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In the corporate world, being creative does not mean staring off into space and dreaming up well intentioned, yet far-fetched ways to save the world. Instead, the CEOs of two major corporations defined creativity in the workplace as hard work that is made better and more effective by creative thinking on the job.
“Creativity is intrinsic to human nature,” said John Mackey (pictured), Co-CEO of Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market. “Business can be highly creative and interested in beauty and art.”
He cited companies like Apple Inc., which has made a fortune designing functional and aesthetically pleasing must-have technology items such as the iPod, iPhone and iPad.
Mackey was joined by Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy Corp., at the first Oklahoma Creativity Forum Nov. 1 in Norman. Some 1,200 people attended the one-day event that included talks, performances, breakout sessions and a chance to visit and socialize with others looking to breed creativity in Oklahoma.
While Chesapeake and Whole Foods have different corporate cultures, and different goals, where the two CEOs see eye-to-eye is in encouraging their employees to bring new ideas to the table without fear of shun or retribution.
Mackey said some major companies over the years made it a practice to regularly fire employees to keep everyone on their toes. Rather than breed loyalty, he said those practices foster fear and encourage employees to keep their heads down – and keep their ideas to themselves. At Whole Foods, many decisions are made by small teams within the stores.
“We encourage our people to bring their whole selves to the workplace,” he said.
In his remarks, Mackey stressed principles he believes in strongly, such as purpose, innovation and love in his corporate culture.
McClendon said he does not always love what his employees do, and drew laughs when he said he would love for some of his employees to work harder. But in the big picture, he does love each of his 12,000 employees and wants to help them succeed within Chesapeake and to feel that someone cares about their ideas. Not all ideas are winners, but there are no penalties for trying, he said.
In a visit to the metro area three weeks after the first Whole Foods opened in Oklahoma City, Mackey pulled back the curtain to discuss the core values at the natural grocery chain.
Although he can’t throw his arms around all 64,000 Whole Foods employees in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada, Mackey values everyone who puts on a Whole Foods apron and begins work at one of his stores.
One group of employees in Northern California decided to start a tasting room in a Whole Foods store for craft beers. The idea caught on and other stores followed suit. Mackey said that is just one example of a creative idea at a store that could move forward without the approval of a chain of bureaucracy.
“We have found that this unleashes creativity,” he said.
Transparency is also key to the way Whole Foods does business. Mackey said the store is transparent about its practices even if information ends up in the hands of competitors.
“There’s a tendency in our company to over-disclose,” he said.
McClendon, the landlord for Whole Foods across the street from the Chesapeake campus, said the store has been a great success, and a much-needed and welcome addition to the city.
In recent years, McClendon said he made a wish list for Oklahoma City. While he has been able to scratch many items off the list – getting an NBA team, seeing a huge office tower built downtown and the University of Oklahoma Sooners defeating the Texas Longhorns in football – there was one thing missing.
“We didn’t have a really great grocery store,” he said.