Just Not the Creative Type, You Say? Don’t Believe the Myths.

Since, as a writer, I’m fascinated by creative expression, I jumped at the invitation to read Myths of Creativity 9781118611142_p0_v2_s260x420and blog about the new book by David Burkus, The Myths of Creativity: The Truth About How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas, released today. It’s a fascinating and liberating book.

Our bosses are famous for asking us to come up with:

  • A better process for handling customer complaints
  • New copy for the company’s “About” page
  • A promotion to increase sales
  • Ideas to improve morale

They tell us we need to be innovative if we want to advance, get good performance ratings, and be rewarded.

You say to yourself, “I’m not the creative type. I just do my job…on the phones/in production/in tech support.”

Then your boss says, “I need your contribution by Friday.”

End of conversation. Beginning of panic.

Relief arrives.

David Burkus provides the oxygen we need to clear our heads about creativity. In his new book, The Myths of Creativity, he debunks what we have come to believe about creativity and creative people. He shows us that we’re all creative and how.

He writes:

We don’t need to rely on belief in an outside force to generate great ideas. We have everything we need inside ourselves.

Most of us think of creativity as being the domain of painters, musicians, writers, and movie makers.

Burkus reminds us that:

Creativity is …the process of developing ideas that are both novel and useful.

You do that…me too.

But he also reveals something very important about what it takes to tap into and realize our creative potential at work.

Creativity in the form of innovation requires four things that are aligned:

  • Domain-relevant skills (…expertise)…the knowledge, technical skills, or talent an individual possesses in a given domain [area]….
  • Creativity-relevant processes…the methods people use to approach a …problem and generate solutions….
  • Task motivation…the willingness to engage…passion….
  • Social environment…[which] can either positively or negatively affect creative expression….

Think about how much freer your thinking is at work when you can draw on what you’re good at, using good problem-solving methods around a task you care about, in a work environment that suits you. Heaven!

Burkus adds:

Both expertise and creative methodology can be taught….Everyone can generate great ideas.

Debunking myths

Creativity myths exist because we let them. Sometimes we actually want them to be true to get us off the hook or give us an excuse to stay in our comfort zones.

Some myths have been so ingrained  that companies adopt and perpetuate them, not to their benefit.

The myths Burkus covers erase our excuses and relieve our anxieties. He explains them straight up and provides eye-popping, real-life business examples that stick.

The ten myths are the:

  • Eureka Myth
  • Breed Myth
  • Originality Myth
  • Expert Myth
  • Incentive Myth
  • Lone Creator Myth
  • Brainstorming Myth
  • Cohesive Myth
  • Constraints Myth
  • Mousetrap Myth

The Expert Myth strikes a loud chord. If you think you need to be the smartest one in the room to come up with the best idea, then heed this Burkus point:

The Expert Myth argues that the hardest problems are solved by the brightest minds in the field, but the evidence counters with a different argument. The people who solve tough problems are often from the edge of a domain. They have enough knowledge to understand the problem but don’t have a fixed method of thinking..[so] they possess the creative ability to find the right solution.”

If you also think that creative ideas are the product of individuals touched by the Muse, Burkus  challenges that too:

…the Lone Creator myth…[is]…the belief that creativity is a solo performance and that the story of innovations can be told as the story or a single person working fervently on the new idea.

He shares little known information about Thomas Edison, more promoter and team leader than lone inventor, to make his point:

Too often…we prefer to recognize only one person for an outstanding creative work. This isn’t just a selective revision; it’s a fabrication.

Free yourself up

The Myths of Creativity frees us from our self-imposed limiters. Burkus’ myths can be found in nearly every company and are felt by most of us–mere employee mortals doing our jobs.

By discarding the myths, no matter what job you do, you can better use your creative, innovative thinking to make a process, a product, or a system better. Kudos to you!

The Coveted Manager Job–Grappling with a 3-Headed Monster

Finally, you’re a manager. You are now responsible for bigger things. The way you lead and the performance of your employees are what determine your value.

