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Posts Tagged ‘strategic planning’

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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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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