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Archive for the ‘Creativity and Innovation’ Category

The following is a recent article I wrote with my friend and colleague, Yosef Meged

Supportive parenting study provides insight for a turbulent business environment

In a recent article in The Atlantic entitled, How Supportive Parenting Protects the Brain[1], author, Olga Khazan reports on research showing that children with mothers who smile and offer frequent support during early childhood development were healthier physically, emotionally and cognitively than children with mothers who were focusing on their own stress, insecurity or distraction during their child’s formative years.

In a workplace, business leaders might take a lesson from Khazan’s article. As leader, cue yourself to focus on the development of others in order to help them engage and your company to thrive.

Supportive leadership and the care and nurturing of new ideas.

Supportive leadership comes from your deep seated understanding that your team is the driver of all your innovation; they are literally the future of your business.

Even with the promise of revitalization and transformation, a newborn idea is often so fragile and helpless that it never survives its first formative moments. It’s no wonder; creativity is intuitive and messy. Rarely does a powerful new idea come out as a perfectly formed solution. In fact, when asked about his creative process, Albert Einstein responded, “How do I work? I grope.”

Yet, how many times have you been in meetings when a self-proclaimed expert mows down every new idea with a reason why it can’t be done? And while good critical thinking is certainly valuable, it’s best applied after an idea has had a chance to breathe and mature.

In other words, you aren’t the smartest person in the room just because you know why something won’t work. The smartest person sees if there is a workable element in an idea and helps the team bring that forward so the idea can work.

Two easy tools for raising healthy and productive ideas

Tool One:   When you hear any new idea, say: What I like about your idea is…

Do this before you mention any of the idea‘s weaknesses—even if the idea doesn’t seem to be immediately workable. Look for value in the purpose or intention of the idea. Or focus on a aspect of the idea that intrigues you. Or consider how the idea might change the way you look at the issue.

 Here are three reasons why dismissing a new idea without first considering its merits is so limiting:

  1. Your initial reaction might be fraught with faulty assumptions, a narrow frame of reference or incomplete knowledge of the situation. By looking for what’s right about an idea, you are opening yourself to something new.
  2. Fundamental to creativity is forging new connections between previously unrelated ideas. By looking for what’s right with an idea, you might make connections that lead your team in unimagined directions.
  3. Who wants to offer new ideas to Dr. No? People want to work with those who help them be successful. They look for visionaries, not obstructionists and know-it-alls.

Tool Two: After you’ve said what you like about an idea, then turn any remaining issues into problems to solve.

For example, the next time you’re tempted to say something like, we can’t do that because we can’t fund it, turn that issue into a problem to solve:

Ask, instead, how might we fund this initiative?

But don’t stop there, keep the discussion moving by asking the same question in a variety of ways and allow time for solutions to bubble up:

  • In what ways might we reduce the cost?
  • How might we make it affordable?
  • How can we find the money to pay for it?
  • What might be ways we get it for free?
  • How can we find a partner to pay for it?

Here’s what happens when you pose your issues with an idea as problems to solve.

  • You encourage discussion among your team. Maybe you will discover that while you might be missing a key piece of information or insight to make the idea workable, someone else on your team might have that key.
  • You find your questions lead to breakthrough thinking your team would never have explored otherwise.

Of course, after all this, you and your team still might determine that the idea wasn’t workable, but, as a supportive leader, you will have shown respect for the person who offered it, and left open an inviting door for future ideas. This is key to a healthy, innovative workplace.

In the end, supportive leadership, like supportive parenting, requires a shift from a “me focus” to a “you focus” with colleagues and their ideas. And much like a proud parent, you’ll be able to enjoy your colleagues’ achievements and the thriving growth of your business.

Dan Greenberger is a creativity and innovation facilitator and trainer who lives in Highland Park, IL. You can contact Dan at dan@gpscreative.com.

Yosef Meged is a business and personal coach working with individuals, families and businesses. Yosef lives in the United States and Israel. You can reach him at yosefmeged18@gmail.com.

[1] http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/06/how-supportive-parenting-protects-the-brain/373496/

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The expert who won't consider other opinions may cease to be the expert.

The expert who won’t consider other opinions may cease to be the expert.

Who doesn’t love to be the expert? You get to draw on all your experience to make sure mistakes you’ve seen don’t get repeated. You get to recommend best practices that you’ve known to work before.

A good expert can help an organization avoid a lot of mistakes.

An expert can also help an organization avoid valuable new learning that could lead to better, more innovative solutions.

An expert might have blind spots that prevent ideas better suited to current circumstances than a previous best practice.

So wear your hat of an expert high and proud—high enough to still see and hear other ideas. Secure enough to consider them before you decide they aren’t a new best practice.

Before you pass your judgment, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What’s different about this organization right now that might require an innovative solution?
  2. What is the context that a colleague might be using to frame a new idea, and what can I learn from that point-of view?
  3. Is the problem we’re trying to solve different than the best practice I would recommend?

Keep an open mind, respect the ideas of others, promote a learning organization, and instead of an expert’s hat, you might find that it’s the mantle of a leader that you’re now wearing.

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When was the last time you talked about a sandwich shop that served toasted sandwiches? Or featured artisan breads? Or delivered freaky fast?

What'sYourMission

Those might make good advertising stories, but not particularly compelling stories to share with friends.

I share my sandwich shop’s story. It’s about a mission to feed each and every person who walks through its doors with dignity regardless of the customer’s means.  I tell of Panera Bread’s community cafes where payment is optional and amount is discretionary.

How do they make money? What a cool company? How does that work? My friends get engaged in this story.

I like the food at Panera, but there are plenty of other good restaurants, choices. I would consider Panera to be a commodity if it weren’t for its mission. Instead, it’s where I go.

