Barrie Bramley provides insight into how to harness the creativityof your team by creating crazy zones. This is one company’s story…
How do you get 90 employees to double their department’s contribution to the company within three years? If you know Neville Dunn then you may want to ask him.
Dunn is the Financial Director of CBW Holdings. CBW is part of the Massmart Group of which their business includes approximately 59 individually branded cash and carry stores throughout South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho and Botswana.
Dunn’s department is staffed by 90 employees. These include members of staff from two finance departments who are from the companies that merged to create the current business, a year before he arrived in 2002.
Dunn started where most people start, with his immediate reports, and a bosberaad with a difference in the Kwa-Zulu Natal Midlands. As the team worked through the big hairy audacious goal (BHAG) they’d been set, it was obvious that the only way to deliver would be to do something completely different. In fact by the end of the two days away, it was unanimously decided that they needed to do something crazy. Something completely crazy. They created the ‘Crazy Zone’.
For the ‘Crazy Zone’ is an innovative project which represents the space between the current reality and the future hoped for reality. Furthermore, it has since its inception, become the new nickname of the finance department, and by the end of 2005, is sure to deliver attitude, approach and action, resulting in the achievement of the BHAG that was originally set.
While working with Dunn and his team within the ‘Crazy Zone’, many principles have been unpacked and continue to be put into place. Some of which started out with and others that together, the team is continuing to discover along the way:
People must be rewarded for getting ‘crazy’
We began by asking people what they wanted? What would make them so ‘stoked’ that they could hardly wait to get into the office in the morning? Answers received among others: shorter hours, flexi-time, more money, development opportunities and a great working environment. Some wants haven’t been possible up to now, but this is not to say that these will be ignored or discarded. Says Dunn, ‚We’ve just had to work within the constraints of the current business environment. But it’s the principal of reward that’s been constant from the start and which we have embraced.‛
Working example’s most recent project with Dunn and his team has been an innovation process. Each idea generated has a direct financial reward attached to it, with the possibility of working with others to see the idea implemented and the potential to earn a portion of the income generated or saved over a 12-month period.
Some of the rewards have been a little unorthodox in nature. One of the first was a trip for everyone to Milky Lane for waffles, ice-creams and chocolate milkshakes. Dunn was openly mocked by his peers for undertaking something so ‘child-like’. However, this has since seen the birth of a ‘milky-theme’ that continues to this day. The monthly waffle, milky moments and cone-versations to mention just three.
Transparency and responsibility must increase
‚If the finance department could have achieved the kind of results we are aiming for, it would have done so before I arrived. We’ve got to get everyone participating in the Crazy Zone,‛ says Dunn who is hard at work trying to change the level of responsibility experienced by each and every individual. This means more access to more information so that employees can make more informed decisions regarding their work and personal life.
This has been especially difficult with an inherited legacy of an environment in which the dominant leadership style has been dictated by ‘command and control’. The innovation project has seen a refreshing and deliberate move away from these previously entrenched traditional structures, by opening up the innovation team to, ‚anyone who wants to be a part of driving creativity and innovation within the Crazy Zone.‛
Complete and almost fanatical discipline to finish what we started
Borrowing from a process Dunn has experienced within the broader Massmart context, coined the term ‘Saswitchian Discipline’ to describe the almost fanatical commitment to the process started within the Finance Department. Says Dunn, ‚There are some days when you feel like you’re going backwards, making absolutely no progress at all. Those are the days when you have to dig deep and re-commit to the process, believing that it has value and will ultimately result in Craziness.‛
Increased feedback and cone-versations
Linked very closely to the principle of transparency and responsibility, sit feedback and cone-versations. Remaining with the milky theme first introduced over waffles and ice-cream, worked with Dunn to create and establish a monthly report-back to the Crazy Zone. Results and all company news is now disseminated to everyone via a multi-media broadcast aptly named, the ‘monthly waffle’.
Drawing on’s experience of developing opportunities for opening conversation with other clients, as a means of sharing information and idea generation, we designed ‘cone-versations’ for the Crazy Zone. Funds were made available for ‘crazies’ to invite other ‘crazies’ for an ice-cream at a restaurant across the road from the office building. This being yet another step taken toward creating a culture which encourages employees to deliberately take time out to discuss their work and the broader business issues of the day.
A weekly question board was also erected, requesting feedback from the ‘Crazy Zone’ members. From inception, the tone and open door policy of the question board was set. Says Dunn, ‚We didn’t want to only ask the easy ‘feel good’ questions. We wanted to create a space where hard questions were asked, and where honest answers could be given.‛
The first question asked related to whether staff felt that their working environment had improved over the first three months of the Crazy Zone? A resounding ‘NO’ was given. A tough way to start. And while it was difficult for Dunn and his team to hear, this is a simple reminder that real change doesn’t happen over night. More encouragingly, it was at this very point when the team most wanted to give up, that we sat with Dunn and his team and talked through sticking to the process no matter what. And the ‘Saswitchian Discipline’ was born!
A crazy attitude that would lead to creativity and innovation
Creativity and innovation have been two of the main outcomes hoped for from the birth of the Crazy Zone. Our philosophy at has been that innovation needs a group of people. History shows us that the majority of great inventors never get their ideas to market. It seems inevitable that someone else will come along to help or steal the concept. There are just far too many stories of poor inventors and creative people.’s innovation model invites people to work in teams of no less than three individuals per team, understanding that there are different types of personalities needed to take a great idea from start to implementation. The more diverse (in terms of the innovation model employed) the composition of the team, the better the chances of success.
Again, like the payment for ideas concept, each successful step completed in the process of the innovation model means reward for the originators of the idea. Individuals are encouraged and rewarded to see their idea through to implementation and then benefit from their work, should the concept succeed.
However, the journey is far from over. Along with the Crazy Zone, we continue to work toward their BHAG. There have been plenty of set-backs along the way with each success, but with the ‘Saswitchian Discipline’ we continue to drive on toward the end goal.
It’s a victory that when attained, will be owned and belong to everyone who participated in the journey.
A quick round-up on the Crazy Zone

  • To get from where you are to where you want to be requires some degree of craziness.
  • You need to reward the outcomes you’re looking for.
  • Conversation and communication are key elements which need to be both nurtured and encouraged at all costs.
  • Commitment to and trust in the process is paramount.
  • Sometimes the people you want on the bus won’t get on. Look around, there are always others looking for a seat and ready to board the bus.
  • The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Barrie Bramley is the Chief Imagination Officer, as well as an ‘Organisational Alchemist’ at, a consultancy helping people and organisations make the transition to the connection economy.
Organisational Alchemy – Alchemists were the scientists of the ancient world. They sought to understand nature and the world of humanity. This understanding was then harnessed for the benefit of all creation. The greatest of the alchemists’ mythical ambitions / abilities was to turn lead into gold. The organisational alchemists work with clients to understand the nature of the environment within which they find themselves. This understanding is coupled with the group’s special knowledge regarding the world, life, creation, and humanity to craft and deliver solutions that will turn their ‘organisational lead’ into pure gold. is the brainchild of a group of highly professional, transformational consultants who are confidently navigating the rich streams of the ‚new‛ economy. They help make sense of the world in which we live, by developing frameworks that give conceptual and practical handles for individuals and organisations. These frameworks are delivered to clients through presentations, workshops and process consulting, with a focus on personalisation and edutainment. employs leading-edge thinking, packaged in readily accessible, stimulating and edutaining formats. By using the latest multi-media techniques, transformational presentation styles and superbly crafted content, is able to drive home the message and provide practical tools with immediate application for participants.

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