Posts Tagged ‘creativity’

Out-of-Control Leadership

September 7, 2011 5 comments

leadership adventureWe all want control.

We want to control our finances, our projects, our teams, our relationships, our future. We yearn for that sense of security that control promises. Just look around—nine out of ten advertisements are selling you some form of control.

Control, however, is an illusion and the security it offers is hollow.

Truth is, there are a million things just beyond your grasp at any given moment. The weather. The price of oil. The competition. The people around you. Your next breath.

You can respond to that truth in 3 ways:

  1. Do Nothing and be tossed around by the wind and waves of life.
  2. Try to control the uncontrollable and wear yourself out in the process.
  3. Learn to adapt to any situation life throws at you.

Exceptional leaders don’t waste time trying to change the wind—they learn how to sail. An experienced sailor can use wind from any direction to propel her boat in the direction she desires. Depending on how she trims the boat and sails, she can run with the wind, cut at right angles or even beat a course upwind. She can’t control the wind, but she can use it.

In the same way, exceptional leaders adapt to changing environments, harness the emotions in a situation, and adapt to the needs of those around them.

True power doesn’t come from control—that’s a small, limited substitute for power. True power belongs to those who can harness the uncontrollable, adapt to the inconceivable, and maneuver in the unknown to accomplish their goals.  This is true power, true security, and true freedom.

How are you at Out-of-Control Leadership?

Managing Beliefs

May 16, 2011 3 comments

leadership trust belief“Do you believe there is life on other planets?”

That simple question, asked of me 17 years ago, led to a complete overhaul of how I see myself and others. The question was posed by my Astrophysics Professor during a theological debate after class. My response started something like this:

“I think there’s a possibility that—”

“I didn’t ask what you think,” he interrupted. “I asked what you believe.”

His clarification stopped me in my tracks. What did I believe? Good question. I could tell him what I thought. I could tell him what I felt. Heck, I could even tell him what I said I believed. But how do I know what I truly believe? It occurred to me that the only way to tell what I believed was to look at how I lived my life. I reasoned that if I really believed something—not just claimed to believe something—it would necessarily manifest itself in my choices and consequently my behavior.

Since that day I’ve seen this confirmed over and over: Beliefs drive behavior.

Exceptional leaders leverage this truth to motivate people and set them free. If you want to alter someone’s behavior (i.e.. improve performance, increase productivity, encourage creativity, eliminate bad habits, etc.), don’t just focus on external actions—those are just results. At best that creates a hollow bureaucracy; at worst, mindless automatons.

Focus on building beliefs that will produce the desired behaviors. For instance, improving performance might be achieved by helping someone believe in themselves. Increased productivity might surface the moment someone starts believing in the merits of a reliable filing system. Some people just need to believe they have permission before creativity flows out of them. Often, bad habits can be dismantled by exposing—and replacing—the false beliefs people have bought into.

Belief management is the best solution for achieving true, long-lasting behavioral change. I believe that with everything I’ve got.

However, I still can’t muster a belief in extraterrestrial life.

What role do you think beliefs play in leadership?

The Power of Authentic Questions

March 2, 2011 14 comments


“Why do you weep when you pray?” he asked me, as though he had known me a long time.

“I don’t know why,” I answered, greatly disturbed. The question had never entered my head.  I wept because—because of something inside me that felt the need for tears.  That was all I knew.

“Why do you pray?” he asked me, after a moment.

Why did I pray?  A strange question.  Why did I live?  Why did I breathe?

“I don’t know why,” I said, even more disturbed and ill at ease.  “I don’t know why.”

After that day I saw him often.  He explained to me with great insistence that every question possessed a power that did not lie in the answer.

– from Elie Wiesel‘s Night

Questions are among the most powerful levers a leader has. However, all questions are not created equal. Some disguise their true intent. Others are rhetorical. Still others are manipulative. And mixed throughout you’ll find the most dangerous and powerful questions of all: the authentic ones.

What kind of questions do you ask? Are they…

  • Counterfeit Questions? These questions aren’t really seeking the information they ask for. For example: “Honey, do you want to change Sally’s diaper?” Everyone involved knows the real answer to that question. The real question is: “Honey, would you please change Sally’s diaper?”
  • Leading Questions? These questions try to drive another person toward a predetermined solution. At their best, these questions are effective in teaching; they help others discover facts for themselves. At their worst, they turn manipulative and shut down creativity.
  • Authentic Questions? The most powerful of all questions, these are questions where the inquirer genuinely has no idea what the answer is. In fact, the question may have multiple right answers, no right answers, or no answers at all. Most leaders avoid authentic questions because they either believe they must have all the answers or they’re afraid of losing control.

