In the consumer goods distribution business, Glazer’s Distributors, a $3.8 billion (U.S.) company, hired maverick President and CEO Sheldon “Shelly” Stein in 2010 to make big changes.

This former investment banker’s challenge was to tackle opportunities from a new perspective to differentiate the brand amongst many old-line, family-owned dominant distributors. Glazer’s is now the fourth largest in its category.

“If I were starting from scratch, how would I do this … what is the best way to run this business?” was Stein’s first application of creative thinking when he took over. He stepped back, asked questions and moved away from the typical systems in his market, adding that many executives aren’t willing to “not know the answer.” Meaning you have to be willing to be wrong or naïve and entertain alternatives to your beliefs to harness creativity.

Stein shared his approach to fostering creativity, which has been profitable for the consumer-goods distributor:

  1. Make sure employees enjoy their job or they will spend their creative energy looking for another job.
  2. Have a “no jerk policy.” Everyone’s opinions have value. Leaders should not think they are too good to be wrong, no one should feel diminished or feel a lack of respect.
  3. Truly tie compensation to performance and reward for creative ideas. This is what changes behavior.
  4. Don’t penalize for mistakes. People aren’t willing to try new things when they are afraid.
  5. Aggressive is not a bad word. Embrace leaders who are constructively aggressive to spur creative outcomes.
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