Archive for January, 2011

We’ve all been there: staring at a blank sheet of paper with a blank mind. Out of ideas. A bit panicked.

Yet the last thing we consider at desperate times like this, is to take a break. Go for a walk. Do something physical.

Next time, make it one of the first things you consider. Ideas often lie just beneath the surface. Like good coffee, they need to percolate—bubble up from the subconscious. So going for a walk, with the intention of solving a problem or getting unstuck, might be just what the doctor orders.

Think for a moment when you get your most creative—and often most random—ideas. When you’re exercising, taking a shower, driving…when you’re doing anything but thinking about your issue.

Many of us are kinetic thinkers. We have to move around to free up our flow of ideas. Try going to the zoo with a problem in mind. Look to the animals for inspiration on ideas for solving the problem. Take a bike ride to a pre-determined destination. Have a topic you want to consider as you ride. When you get to the destination meditate further on the topic. When you get home, write down everything you considered (if you’re afraid you’ll forget something, take a note pad and pen with you.)

Some communities even have a public labyrinth to walk. A creativity colleague of mine, Janice Francisco, has written about the use of a labyrinth as a creativity tool (A Creative Walker’s Guide to the Labyrinth, available through Amazon and Lulu). Unlike a maze, a labyrinth has a set pattern leading to the center and back out. If you enter the labyrinth with a thought about an idea or issue you want to solve, the walking of the labyrinth will help surface new ideas.

Please share examples of activities you use to break through your creativity logjam.

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If you haven’t seen this yet, go to thefuntheory.com. This is a brilliant initiative by Volkswagen “dedicated to the thought that something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behavior for the better.” You’ll see a video on how one team made it fun for people to take the stairs rather than the escalator. Another video focuses on how to make going the speed limit fun. And there are a host of other videos featuring incredibly creative ideas for introducing fun into not-so-fun aspects of our lives.

My challenge to you is this: next time you’re planning an initiative that requires someone to do something, ask the question: How can we make it fun?

This is one of those questions that dramatically shifts thinking from coercion strategies (how do we make someone do this?) to attraction strategies (how do we make someone want to do this?). You might be surprised at the wonderful ideas that come to you by engaging The Fun Theory.

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Maybe nothing. But in selecting my workout this morning on an elliptical trainer, I was presented with the following options: Manual, Interval, Rolling, Fat Burn, Random, Heart Rate, and Constant Watts. So I started thinking, as is my want during mindless workouts, what does the choice of workout mean about me and my leadership style?

If I choose manual, does it mean I am a command and control leader?

If I choose Interval, Rolling or Constant Watts, does it mean I want to know what’s coming—no surprises? Does that make me a good manager? A Six Sigma expert? More interested in the process than the outcome?

If I decide on Fat Burn or Heart Rate, does that make me more goal oriented? Am I a leader who will establish objectives and metrics, and then work hard to achieve them?

And what about random? Does it mean that I prefer the chaos of not knowing what’s coming next? Am I creative leader remaining open to the ideas of others and making order out of chaos?

All are predictable except Random, which is, well, random.

For the record, I chose Random.

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According to George Land’s Theory of Transformation in his book Grow or Die, every organization goes through the same S-Curve. This happens over time as things grow in complexity.

The S-Curve begins with a dip as the organization enters the invention phase. Here, the business uses creativity to explore what’s possible and make sense of the chaos of starting up.

The first breakpoint

Once the initial challenges are resolved and things begin to work, the first break point is reached and the organization moves into the improvement phase. Here, growth of the organization is managed as adaptive creativity is used to modify and improve products and processes.

The second breakpoint

Because complexity continues to grow outside of the organization—new technology, new competition, new trends—the improvement phase must give way to re-invention, using creativity to drive the innovation to become relevant again in the new complexity. This is an exciting, yet difficult time for many organizations because it requires another dip—more chaos, less certainty. Often there is an urge to go back to the old ways, which is, in reality, a path to obsolescence and eventually the end.

