Don't confuse this exercise with homework. The Creative Priority is a beautifully written and gripping organizational detective story. The drama begins in 1979, when Hirshberg, a young hotshot car designer working for General Motors, receives a call from a recruiter for Nissan Motor Corp., which wants him to create a world-class design facility in the United States. Thinking it over, Hirshberg realizes this is not just another job offer. It's the chance to build from scratch a radically different type of business.
Since the early days of the Industrial Revolution, after all, businesses have been organized to maximize efficiency. Although they may recognize the value of creativity, they tend to treat it as an ancillary activity--something to be encouraged away from work, in retreatlike settings. But what would happen, Hirshberg wonders, if creativity itself were to become the organizing principle of a business? Could you enhance performance in the traditional areas of concern--quality, productivity, sales--by organizing all of a business's resources around the goal of sustained creativity and innovation?
Hirshberg thinks so. He accepts the offer and launches Nissan Design International (NDI), which becomes a kind of organizational laboratory that explores the author's theories, while turning out an impressive body of design work. (Among other things, NDI goes on to produce the design for the original Pathfinder.)
Along the way, Hirshberg and his colleagues discover 11 key strategies for fostering and sustaining what he calls the creative priority. They include concepts like creative abrasion (using internal friction as a source of creative energy) and hiring in divergent pairs (recruiting with a focus on the character of the group being formed, rather than trying to find the best person for the job). The strategies are both fascinating and immensely practical for those who work in idea-intensive environments--and who doesn't these days?
And yet, in the end, what makes The Creative Priority so compelling is not so much its insights into the nature of organizations as its implications for the people who run them. In an era when intellectual capital is the only source of sustainable competitive advantage, the leader's role is to create a work environment that can attract and keep the most creative and knowledgeable employees and consistently draw out the best in them. The 15-year odyssey chronicled in Hirshberg's book suggests that the person at the top can have the greatest impact not by managing, coaching, selling, strategizing, or deal making, but through design--the design of work itself. -INC.