Shortly after my arrival at the Iowa Lottery Headquarters, CEO Terry Rich warmly shook my hand and we casually walked to a conference room. For the next half hour, our conversation focused on creativity and innovation in the workplace.
Terry’s reputation for creativeness was launched in the early 1980s when the town leaders of Cooper, Iowa, (population 50) called their native son. They invited Terry back for their Centennial celebration. The town leaders said he was Cooper’s most famous person.
Right away, Terry joked and said “Well that’s why we need to adopt somebody else. We need to reach out to some ‘real’ famous people and adopt someone as our 51st citizen.” That’s when Terry wrote a news release and sent it to 44 media outlets.
At first, it was disappointing because 43 of the 44 news organizations declined to run the story. But, finally, one national wire service broke the story. As a result, the “Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” called Terry to invite him along with two others to be on the program. Johnny Carson had agreed to become the 51st citizen of Cooper.
For Terry, appearing on the Tonight Show was just the beginning of putting his creative juices to work for the betterment of others. He later went on to hit creative home runs at a variety of organizations including the Blank Park Zoo.
With that in mind, I wanted to know the secret to Terry’s creativity and his passion for innovation. What was his philosophy? Terry leaned back in his chair and began sharing his thoughts.
“I truly believe innovation is creativity put into practice. You have to take risks and learn from your failures. If an idea fails, you’ve finally taken the appropriate risk,” said Terry. “At the Iowa Lottery, I encourage people to be innovative. People need to know it is okay to dare to dream, dare to act and the role that failure plays in innovation. It’s important to me that everyone can give ideas and they are considered.
“That’s why I started putting ‘COT’ in my email subject lines to employees. COT stands for ‘Consider or Toss.’ Too many times, when people receive an email suggestion from their CEO then they immediately jump into action without considering alternatives. Iowa Lottery employees know when they receive an email from me with COT in the subject line that it’s merely an idea or suggestion. They are empowered to consider other options or simply toss the message. It’s that freedom to embrace or decline an idea that helps drive innovation in our workplace,” stated Terry.
We’re lucky to have Terry as a CEO in central Iowa. Just as athletes have a deep passion for their sports, he has a deep passion for innovation. It is a cornerstone of Terry’s business drive and a core element of his personality.