Pretty heavy stuff, eh?

We often covet those “big” job titles without knowing what’s expected. That old line, “Be careful what you wish for,” is a legitimate warning.

What a manager’s job looks like on the surface isn’t always what it is in reality. The sad truth is that when it’s your turn to be the manager, no one really tells you what you’re getting into. So you’d better ask.

Go on high alert!

No one wants their long-desired manager promotion to become a living hell.

In Greek mythology, the three-headed dog, Cerberus, guarded the gates of the Underworld so that no one (specifically, the dead) could get in or out without permission from the god Hades.

The better plan was to avoid heading hell-bound in the first place. The same is true when taking on a job as manager.

When it comes to hiring or promoting you as a manager, management is keenly aware of three things–your:

  • Readiness and desire
  • Knowledge and skills
  • Fit with employees and peers

Management may or may not be right about you, but these are the criteria that they’re using to make the decision. In some cases management may or may not be effective themselves. So you need to be careful about how you hear and process their offer.

Demand to know.

All manager jobs are not created equal.

You need know what kind of work group, function, or cluster of departments you are to manage and whether you’re ready to grapple with the monster facing you.

Manager jobs essentially fall into three categories which means, to be effective, you need to know if you are cut out for the task.

1. Maintaining the status quo: When you take over a work group that works well together and consistently meets performance expectations, you need to be comfortable supporting the way things are being done. Your role is to keep the wheels turning, reinforcing what’s effective and collaborating with employees  on any fine-tuning.

If you’re one who is numbed by the warm hum of a well-oiled machine all day or can’t resist poking the sleeping beast just to get a rise out of it, then this manager role isn’t for you.

2. Fixing a mess: Work group dysfunction, poor output, and/or declining relevance are often reasons why you’ve been chosen as the new manager. In these situations, processes are often broken, performance management is lax, and innovation is dormant. Your role is to make big change, deal with resistance, and take risks.

If you hate conflict, lack internal political savvy, don’t know how to leverage relationships, and are unwilling to be personally accountable for your decisions, then you need to rethink this job. Fixing a mess is arduous and often slow, so you’ll need to do some soul searching and/or even defer this kind of challenge for a while.

3. Creating something new: The need to create a new department  spawns the need for a new manager. Sometimes a new product/service line is the reason or the need to expand or split an existing function. Your role is to organize, staff, and deliver results, dealing with doubters and managing expectations.

If you have a low tolerance for ambiguity, thin skin, fear of failure, and an inability to turn abstract ideas into concrete output, then starting from scratch may not be the best fit for you. When your manager job requires you to become an internal entrepreneur literally,  that role needs to be in your blood.

Tame the monster.

Managing a work group can be exciting and fulfilling, but, like every job, it needs to fit you. Every monster can be tamed so you have to be smart about the ones you grapple with.

So look hard at the manager job you covet and make sure you’re clear about what you’d be getting into. Then take on the challenge with all you’ve got!

Image from PEU Report

Why You Need to “Kill the Company” Before It Kills You

At first I hesitated when asked if I wanted to take a look at Lisa Bodell’s new book.  Her somewhat startling title, Kill the Company: End the Status Quo, Start an Innovation Revolution, made me wonder whether or not the topic would fit here. Well, it did that and more!

As employees, we’re often assigned new work methods that were designed without our input.

As managers, we’re often expected to implement work process improvements with one goal–to reduce costs.

As executives, we’re expected to develop more and more innovative ways to improve market share and share owner value.

No matter what your job, you play a killer role in the the company’s future and your own.

Take aim.

Lisa Bodell reveals in her new book, Kill the Company, what she does with corporate clients to shake up their thinking and bring real innovation to light. What’s unique here is that Bodell, as CEO of futurethink,  “gives away” her model and numerous tools that liberate fresh thinking.

She proposes uncovering, in specific terms, how a competitor could “take the company down.”  It’s a matter of asking employees and the leadership, given all the insider information they’re privy to, what it would take to “kill the company.”