Where is your organization on the S-Curve? How do you access the creativity required to grow?

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According to a 2010 IBM survey of more than 1,500 CEOs, creativity is the most important leadership skill—more than rigor, management discipline, integrity or even vision.

As someone whose personal mission it is to help individuals and teams reach potential through their creativity, I read a lot of business articles focusing on creativity, but see few businesses with formal training or processes for nurturing creativity within their organization.

Why is that? I believe the elephant in the room is fear.

  • Fear of Failure
  • Fear of Success
  • Fear of Change
  • Fear of Costs
  • Fear of Confrontation
  • Fear of Losing Authority
  • Fear of Losing Identity
  • Fear of No Longer Being “The Smartest Person in the Room”
  • Fear of Not Being Creative
  • Fear of Not Knowing How
  • Fear of Taking On Yet Another Another Process
  • Fear of Taking Too Much Time
  • Fear of the Unknown
  • Please, add your own ______________________

I don’t mean to minimize these fears. Some are real issues. But in the world of creativity, issues are not barriers; they’re problems to solve. And each of these issues have good solutions to help mitigate the fears.

So the even bigger question, which I will discuss in my next post is, what happens if we aren‘t creative.

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You hear them being dropped in casual complaint at the water cooler. They’re discussed ad nauseam in meetings. Often they’re imagined but never articulated. In most organizations, there is no shortage of new ideas. What’s often missing is an on-ramp to get them into the system so they can be considered. Process improvement ideas by those working the process…marketing ideas by those who sell…a new business idea by the receptionist—a new idea can come from anyone at any time. Unfortunately, most company suggestion boxes empty into the company shredder.

The rise of the Chief Innovation Officer?

Recently, I’ve seen a couple of senior level job openings for someone to facilitate the research, vetting, planning and implementation of new ideas that come from within the organization. These companies enable their idea champions to take their new thinking beyond the water cooler to someone who might help them do something with it. These companies value their employees’ ideas. They’re open to exploration and committed to innovation. They have built an on-ramp for the new ideas, knowing that while the road may be bumpy at times, it will lead to a promising future.

Will the Chief Innovation Officer be a trend? Could it be an outsourced position? I’ll be watching closely to see how these companies do.

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The word transformational is as over-hyped in the business world as superstar is in the sporting and entertainment worlds. Programs, initiatives and products described as transformational are often useful or insightful, but rarely do they fundamentally change the way we live our lives. The computer and Internet are transformational; a new supply chain strategy or tracking system may not be. So when I talk about the study of the science of creativity as being transformational, I do not use that term lightly.

As a copywriter and Creative Director, I practiced creativity on a daily basis for years. However, I didn’t understand it until I began studying at the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State. Here, I learned what I had always done intuitively, but never deliberately or to my fullest potential. My study of creativity fundamentally changed the way I approach my work and personal relationships to enable creativity in myself and others.

Now, I defer judgment. I look for what I like about an idea. I see issues as problems to solve not as brick wall barriers. I stop choosing my first ideas and generate many ideas before deciding. I imagine what is possible, then figure out how to get there.

These are just some of the transformational elements of creativity I write about on this blog. They were new and valuable to me as a professional “creative,” so I assume they will be new and valuable for those who want creativity in their lives and innovation in their business.

The science of creativity transformed me, but will it transform you?

In my consulting work facilitating groups through strategic planning, I’ve seen teams get turned on by the creative process. I’ve felt the energy. I’ve documented their breakthrough plans. And I often hear that they continue to use some of the tools and rules I introduce to them. But as a consultant, I’m there and then gone. Will the transformation continue? Perhaps for some. Others go back to the way they operate by default.

What makes one person open to the creative process, while others remain relatively unaffected? And how might an organization transform if it commits to the creative process? Hopefully, as I continue to teach and learn, these answers will become clear.