Counterfeit questions breed frustration and encourage passive–aggressive behavior. Leading questions can seed doubt and erode trust. Authentic questions, however, generate authentic leadership.

Asking authentic questions is tough. It takes vulnerability, trust, and confidence. It takes the courage to say, “I don’t know.” But, once you see the world of opportunities, relationships and ideas they open up, you’ll never turn back.

Who in your life asks you authentic questions? How have you seen leaders leverage questions?

10 Tips for Successful Brainstorming

February 25, 2011 5 comments

Creative LeadershipContrary to popular belief, you can’t just toss a bunch of humans into a room with a whiteboard and a slew of stickies, and expect them to generate great ideas. Successful brainstorming doesn’t just happen. It takes work. (and a little bit of fun!)

There are a few simple things you can do to help your team generate some truly great ideas. Here are ten tips guaranteed to boost creativity in your next brainstorming session:

1. Choose a recorder wisely. The most important person in the room during a brainstorming session is the person with the pen. All those great ideas flying around the room and the only ones that survive are the ones that are written down. Be mindful of what gets recorded and how—watch that nuances don’t get lost!

2. Ignore constraints. Ask yourself: What’s the craziest thing you’d like to accomplish if money, time, connections, and experience weren’t a factor? Only after you’ve got some insane ideas down, should you slowly bring constraints back in, drawing your goals down a little closer to earth. This works much better than going the other way!

3. Use a timer. Set a time and fill it to the brim with unbridled, unceasing brainstorming. There should be a sense of urgency that propels you forward. Don’t worry if you’re not “there” when the timer goes off. Take a break and pick it up again. Sometimes it will take a few sessions.

4. Involve Everyone. Get the best people in the room, regardless of whether they’re “creative” or “social.” Everyone has a piece of the puzzle, your job is to make them comfortable enough to share their point of view.

5. Focus on Quantity. Brainstorming is simply a numbers game. The more divergent ideas you generate, the greater probability you’ll discover a radical solution that solves your problem. Quantity breeds Quality.

6. Play music. Music stimulates the right side of the brain, gets you connected to your emotions, and breaks up that corporate shell that hardens around many of us at work. Play classical or jazz or any other music without lyrics.

7. Withhold judgment. Don’t criticize anything. This kills brainstorming on two levels. First, it stops the evolution of an idea; you never know where an idea might lead. Second, it shuts people down, they need to feel free to say absolutely anything.

8. Think Crazy. Look at every possible angle. Then turn the whole subject inside out. Push the limits of insanity. That’s where you’ll find the seed of a radical idea that might just work.

9. Follow the Rabbit. Don’t stop with blurting out an idea. Combine it with others. Improve it. Evolve it. Let it take you somewhere new. Don’t just create a huge list of individual ideas, take those ideas and connect them with each other in countless ways. This is where brainstorming gets really cool.

10. Don’t stop. Even if you find the solution to world peace—keep going until you hit your time limit. You never know what’s just around the corner. Just keep going!

What tips do you have for helping groups generate great ideas?

photo credit: @boetter

5 Tips for Knowing When to Stop

February 4, 2011 22 comments

LeadershipKnowing when to stop is the hallmark of a great artist. Whether you’re painting a picture, seasoning a dish, or writing a story, knowing when to stop can mean the difference between a masterpiece and a mess.

The same is true of exceptional leaders. They always seem to know when to stop talking, when to stop checking in, when to stop working on a particular project. It’s easy to recognize when someone makes the mistake of carrying on when they should have just stopped. But when they stop right on time—not too soon and not too late—we hardly notice. They make it look effortless.

Here are 5 tips to keep you from jumping the shark as a leader:

1. Understand the law of diminishing returns. In most endeavors there comes a point when the more effort and input you add produces less and less benefit. You enhance a dish with a dash of salt; then you add more and ruin it. You make a bold statement that grabs everyone’s attention; then you restate it multiple ways and dilute its power.

2. Get feedback from others. Many times you’re too close to yourself to know if you’ve gone too far. Afraid you’re over-managing your team? Ask them. Give them multiple ways to let you know how you’re doing—town hall meetings, one-on-one sessions, anonymous surveys, etc.

3. Take a break. Step away from whatever you’re doing for a while. Take a walk. Work on something unrelated. Go for a run. Sleep on it. Then come back to the project and look at it with fresh eyes. Ask questions. How close is it to solving the problem or serving the purpose? What needs to happen to finish it and get it out the door?