It’s that knowledge that readies the company to take internal and external actions to survive!

Bodell writes:

The challenge for most companies isn’t how to get people to be more innovative; it’s how to stop paying lip service to innovation and create a structure and culture in which it can actually flourish and deliver results.

The traditional organizational structures…have innovation in a choke hold.

Too many change initiatives simply add another layer of processes to the to-do lists of already overwhelmed and tired employees….Innovation is supposed to make things better, not worse, easier, not more complicated.

Does this sound like your company? The way you’ve handled or experienced change? If so, it’s time to get serious about turning things around.

Protect yourself.

Not everyone gets to sit in the room where strategies to kill the company are identified and the remedies devised. Each of us, however, needs to make sure that we have what it takes to add value in our jobs for the future.

A stagnant job in a stalled company will kill our careers. Our resistance to innovation in a growing company will kill it too. That means we have to be ready to recognize and take advantage of the changes, both obvious and subtle, in our work environments.

Bodell makes this significant observation:

Soft skills are the new hard skills. You can see evidence of this everywhere…many CEOs and leaders now hail creativity and creative problem solving as the most important business skills.

Just what soft skills will employees need to possess and will organizations need to seek in the coming years? They will be the skills that help organizations challenge the status quo and look into the future, the ones that turn employees into visionaries and help them seek out opportunities and growth in new ways. They will be the skills that enable dedicated learners to handle the blessing and burdens of change.

Bodell identifies these five as the most valued skills in successful employees of the future:

  1. Strategic Imagination“dreaming with purpose”–the ability to recognize the “driving forces changing our world and imaginative enough to harness this potential in a business context”
  2. Provocative Inquiry–”the ability to ask smart, even disturbing questions” that “stretch their own thinking and that of others”
  3. Creative Problem Solving–applying “best practices from offbeat sources and unrelated industries, making connections that others wouldn’t think of.”
  4. Agility–the ability “to think on their feet and nimbly change directions…to be resourceful and confident in their own abilities to handle unexpected situations.”
  5. Resilience–tenacity and “courage to overcome obstacles and push on undeterred” giving their organizations an advantage in good times and bad.”

Reexamine yourself

The same principles that underpin a stagnant company create a stagnant employee, career, and life. The approaches, strategies, and insights that Bodell uses with companies can be put to use by you, whatever your circumstance.

We all need to kill the preconceived notions that we are currently living by if we want to take that next step forward.

There’s no time to kill when it comes to ensuring our future success, only complacency.

Image Source: Gen Connect and Amazon

Leaders: Looking to “Find Your Next” Competitive Edge? | Read Andrea Kates

New ideas intrigue me. So when I was contacted by Andrea Kates to comment on her newly released book, Find Your Next: Using the Business Genome Approach to Find Your Company’s Next Competitive Edge, I was all in. I was taken by how my business fitness metaphor for individual success aligned with Kates’ business genome metaphor for maintaining competitive business advantage. Innovative thinking and questioning, especially during uncertainty, are a must for every leader. 

It’s mistake if you’re thinking: 

  • “I’m not really a ‘business’ leader. I just direct a small work group.”
  • “I’m responsible for internal services, so I don’t have to think about the marketplace.”
  • “In my company, decisions about competitive edge and growth are made by the big execs. I’m not in that loop.” 

Everyone in a leadership role affects the future growth, competitive advantage, and sustainability of his/her company. 

Why? Because every function, no matter how big or small, has an effect on the business’s ability to out-perform and out-innovate the competition. 

If you need to be convinced, Andrea Kate’s book, Find Your Next: Using the Business Genome Approach to Find Your Company’s Next Competitive Edge, provides compelling insights. 

A powerful metaphor 

Scientists reveal the mysteries of our biology through DNA genome mapping. In a similar vein, Kate’s reveals a “genome” map of these six elements of business success. 

