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Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

For those of you who have worked with me, you know that I often begin a conversation about a project or initiative by asking, It would be great if what happens? Then I might ask Why would that be great? And, what else would be great?

What I’m really asking is for you to take a moment, ignoring all the obstacles and barriers that might be in your way, and tell me about the best outcome you can imagine. Then tell me why that outcome is important to you. For most, this is an energizing exercise. It’s fun to imagine all the good things that might happen. Here’s what else it does:

  • It forces you to think about and articulate higher level aspirations that might have been, at best, only fuzzy thoughts in the recesses of your mind.
  • Merely articulating your aspirations makes them seem possible, softening a beachhead of obstacles that might be looming.
  • Knowing all the ways in which you might benefit drives a deeper, more sustainable commitment to realizing those aspirations.

Of course, it also enables me to understand my client’s, colleague’s or other stakeholder’s goals on a deeper, more personal level, so that I can better align my work to help achieve those goals. And if the waters get a bit choppy along the way, I can often calm them by reminding everyone of the ultimate goal and why we want to get there.

Try it. Ask your client or colleague what they would love to see happen. It would be great if what…? Why would that be great? And what else would be great? See if you don’t both walk away with clearer, more compelling goals.

Do this and you’ll be better positioned to ask the next question: What’s stopping you?

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Last weekend, I attended a Gala for Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras. I couldn’t have been more inspired.

I know this organization intimately, having facilitated the staff and board through our strategic planning process, and then worked with the Reputation Committee to renew its brand strategy.

CYSO has long been a world-class youth orchestra, training the area’s best young musicians. Historically, it focused on performance and education. In revisiting the brand, the Reputation Committee discovered that at the intersection of performance excellence and personal growth is the element of inspiration.

This “inspiration” has become the brand driver, changing the way the organization communicates to its publics. CYSO began telling inspirational stories about the young musicians, the composers and compositions, and the venues in which it plays—compelling stories that give us even more reasons to appreciate and care about the music.

On Saturday evening, they took it to the next level in their concert, ¡Viva la Música! On the last number of an evening filled with beautiful Spanish compositions, the orchestra surprised everyone when it began swaying in unison to the lively score it was playing. Suddenly, orchestra members began randomly popping up and down to the music, giving the impression of a large wind-up toy. So unlike your typical Symphony Orchestra. So fun for the student musicians. And inspiring the audience to a whistling, hooting robust standing ovation.

This is an organization that embraces its brand.

To learn more about and support this fine organization, visit http://www.cyso.org. And check out the video we made to capture the magic of the CYSO.

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My brother Jeff and I facilitated a strategic planning summit this weekend for a wonderful Chicago organization called Changing Worlds (changingworlds.org). This group teaches cross-cultural awareness in schools through literacy and the arts. Because its programs emphasize storytelling, we began our Saturday morning session with each participant telling a story about a memory that profoundly affected his or her life. On a map of the world, we charted where each of us were born and where our memories took place. The stories came from all over the world.

My, how this elevated our appreciation for each others’ background and cultures. One by one we told of life events major and minor, but always with emotion and deep personal meaning. Some were funny, some sad, all filled with poignancy.

Some insights:

  1. Everyone has a story. Yet our major moments are so deeply woven into our fabric that we often don’t think of them as unique—they’re just “something that happened to me along the way.”
  2. When we tell a story that’s important to us, it becomes easy to engage others. It’s as if we are giving our audience a gift. And an emotional connection is made.

My gift to you, then, is to remind you to think about a defining moment in your life. Appreciate it as unique and important. Tell it to somebody.

And, if you are growing a business…building a brand…trying to forge emotional connections with customers, don’t forget your company’s defining moments. Chances are, some of your best stories have long since been locked away in the corporate memory vault.

So what is your story?

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Okay, so we had a little snow to clear yesterday. And true to my suggestion on my previous post, I went out to shovel with the idea of using physical activity to help solve a problem—what to write for my next blog entry.

I started shoveling and I let my mind wander. At first it was just a sense—and then a conscious realization—that the piles of snow I was clearing were at eye level.

I couldn’t remember seeing snow that high since walking to C. Ray Gates School in Grand Island, Nebraska with my brother, Jeff. In my adult life, I had always maintained that it didn’t snow as much today as it did when I was growing up in Nebraska. Yet, here the snow was as high as when I walked to school. One catch: when I was walking to school, I was under five-feet tall. Today, I’m 5-feet, 9-inches.

So, I thought, perhaps I’ve been sharing dogma (it used to snow more) from an outdated perspective (that of a short grade-schooler).

Then I realized that as creative leaders, we need to continually revisit the perspectives from which we form our world views. Are they still relevant within the current environment or are we stuck in an old paradigm? And we must recognize that others who have strong beliefs may fall for the same trap. Being mindful and open to considering new perspective is how we grow as individuals. It’s also how we create and innovate as groups. I wondered what else I could do to challenge my own assumptions.

Then my feet got cold and I had to go inside to warm up.

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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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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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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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