It’s the same for employees.  Without a mission that engages them—that gives them a story they’re proud to share with friends—the company they work for is just a commodity until the next better job comes along. Those who feel part of a company’s mission are less likely to leave.

Find your mission, separate from profit, and you’ll attract a fan base that will elevate your company from just a commodity to a brand.

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A Happy and Creative New Year

My first ever sonnet

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My random act of art.

Okay, this may not be the freshest concept, but it’s fresh to me and an important challenge for all.

Let me start with a story. Earlier this week a friend of mine sent an email out announcing Sunday, May 20th as Random Act of Art Day at a local beach. He said anyone who wanted to come should show up at 7 am (an inspiring time indeed at the beach, but not necessarily for getting up on a Sunday morning). My friend had no plan other than to create something. He went on to write that he didn’t know who would show up or how long he’d be there.

While it sounded like a romantic idea, I wasn’t quite prepared to commit. To my credit, I did set my alarm early enough to get there at 7:15 or so. But then my iPad was waiting at bedside to check my email, and perhaps I failed to mention that May 20th is my birthday—this year marking the beginning of a new decade. So I had to check Facebook to see which of my high school friends wake up early to send their birthday wishes (maybe actually condolences because they are as old as me.)

Finally, around 8:45, I decided to ride my bike to the beach, just to see how they were doing with the art. I was ready to rock. After meandering around looking for the right road that led to the beach, I finally arrived at around 9:15 am. No one was there. I saw no art. But I did notice the beach was still an inspiring spot even at that slightly later time in the morning. I was determined to create something, myself.

I soon settled on writing a message in the sand, ala the old “Kilroy was here.” But as I looked for the rocks with which to spell out my message, it evolved from “I was here” to “I am here.” At 60 years old, nowhere near finished with my life, my learning, my contributions, I found myself on a beach proclaiming my existence. I had created art in the form of a spiritual moment. A moment for me to remember. A story to share.

I think within all great art are moments both for the creator and for those who appreciate the art.

A group of five or six people from the neighborhood walked down to the beach while I was spelling out my moment. They asked me what I was doing and I started my explanation of Random Acts of Art Day rather sheepishly. But I gained steam as I went on with my story. I did so because it was my moment, and they were now part of it. They seemed sufficiently satisfied with my explanation. My fantasy is that, once I left, they walked over to look at my message and found meaning for themselves.

So the challenge is to create moments. I don’t know exactly what that means, much like I can’t explain all art. But if we could create for ourselves at least one moment a day, our lives would be richer, they might not zoom by so fast and we would have a world full of random acts of beautiful art.

The very act of creating a moment, says, “I am here.”

So if you’re here, show me the moment you’ve created.

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Here’s a short video offering two simple lessons for nurturing innovation and transforming a corporate culture. Try it. You might like it.

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I’ll admit to those of you playing Buzzword Bingo that I know the word engagement is most certainly on your card. I’ll chip in that perhaps it’s there precisely because engagement is worth talking about. Exploring engagement is really about helping employees identify for themselves, Why should I care? And how much of my effort is really required to max out my rewards?

How many of you have thought about engagement in relationship to your own work? Have you asked your employees and other stakeholders about the character of their engagement with your organization? Or is it, something that you just feel?

Three Levels of Needs: A Strategy for Engagement

The extent to which you, an employee or other stakeholder is engaged, is based on three levels of needs:

  1. Articulated Needs: Am I getting what the organization promised me?
  2. Un-articulated Needs: Am I getting what I want, but haven’t told anyone in the organization?
  3. Unknown Un-articulated Needs: Are there things I could get that I haven’t even considered?

The first level of Articulated Needs, known to both organization and employee, likely comes from a formal or tacit job description and is the focus of most discussions regarding employee satisfaction and performance.

Strategy: When a formal review is performed, it’s good to provide a written list of the organization’s promises for the employee to check against.

The second level of Un-articulated Needs can be most insidious in diluting an employee’s engagement. Here, a set of expectations is known only to the employee, leaving up to luck, the organization’s ability to deliver. Meanwhile, the employee is thinking, why can’t they meet my needs?

Strategy: Ask the employee, is there anything you expect from the organization that you haven’t told us, and we haven’t met? Perhaps it’s more frequent feedback, a raise, more visibility in the organization. Then follow that with a discussion of how the organization might align to help deliver on those needs.

Often there are job benefits that an employee hasn’t even considered. This third level of Unknown Un-articulated Needs is potentially the most powerful in securing an employee’s buy-in, loyalty and increased productivity. This is the gift that the organization gives to transform good employees into ambassadors for the organization.

Strategy: Ask the employee to finish the thought, It would be great if the organization and this job would provide me with what? Why would that be great? and What else would be great? Find some areas in which the organization could satisfy those needs. Perhaps it’s personal or career development opportunities, such as a chance to grow a network, learn a new skill or have a platform for industry-wide visibility.

The Other Side of the Equation

All of these employee needs for engagement should be balanced against the organization’s needs from the employee. If the employee isn’t certain that his or her rewards are equal to or greater than what the organization expects from the employee, then burnout will ensue and the engagement won’t be sustainable. And because needs and responsibilities change, this equation should be revisited on a regular basis.

Implications to Your Organization’s Brand

If you’re wondering what employee engagement has to do with branding, then you are probably missing one of your most potent branding tools. Smart organizations brand from the inside out; that is, they understand that before you begin building a brand with customers, the employees have to buy into and be passionate about delivering the best brand experience. Customers can spot a half-engaged employee a mile away, and it certainly dilutes the brand promise beyond the moment of a less-than-satisfying interaction with that employee.

In my next post, I’ll discuss how these employee engagement principles might apply to customer engagement. In the meantime, any feedback you have for me would be a gift.

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