  1. Product and service innovation—the invention of offerings that resonate.
  2. Customer impact—a sustainable community of support.
  3. Process design—alignment of the ‘how’ of a business with the evolving ‘what’ that customers need.
  4. Talent and leadership—the culture that will move a business forward.
  5. Secret sauce—the recipe of differentiation and competitive advantage in a new world of unprecedented transparency.
  6. Trendability—the foresight to see the future more quickly and adapt more rapidly to shifts in the landscape. 

With an understanding of these elements in hand, what’s a leader to do? 

The answer is simple: ASK QUESTIONS. Lots of them. Make them challenging, unnerving, disturbing, pointed, wild, and complex. 

Then resist rejecting answers before you really examine, understand, deconstruct, and test them. 

Great leaders learn not to be afraid of innovative thinking, new direction, disruptive change, and paradigm shifts, even though they may be tempted to resist what they don’t immediately understand. 

Find your next … 

Leadership is about defining reality and then laying out a path for success. Every function in every organization is ripe for improvement, change, and innovation in order to keep up with best practices or to forge new ground. It’s the same whether its human resources, financial planning, product design or marketing. 

Kates lays out the struggle every leader faces: 

We are all facing new realities: the mountain of facts is huge, the speed of change is impossible to keep up with, the information that used to keep us ahead of our competition is now instantaneously available, our customers are talking about us to each other more than ever before, business dynamics have turned global, and the expectations for competitive advantage are rising at record speed. 

When it comes to thinking strategically, the model most leaders use is SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats). Instead, Kates suggests business genomic thinking: 

  1. Sort through the options for your company and assess your hunches.
  2. Match your genome to successful businesses that have already steered themselves in the direction you want to explore.
  3. Hybridize your company by grafting the ideas that work in other companies to your own.
  4. Adapt and thrive by breaking out of old habits and fostering new traditions in your business that will enable you to take advantage of a rapidly-evolving business environment. 

To Kates, the key to competitive edge is looking at how you perform in any aspect of your business compared to businesses much different from yours. Even though apples and oranges are different on the surface, they are both fruit with attributes that are good for you. 

The leader’s coda 

Find Your Next is “based on the idea that the possibilities for what a business leader can do next must come from somewhere other than what they did last,” Kates writes. 

One of the smart moves of business fitness is to implement new ideas. To do that you need to think about what’s really going on in your business, how it addresses the vortex of marketplace change, and then what course of action to take. Kate’s book is filled with approaches, insights, and a wide-range of case studies that will help you find your next.

Afraid to Innovate or Don’t Know How? | Problem-solving Skills Pay

“Innovativeness” is one of those performance appraisal categories that often befuddle supervisors and employees. 

We often don’t know how the term actually applies to us. After all, we’re just doing our jobs. Innovation seems to have more to do with creative work (maybe in marketing) or in science (like in a lab somewhere). Too often we just don’t think of ourselves as being innovative as we go about our daily work.

To innovate, though, isn’t as overblown an action as it may sound. It just means “to begin or introduce something new.”

All it takes to be innovative is:

  • Our idea for doing something in a new way
  • Introducing it to others whose involvement or approval we need
  • Setting it in motion once we have the okay

That’s not so hard, right?

Now, what is it again?

Innovative ideas, large or small, take many forms like a:

  • Fix for things not functioning well
  • New plan to refocus a faltering job
  • Redesigned process that increases efficiency and effectiveness
  • Workaround to keep work flowing until a lasting solution is achieved
  • Message that reduces turmoil or raises optimism

In order to innovate, we need to:

  • Look at our work with fresh eyes and see if there’s a better way
  • Be willing to make an effort to influence our boss to accept our idea
  • Overcome the fear that our idea may get rejected
  • Accept accountability for our idea if it doesn’t work

Your innovativeness is a sign that solving the problem is personally important to you.

Inherent in innovation is your commitment to doing things right. Each of us has the power to innovate if and when we want to.

