative climates within Glaxo Wellcome?
  • What is the downside of too much creativity?
  • What do we need to do to build a learning organization?
  • How can we understand the dreams and fears of our people and truly release their potential
  • How can we, as leaders, support creativity, self-actualization, self-renewal and prevent atrophy?

Figure 3 - Generative climates

This article was originally published in the Journal of Knowledge Management Volume 2 Number 1.

The author was Sue Godfrey, Executive Development Manager at Glaxo Wellcome.