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Archive for January, 2011

I recently received an email from the International Center for Studies in Creativity reminding students of the one-year anniversary of the passing of Dr. Mary Murdock. She was the professor for my first class in the science of creativity and change leadership. She taught me many things that stick with me today; yet, in one quick moment, she said one thing that framed perfectly a most productive approach to tackling any challenge. She said, “There are two kinds of problems: those that can be solved and those that don’t matter.”

Once you acknowledge that, excuses for not solving a problem go away.

So I use this quote when I facilitate teams through strategic planning as a signal not to shy away from a challenge, no matter how insurmountable it seems or how long it has been around—particularly if it’s solution is necessary to achieving your goals. More than once this has helped us identify and tame a rogue elephant in the room.

Please share the wise words of one of your teachers. I believe it’s a wonderful way to spread the legacy of our very best educators.

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I saw a proposed vision for a Health System the other day that got me to thinking: Why aren’t corporate missions, visions and values more in tune with the brand and brand experience? Is it because missions, visions and values are crafted behind closed doors in the boardroom, while the brand is the domain of the marketing department?

Perhaps marketers understand that customers don’t care about an uninspiring mission or vision, so why connect them to the brand? And who tells the employees that when they practice organizational values in serving the mission that they’re actually defining the brand experience for the customer? Who is connecting the dots?

The proposed vision I saw was this. Locally based…exceptional healthcare.

Now I do admire it for its simplicity. And I understand that a lot of conversation, I’m sure rich with emotion, went into that statement. But frankly, it tastes a bit Vanilla to me. What health system wouldn’t say that? I’m not inspired.

So I ask, shouldn’t a vision be aspirational to make the brand inspirational? Wouldn’t employees and patients alike respond to a brand with a vision of making their area the healthiest in the country by 2020. And how might that drive the brand experience? Sure, it would require the organization to be creative in its metrics. But we know, what gets measured gets done.

I think mission, vision and values should be more than informational. They should be transformational. And they should drive the brand experience.

Now that inspires me.

Where have you seen a disconnection between mission/vision/values and the brand? What do you think the barriers are to integration? I’d love to hear from you.

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My father had a great sense of humor, so it’s something I’ve always valued and to which I aspire. When I sit in meetings, I’m often the guy throwing out funny, silly or sometimes stupid quips. This is my way of introducing play into my work. It keeps me engaged in the conversation. Mostly, it keeps the meetings light; on a few occasions, I imagine it may annoy some.

A funny thing happened once I began facilitating teams through planning and innovation workshops. I noticed several people around the table who would throw out ideas that made everyone laugh. It added energy to the session and a certain competitiveness for the next laugh. Ideas came quicker. The session became fun, not work. And one more big surprise: there was almost always a good idea amidst the laughter—if someone stopped to think about it.

For example, a team was trying to come up with ways to pay for a new initiative it had developed. Ideas came rapid fire:  cut other parts of the budget…shop for low-cost providers…increase prices to cover the costs…hold an event to raise the funds. Then someone said, “Get someone else to pay for it.” Well, the room erupted in laughter. Then someone said, “What if we went to our partners, who want to get in front of the same people we reach, and told them we could market their company even beyond the value of what they pay us?” You can imagine where the conversation went from there.

Blair Miller, a Chicago creativity guru, once told me that it’s easier to tame a wild idea than to give energy to a boring one. He’s right. Ideas that evoke emotion are ones that move people. Laughter signals an idea that has that energy. Stop to mine the ideas that make you laugh for the gold contained within.

Anyone with a similar story?

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For most of us, it’s easier to find what’s wrong with an idea than it is to find something good about it. On some levels, it’s the way our brains are wired. It’s also a quick way to show off our “expertise.” We all know experts who sit in meetings and shoot down every idea as if it were a clay pigeon. I call this the smartest-person-in-the-room syndrome. However, three powerful treasures await those who make the extra effort to first say what they like about an idea.

1. It shows respect for your colleagues and honors their thinking, making negative feedback easier to hear and increasing their respect for you.

2. It forces you to get out of your own mental framework and consider another perspective, which will forever expand your thinking.

3. It often leads to different and better ideas, as well as a culture that enables creativity and innovation.

I know the benefits of first finding what’s right about an idea from personal experience. As an advertising creative director, I always thought it was my job to come up with “the idea,” so it was easy to tell colleagues what was wrong with their ideas. Once I changed my feedback to what I liked about an idea before I killed it, I found it was usually easy to fix what I thought was wrong in the first place. My colleague’s fragile idea lived, it was improved, and often better than my idea.

Ultimately, without the smartest person in the room, the creative output of the team improved significantly.

Do you have any smartest person in the room war stories?

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This year, I’m going to go from social media spectator to participant. I have had a Facebook  and LinkedIn pages, which I use, but are not fully leveraged. I have a heretofore dormant Twitter account (follow me @dgreenberger). My blog, as you can see, hasn’t been all that active (one post every year probably isn’t going to cut it). I must admit this is daunting to see how I might leverage social media to build my own e-brand so that I can tell clients how to build theirs. There is so much information out there, and catching up seems like a full time job. I will keep it simple in the beginning. Ask for feedback, ideas and direction. And try to balance my two goals of learning and building a personal e-brand as a leader in creativity and change leadership (which, as I think about it, are actually quite compatible). If you are interested in becoming a participant rather than a spectator in social media, join me and we’ll learn together. If you have been at this for awhile, help guide us. I’m eager to see where this might lead us.

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