Rarely is the path to anything great a straight line devoid of any obstacles or hiccups. At some point along the journey, a curve ball gets thrown at you, and the answer is not obvious about which direction to go. Conventional wisdom doesn’t provide an answer. That is the perfect time for a leader to go into innovation mode to find a creative solution.
The need for innovation can be forced upon us to solve a problem like in the paragraph above, and it also can be a regular habit a leader employs to avoid ruts in the business and to make things better. “Scratch when you don’t itch.” In that case, innovation energizes the efforts and brings color to the gray. Aubrey Marcus takes it even one step further: “In any system with finite resources and infinite expansion—like your business—innovation is essential for not only success but also survival. The innovators are our leaders. You cannot separate the two. Whether it is by thought, technology, or organization, innovation is our only hope to solve our challenges.” Survival! That means a leader must observe that if something doesn’t change, the business could become irrelevant and get passed by. Leaders must pick their heads up out of the day-to-day operations of being a manager and administrator, and become an innovator.
To solve, to energize, or to survive–in any of those cases, the best idea usually comes from a bunch of smaller ideas mashed together. And we get those ideas from brainstorming. Brainstorming is a non-judgmental throwing-out of ideas onto a whiteboard or flip chart regarding a specific business issue or opportunity. Assemble your most outside-the-box thinkers; no wet-blanket people allowed who dampen people’s spirits with “No way that will work” comments! Sometimes you include people from different parts of the company, brand-new employees, or even colleagues of yours from other industries, who can take a fresh look at what you are trying to accomplish.
“Great leaders give to and get ideas out of their people.” –Jack Welch
I recommend that you allow the introverts in the group to noodle on ideas in a quiet space before the group starts declaring them aloud, as they get flustered when put on the spot without pre-thinking about it. Extroverts have no trouble blurting out the first things that come to their minds. I have observed “rapid brainstorming” where everyone around the table writes as many ideas as possible in a short amount of time, forcing them to not critique each idea. The more ideas the better because often the best idea comes out after dozens of ideas have already been suggested, and someone said, “This is a silly idea, but….” Brainstorming is not a time to go deep on any idea (it’s not the HOW), and definitely not a time to condemn anything suggested. Ideas are fragile, and shooting down ideas immediately shuts down that person from contributing their best ideas from then on.
Be sure not to be the one who throws out the first idea. While you need to model innovation by having some thoughts to contribute, hold those ideas loosely or it will become apparent to the group that your way is how it’s going to be (which invalidates the collaboration). So much better to throw your support behind someone else’s idea and make them the hero through recognition, praise, and resources if that idea wins the day and moves forward.
Now, back to you. No matter if you are more left-brained than right-brained, you can boost your creativity skills in the following ways. Pick a few to make into habits this year:
Creativity-boosting to-do’s: “In order to be creative, you have to know how to prepare to be creative.” –Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit Preparing means building routines and putting yourself in places to receive breakthroughs.
- Listening to everybody. Everybody and everything is a resource. Open your reticular activating system! The reticular activating system helps mediate transitions from relaxed wakefulness to periods of high attention (the ability to consciously focus on something).
- Avoid negative self-talk. How do you shoot yourself in the foot? If you had 100 creative “horses”and 10 are worrying, you only have 90. If 10 are making excuses, you only have 80…..
- “Leap and the net will appear” –Linnea Spransy. Not in the mood? Be willing to enter the arena. One good moment can break free of fear.
- Get together with other creatives, from a wide range of fields, in order to expose yourself to new/contrarian ideas. Our brains thrive on novelty. Think about with whom you are spending your time.
- Be restlessly curious. Someone said that we stop being interesting when we stop being interested. Explore things that peak your interest. Peter Sims: “Most innovation is the product of discovery, not inspiration. Creative types get out and about, seek insights from all around, test and tweak, then test and tweak again.”
- Get out of normal pathways. Stretch your mind for an hour a day (places you don’t normally go; get uncomfortable). Get ideas from toys, web sites…. A goal could be to do something new every month!
- Identify your dream. And, no, it’s not a stupid dream! “Most people are so busy knocking themselves out trying to do everything they think they should do, they never get around to do what they want to do.” –Kathleen Winsor Remember: be careful with whom you share your dream.
- Experience solitude daily. Run/walk, sit on your patio/meditate/pray. Find a way to relax. The answer will arrive only when you stop looking for it.
- Write down “cloud thoughts”: passing ideas. Capture them. Place pads of paper everywhere you hang out or use an app on your phone.
- Simplify. Busyness strangles the still, small voice.
- Answer the question, “What is here that no one is thinking about?” Or come at it from the opposite perspective. Maybe a fresh idea will break out.
- Walk away for a while when you get brain-freeze. Stop trying too hard. You can’t pressure yourself into creativity.
- Realize that creativity ebbs and flows. Ride the wave as long as it lasts. Be gentle with yourself when it’s dry. Ask yourself, “What is behind this funk?” Shift to a part of the project that DOES interest you, that’s more in line with your motivations, to jump-start.
- Listen to music for inspiration. Greeks assigned a physician and musician as the 2 main people-helpers for healing.
Focus on making things happen, regardless of your own discomfort, by stepping a little out of your comfort zone on a very regular basis. If it hurts a little, you are probably doing it right.
“A ship in a safe harbor is safe, but that is not what a ship is built for.” –William Shedd Innovation is essential to your organization’s health and future viability! Effective leaders are idea-motivators, getting their best thinking from their team and themselves.
Got a creative habit that you can share with my tribe? Please post it for all to benefit from. Or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org