Tag Archives: Creativity

Let’s get creative.

Paint brushes by Futurilla

I think a lot about creativity – where it comes from, how to use it – because I’ve found that it’s all too easy to get stuck in a mental rut, particularly when it comes to our jobs.

Doing things the same way you’ve always done them isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  But it is limiting.  And kinda boring.

So here are a few prompts to get you thinking creatively about management challenges.  I urge you to spend some time letting your mind play with these ideas.

Change your perspective.  Use your imagination.  See what happens.


Size matters.

What if…your organization doubled its current square footage? (office space, manufacturing floor, whatever)  What do you do with the space?

Now cut your current space in half.  How do you adapt?


Find your superheroes.

What if…one person in your organization has a new product idea that will revolutionize your industry?  But you don’t know who they are.  And they don’t know what they have.

How do you find this person and capitalize on their idea?


“And the Oscar goes to…”

What if…your organization receives a prestigious industry award for excellence and you’re asked to represent your organization at the award ceremony.

Who do you thank in your acceptance speech?  Why?


Observe and report.

What if…you were a consultant (secret agent, space alien) visiting your organization for the first time.  It’s an average workday and you’re free to observe and interact with the staff.

What do you see?  How do you explain your findings to the people who sent you?


 

Need a creative jump start?  I love these books from Keri Smith:

          

 

(Photo by Futurilla via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

 

(This post contains affiliate links to Powell’s Books.)

 

Advertisements

Opening the door to creative possibilities.

yes and no by abhi

I’m always intrigued when I find the same idea popping up in two totally different contexts.  It makes me think the universe is saying,  Hey.  Seriously.  Think about this.

This happened to me with the phrase “Yes, and…”.

The concept comes from improvisational theater and the rule is, when asked a question or given a suggestion, you must reply with “Yes, and…”.

I read the idea first in Parents magazine as a means of playing more creatively with your kids, and then found the concept again in Dan Pink‘s book on sales, To Sell is Human.

Here’s the thing:

Using ” Yes, and…” opens the door to creative possibilities. 

It forces you to use your imagination and encourages participation.

And it’s a lot harder than it sounds.

In trying to incorporate this idea into my own life, it has made me aware of how often I use the phrase “Yes, but…”.

Where “Yes, and…” opens the door, responding with “Yes, but…” closes it.  It negates what the other person said and effectively shuts down the conversation.

Consider this:

A team member comes to you with an interesting but unexpected professional development opportunity.  How do you respond?

Yes, but it’s not in the budget.”
or
Yes, and we can review the budget to see if there are any extra funds available.”

See the difference??

Try using “Yes, and…” and observe how your personal and professional interactions can be enhanced simply by your choice of phrase.

 

Originally posted July 1, 2013

This post contains affiliate links to Powell’s Books.

(Photo by *_Abhi_* via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

 

Have you found your voice?

Singing to the Sunrise by Don McCullough

If you are a writer, blogger or creative of just about any sort, you’ve probably thought a lot about your “voice”.  You’ve worked hard to develop a unique style that expresses how you see the world.  You’ve figured out how to tell your story, as only you can tell it.

If you’re a manager, or aspiring to be one, you may not be as comfortable with this idea.  You’re not an “artist”.  You’re focused on organizing, planning, measuring performance.  Not on finding your “voice”, right?

But here’s why your voice matters:  It’s how we share our worldview.  How we reach people and connect them to our passion and our mission.  Our voice is why people follow us, even as situations change.  Because our worldview resonates with them.  And that’s a valuable component of leadership, isn’t it?

The connection between voice and worldview clicked for me as I read Jeff Goins on creating value as a writer.  Here’s how Goins describes a worldview:

“A paradigm.  A perspective.  A code of ethics.  It’s how we live our lives, whether we recognize it or not.  This is what sets a person’s voice apart from the rest of the noise vying for our attention: not what they say, but how they say it.”

Let me share some elements of my worldview that influence my voice as a manager:

  • Job satisfaction stems from meeting the basic human need for autonomy, purpose and growth.
  • Our environment matters.  The quality and character of our workspaces impact how we do our jobs
  • Systems need creativity to avoid becoming stagnate and stifling.  Creativity needs systems and structure in order to have a meaningful impact.

Now think about your own career.  What links all your different positions together?  All your assorted tasks?  All the decisions you make?  Your unique background and experiences have given you a unique worldview.  Your voice is how you share it.

 

(Photo by Don McCullough via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

 

Has your routine become a rut?

Carousel by Dominic Alves

Today I went out to lunch.

With my 2 year old.

For no reason.

It wasn’t a special occasion.  I wasn’t meeting a friend to “catch up”.  I just decided to stop at a restaurant before finishing our errands.  This may not sound that outlandish to some, but for me, it was something of a first.  See, I’m a person of routines.  I like my schedules.  I like having a plan.  And with a kid, this has served me well.  He and I know what to expect of each other.

And it works from a professional perspective, too.  I believe consistent work habits are crucial to accomplishing large tasks.  And a set routine frees one’s mind for important decisions and complex problem solving.

But being efficient only matters if you’re accomplishing something worthwhile.  Something meaningful.  Routines and habits are only half the battle.  You also need inspiration.

You need to mix it up.

Try something new.

Do things that remind you that life isn’t just a series of tasks to be checked off a list.

 

(Photo by Dominic Alves via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

 

Get in the Mood: Creating a Manager’s Inspiration Board

radiant quote 2

I’ve always loved inspiration boards.  As a teenager, I covered my bedroom walls with layers of Benetton ads and poignant hair-band lyrics.  (Just like every night has its dawn…every rose has its thorn.)

These days, my inspirations have changed but I still like to look up from a tough problem, or lean back after a difficult call, and see the things that inspire me…as a manager, as a writer and as a mom.