A draining idea 

I live in a 200-year-old, log farmhouse situated in a hollow where the water table is close to the surface. Most of my basement floor is dirt. During extended periods of drenching rain, the water table rises up and visits my basement.

This happens infrequently, but when it does, it’s a big issue. For years I managed the “big” water with three sump pumps and a French drain. But if the power went out I was literally sunk. (I’ve had as much as 3 ½ feet of water there.)

I explained the problem one dry summer’s day to my contractor, Pete. He asked to look over the situation and think about it. The next day he said, “I think I can fix your problem by creating a gravity-feed drain that runs from the lowest point in the basement, out to the street.

He set up his transit in the basement, shot the angle, hired two young guys to dig the inside trench, hired another guy with a backhoe to dig a trench to the street, laid the perforated pipe, and then we waited for two years.

You can see in the photo here that it worked amazingly. To me, Pete’s a hero.

What Pete did was innovation. He had an idea, introduced it to me (his customer), convinced me to go ahead, and took responsibility for the outcome. Not only did his problem-solving skills work, they saved me money and anxiety.

Why bother 

Each time you find a better way, you increase your value on the job. Your innovativeness becomes a major part of your personal brand identity, and it will likely create evolving:

  • Buzz about you
  • Exposure to movers and shakers
  • Opportunities for unique assignments
  • Recognition and reward
  • More business

Of all the strengths that you can develop to enhance your career, innovativeness is likely to do the most for you. To be innovative is to effectively demonstrate such traits as problem- solving, analysis, influencing, initiative, and calculated risk-taking.

Whenever you can deliver an idea that makes the workplace and the business operate more effectively, you are contributing in ways that make you stand out. The more business fit you are, the more tools you have in place to bring out your inner innovator. Now go for it.

Want to Get Ahead? Take 5. Learn to Be Quiet.

Seems counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? When we want an opportunity or a raise, we need to ask for it. If we’re being mistreated, we need to speak out. When we see wrong being done, we need call attention to it. 

So how can being quiet help us get ahead? Crack this case and reap the benefits! 

Size up the situation 

The workplace is a din of noise. Everyone’s tuned into to multiple channels at the same time: 

  • Engaging in live conversation
  • Texting and taking cell phone calls
  • Checking email on mobile devices 

We believe that staying “in the know” is essential to success, so we’ve become gourmands of information in a buffet without limits.

When everyone around you is gobbling up and spitting out the details, tidbits, and finds, you’ve now given yourself a career edge. 

Ideas and innovation move careers. S/he, who can put the pieces together to solve problems and create something unique, earns the reward. 

Quiet is your ally. 

You don’t miss things when your mind is quiet, you discover them. 

Quiet is a lot of things, particularly the absence of noise, turmoil, agitation, and trouble. What we need for our careers is internal quiet. 

When everyone else keeps their thinking fragmented, swatting at bits and pieces of disjointed communication, you need to use quiet to intensify your focus.  Zone into your internal strategist and set out to make your mark. 

Putting quiet to work 

Quiet is a powerful tool when you use it effectively, so: 

  1. Listen and ask—We learn from what we hear, so it’s up to us to be quiet and listen to what others have to say. That’s where the insights are. The better you listen and the more you ask, the more you learn. When we’re quiet, others will talk.
  2. Listen to yourself—We spend an amazing amount of time talking to ourselves instead of staying quiet within. It’s better to listen to our inner voice than to think over it. When we quiet our minds, give our subconscious a chance to reveal its insights, it will deliver powerful aha moments. Skeptical? Just try it.
  3. Remove distractions—Learn to be alone with yourself. Distractions get in the way of your internal listening. If you’re scoffing at this, think of the last time you sat alone with no one around and nothing to distract you. If you can’t remember that’s a message to you. If you do remember and the experience was uncomfortable, you need to figure out why.
  4. Stop forcing thoughts—Self-imposed pressure to come up with new ideas and solutions often becomes internal noise that blocks the quiet you need. If you have to come up with an idea, pronto, do something unrelated to your job: go work out, read a novel, take a walk, or take a shower where many good ideas are revealed!
  5. Pick up on vibes—Vibes pierce the quiet. It’s what happens in the spaces between the noise. We get vibes about people, risk, and opportunity. Even when we’re in the thick of things, a quiet mind gathers up those vibes and triggers our next move. When we’re distracted, we miss those vibes or misread them, so it’s in our best interest to stay tuned in. 