4. Experiment with stopping. Don’t be afraid of failing—it’s part of the process. If your tendency is to go too far or stuff too much in or talk too long, experiment with stopping before you’re comfortable. Make a conscious effort to produce something simple and excellent—no more and no less.

5. Trust yourself and others. Stopping takes trust. Trust your talent and stop tinkering with that project—ship it already. Trust your staff and stop riding them about every little detail. Finally, trust that you’re enough and stop trying to be someone or something you’re not.

What helps you know when to stop?

5 Leadership Lessons from the Miners’ Rescue in Chile

October 14, 2010 7 comments

Leadership Lesson Yesterday evening, the last of the 33 Chilean miners who spent 69 days trapped almost half a mile underground walked out a free man. The ordeal these men have endured – along with the herculean effort to save them – has captivated the world. So many people, both in the mine and on the surface, did so much right to bring us the happy ending we experienced last night. Here are five lessons we can learn from their exceptional leadership:

1. Ask for help. Within hours of discovering the 33 miners were alive on August 22nd , the Chilean government sought out the foremost experts and best equipment in the world to arrange a rescue operation. Companies and agencies from South Africa, Canada, and the U.S. were involved in the drilling. Zephyr Technology provided chest straps that measured the miners’ vitals while UPS coordinated the movement of over 25 tons of construction equipment. Even NASA got involved, aiding in the design of the rescue capsule and consulting with Chilean doctors on the mental health of the miners.

2. Care for the whole person. The trapped miners were cared for physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. During their two month ordeal they had regular routines, group meetings, even chapel services. They worked together in shifts, were organized into three-man buddy teams, and made a rule that no one eats until everyone received their food. The outside world cared for them as well providing laundry service and positive TV programming. They also cared for them by refusing their request for cigarettes and wine. Everything was engineered to support their spirit and guard against collapse.

3. Lead by example. Mario Gómez, the eldest at 62, became the group’s inspirational leader. He served as the liaison with the surface and provided spiritual support to the others. As he lived out his hope, others followed. Another senior miner, Luis Urzúa, 54, was the group’s managing leader. He was the one who tightly rationed the group’s limited food and water for the 17 days before they were discovered by the outside world. As their leader, he was also the last one to come out.

4. Be creative. No one had ever drilled a hole through 2,300 feet of rock and lowered a capsule down it to save 33 trapped souls. Creativity wasn’t an option, it was a necessity in this rescue. As a result, they came up with three plans: Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C. Because of time constraints, instead of starting with Plan A, then moving on to the others if it failed, they initiated them all simultaneously. In the end, it was Plan B that broke through first.

5. Celebrate victory. Each time that capsule rose out of the desert floor the exultant crowd burst into cheers. As it opened up and emancipated each beleaguered miner, the crowd roared all the more. Joining the celebration were many more people around the globe, watching the drama unfold live on their TV. The Chilean government was right to share this experience with the world. Not only does it show transparency, but it gives us all the chance to feel the hope of those miners and their families.

What will you take away from this amazing rescue?


3 Fixations that are Stifling your Creativity

October 7, 2010 6 comments

stifling creativityThe next time you fire up the grill, think about Henry Ford.

In the early 1920s Ford found a way to recycle waste from his automobile factories. The process took scrap wood chips and made them into charcoal briquettes. Kingsford® Charcoal was born, a company that leads it’s industry today, enjoying 80% market share and turning over a million tons of wood chips into charcoal every year.

How did Ford make the leap from making cars to making charcoal? The same way de Mestral invented velcro and Spencer Silver invented the sticky note. They overcame the 3 big mental blocks adults have that stifle their creativity:

1. Method Fixation: All children are creative; they have to be. Everyday they encounter situations they’ve never experienced before and they must develop a way to negotiate them. However, once they find a suitable solution, their brains record it for the “next time.” As successful experiences pile up, the need for creativity decreases and we rely more and more on “what has always worked before.” We stop looking for a better way.

2. Function Fixation: Like methods, we assign the same rigidness to the function of objects and ideas. Our brains learn that hammers are for hammering nails, so we don’t think that they could be used as paperweights, nutcrackers, anchors or ice axes.

3. Scope Fixation: Once again, the survival part of our brains is conditioned to repeat solutions that have worked in the past, using the tools we used in the past. This predisposes us to a narrow set of possible solutions, all of which usually fit nicely in the problem’s original category. As a result, we’re so close to a problem we fail to make “unnatural” connections – like automobile scraps and charcoal.

We were all creative kids. As adults, we just have to unlearn a few things and rekindle our imaginations.

Where does your creativity stall? How do you get it rolling again?