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Rich Hill, a fine organizational development consultant from Gabriel Consulting Group in Geneva, Illinois, introduced me to the concept of attitudes in the workplace. He would ask where we stood on the hierarchy of being a Generator, a Good Soldier, Grudgingly Compliant, Actively Resistant or Resigned. The Generators are proactive, leading the direction of the company. The Good Soldiers are participative and help get things done. The Grudgingly Compliant are slow to adapt, the actively Resistant are disruptive and the resigned just go through the motions.

This hierarchy can be a helpful tool for those who honestly assess their attitudes at work and can identify a higher role to which they aspire.

I’ve also discovered a counter-intuitive insight. When looking for those who can make the most significant contributions to an organization, a surprisingly strong candidate is often the Actively Resistant. By being actively resistant, at least there is the passion and emotion of a Generator. The challenge for the leader, then, is to listen to the Actively Resistant, consider their objections and use them to strengthen the organization. When I lead teams through planning, I encourage them to invite the naysayers, because they can make the plan stronger with their different perspectives and provide the passion to generate new thinking.

What insights do you get from this hierarchy of attitudes?

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Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton wrote about the Knowing-Doing Gap 11 years ago. Invaluable concept for explaining why the business world is full of companies with great ideas, yet they never get their plans implemented.

So what drives implementation? And what enables us to leap the Gap after Knowing-Doing—that between Doing and Being—when Doing becomes an unconscious skill and part of the organization’s DNA.

I’ve identified five drivers in helping my clients leap those gaps—perhaps none earth-shattering, but each plan-shattering if not honored.

  1. Get the Right People at the Table. If you want a plan to be implemented, make sure that those who must implement are part of the planning process. There’s no quicker way to kill a plan than to hand it to someone to implement who has had no input or buy-in to the plan.
  2. Prioritize and Mobilize. Assign Champions and Sponsors for the initiatives and provide them with the appropriate resources for implementation. Choose a short list of doable tasks for early wins and momentum.
  3. Report Progress. Report regularly using the metrics agreed upon in the plan. Provide a reporting structure that reaches the right people the appropriate number of times in a variety of ways to keep them engaged in the plan. Make sure to celebrate success.
  4. Continuous Improvement. Within the governance structure, also include a time and place for problem solving to help get people unstuck. Remember, even the best plan is organic—circumstances change, often growing more complex—so continuous improvement is a critical step.
  5. The Communications Loop. One of the biggest threats to implementation is a lack of communication. Motivation to implement in anonymity or a vacuum can be weak at best. By keeping all stakeholders informed and engaged, you treat the plan with the importance it requires. Good communications techniques can give energy and momentum to motivate plan implementation.

Done consistently, these five implementation drivers eventually becomes, “the way we do it around here.” From Knowing to Doing To Being.

What other strategies do you have for driving implementation?

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If you live or work in an urban area with tall buildings and cold winter months, you probably couldn’t miss the relatively recent phenomenon of signs on the sidewalk that say, Caution Falling Ice. Sound advice at the face of it, but upon further review, not a very effective piece of communications.

Inherent in good persuasive communications are three elements summarized as follows:

What. So what. Now what.

Like many signs (Stop and Exit for example) Caution Falling Ice is clear about the “what” of the message—there just might be ice falling from the buildings. The “so what” of the message is understood intuitively—you certainly don’t want to get hit. But unlike Stop and Exit, Caution Falling Ice does not provide a good “now what.” What are we suppose to do? Look up for falling ice? First of all, we probably wouldn’t see it till too late. Secondly, without watching where we were going, we would run into a pole or some other poor sap looking up. Cross the street, you suggest? The same signs are over there. Walk in the middle of the street? Obviously that won’t work. Taken seriously, these signs create unintended and disastrous consequences.

I’m sure the building owner must see this as liability protection, though if the only alternative is to find the Northwest Passage to your destination, it hardly seems like fair warning.

Perhaps there are better ways to solve the liability problem. Designate a safe path…build an overhang to catch falling ice…install heaters to prevent ice from falling…or something better. But short of that, don’t tell me to be cautious of falling ice. I’d rather take the chance of not knowing what hit me.

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