Quiet practice 

We’ve been conditioned to run a fast pace. We’ve come to believe that the faster we run the more success we’ll have. Just look at the movers and shakers where you work. Some may have “arrived” by running over people, but most had their wits about them and showcased their focused, clear-headed, and centered way of getting the job done. 

So we need to practice internal quiet. Career success is, in large measure, about differentiating ourselves from others, by standing out through the way we achieve essential outcomes. Not only does learning to harness quiet help you to get ahead, it also helps you the manage stress. Now shush…. 

Photo from jumpinjimmyjava – iKIVA via Flickr

Got Ideas? Become a Thought-Leader. Oprah Did.

Ideas have extraordinary power. They’re the basis of the opinions, principles, and convictions that drive us. They underpin the plans we make and actions we take. 

The more universal the idea, the more promise it evokes, and the more compelling the spokesperson, the more likely we are to adopt it. 

You don’t have to be a big shot to have valuable ideas. You just need a following of colleagues who think your ideas have merit, can make a difference, and deliver a positive outcome. 

Thought-leaders make a difference 

Every organization, every one of us, needs someone who gives voice to overlooked issues, unstated concerns, problematic biases, and future possibilities. 

Without those voices, we tend accept the status quo, slowing our own growth. 

One of the most extraordinary thought-leaders of the past twenty-five years is Oprah Winfrey. She aired her last of 4,561 talk shows on May 25, 2011. 

In so many ways, Oprah is a career and business phenomenon. She says she had no vision for her talk show when she started out. She just wanted to do a good job and do no harm. That sounds like a lot of us. 

In the beginning, there was no audience for her shows, so she rounded people up off the street to sit in the studio. It didn’t take long before her content and approach became an audience magnet. 

When Oprah was a little girl in Mississippi, she wanted to become a teacher. That’s precisely what she became, but her classroom was a television show. 

She discovered, through an early viewer, what she was called to teach. In a letter, the viewer wrote, “Just watching you be yourself, helped me to be myself.”  That idea was the seed for her thought-leadership career. 

Ideas matter 

We desperately seek ideas in the form of information, perspectives, insights, and answers to help us solve problems and make good choices. 

Oprah’s ideas emerged and solidified by listening to smart, informed, and experienced people. She also read and then read some more. She took all that learning and formed it into the simple but profound statements below. One way I think we can put each to work in our jobs is in parens: 

  • “When we know better, we do better. (Learning and using business and leadership best practices help us make the workplace a positive experience.)
  • People come into our lives for a reason. (Great mentors and challenging employees teach us how to be more effective and successful in our jobs.)
  • Your past doesn’t define you. (Losing your job doesn’t mean you don’t have valuable skills and knowledge.)
  • No one but you is responsible for your life. (Own you job, your performance, and your choices; do the right things.)
  • Pay it forward.” (Let acts of kindness and gratitude brand you; see what a difference you will make.) 

Life lessons are also career lessons, business lessons, and leadership lessons. All thoughts are things, so we need to attach them to the right work. 

 Give voice 

A single idea can create an enormous change. Think of the ones that have impacted you. 

We can be the voice that calls out bullying in the workplace, promotes diversity in hiring practices, and advocates for more transparency in corporate decision-making. 

We can use our platforms to promote high standards of performance and integrity, respect for our coworkers, and fair treatment for all. 

Our ideas position us to lead if we take the challenge. Thought leadership is visionary: It’s the engine for change, innovation, and discovery.  Let’s see what good we can do. 

Photo from charbel.akhras via Flickr