Ann Friedman suggests that our teenage bedroom and locker decorating has evolved into the current popularity of Pinterest and Tumblr.  And while I like those mediums, I’m inherently more tactile.  And lazy.  I need my inspirations to be accessible without requiring the foresight to open my web browser.  So I recommend having the things that inspire you as a manager on an actual board (or cube wall or clipboard or whatever you’ve got).

With all that in mind, here are some ideas for creating a Manager’s Inspiration Board.

Inspiring or motivational quotes – The one above from John Butler Yeats is a favorite reminder to myself to keep finding new challenges.

Your dream workspace – Designers use mood boards to capture the atmosphere or feeling they want to create in a new space.  You can do this, too, with clippings, fabrics and color swatches.

Elements of your management philosophy – What management truths do you hold to be self-evident?

Your personal, and/or your company’s, mission statement – Ideally, these two things are in harmonious synergy.

Symbols of why your job matters to you – Maybe this is a picture of the people you serve.   Or your smiling team after a productive retreat.   Or your kids.

Ideas to revisit – Include a place to capture all your brilliant, but not really applicable at the moment, ideas.

 

How about you?  What things are on your inspiration board?

 

A manager’s 5×5 for employee engagement.

FiveToday I’m taking inspiration from a recent post on
The Altucher Confidential“The 5×5 Trick To Make Life Better”.

In this moving post, James Altucher explains how he keeps himself from being overpowered by regret and worry.  He takes off on the idea that we are all the average of the 5 people around us, then adds that he is also the average of the 5 things that inspire him, the 5 things he thinks about most, the 5 things he “eats” (mentally & physically) and the 5 ways he can help people each day.

While Altucher takes a personal spin, I want to explore this from the perspective of a manager.

Here’s a scary reality: unhappy, disengaged workers outnumber happy ones worldwide.  The majority of workers are not engaged; they “sleepwalk through their days, putting little energy into their work”.  And the factors that go into engagement?  Most, if not all, are related to the employee/manager relationship.  Whether you like it or not, as a manager, you control the worker experience.

So, back to Altucher’s 5×5 idea.  How can we use this to keep our teams more engaged?

5 People – 
This is probably the size of most of our workgroups.  Is everyone on your team contributing and adding real value?  Think about the old “one bad apple” adage.  Is there someone dragging the others down?  And look at yourself with a critical eye here as well.  You’re one of your team’s 5, right?

5 Things That Inspire –  Look around your workspace, the place where you spend the bulk of your day.  Are there 5 things in it/about it that inspire you?  If you’re not inspired, can you expect your team to be?  Encourage your employees to find their own inspiration.  Ask them to display and share it.  Remember show-and-tell from grade school?  Bring that idea to a meeting and open with what inspires each team member.

5 Thoughts – Can you articulate your organization’s core values?  They should be top-of-mind and driving your team’s behavior.  Adding value, working smarter, being passionate, having fun, showing gratitude.  These are the type of thoughts that keep your team engaged.  I come back to this quote from Lao Tzu:

“Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habit.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”

5 Things You Eat  Yes, you should encourage healthy habits, like eating right, by insuring your team has the time and freedom to take care of themselves physically.  Too many long hours, too few breaks, eating at their desk – these all take a toll on job satisfaction.  But let’s focus on mental intake.  What data streams are feeding your team?  Think about forms of feedback you give, positive and negative.  Are you providing creative input?  Encourage engagement with other departments, disciplines, and industries.  Allow your team to bring fresh ideas to the table.

5 Ways You Help This is your highest priority as a manager.  Are you available to help your team on a daily basis?  Are you engaged with their careers?  Do you know their long-term goals and their project interests?  Are you a mentor?  None of this is easy, particularly if you’re a working manager with a full task list.  But helping your team members grow can be the most rewarding part of management.

 

What do you think?  Does the 5×5 idea ring true for you as a manager?

 

(Photo credit: Microsoft)

 

Three tips for managing creatives.

pencils


Today I’m excited to have a guest post from the amazing and talented Monica Garcia

Monica is a freelance writer and marketing consultant.  She’s a native of the Columbia River Gorge, and mom to a three year old Star Trek nerd.

I’ve had all kinds of jobs in my life.  I’ve bussed dishes in a cafe, made espresso drinks, and had countless customer service gigs.  I even had a brief stint as an obituary writer.  More often than not, being able to do use design software and having a talent for writing has landed me what I’d call “part-time” creative work, or a job where I get to use my creative skills in addition to more administrative duties.  What I’ve learned over the years is that using your creative skills flexes very different muscles than other types of work, and sometimes managers don’t seem to grasp the differences.  With that in mind I came up with my top three tips to keep your creative staff happy by showing you understand the unique challenges that creative gigs present.

1. Output requires input.  I think it is pretty widely accepted that you can’t be a good writer without being a dutiful reader, but somehow folks fail to see the direct connection when it comes to an employee on the clock.

Even creative people can’t always tell where inspiration will come from, so when managers start looking over our shoulders to see if we are “wasting time” it can put undue stress on an already stressed out person trying to pull something artistic out of a hat.

Design is everywhere.  Words are everywhere.  Inspiration abounds and creative people require huge amounts of input to churn out new and interesting work.  A walk in the park, thumbing through magazine, reading an interesting science article – any of these can prove inspirational.  Rather than trying to decide for a creative person what is applicable to their process, I think most of us would prefer that our managers build in some time for us to gather the input we need, and have the effectiveness of our time use be evaluated by our output.

2. Creative work isn’t made for multitasking.  A creative person may like to have several creative projects going at the same time so she doesn’t get bored, but I’m talking about asking your creative professionals to accept duties that require frequent interruption like answering phones or helping customers.  Can it be done?  Sure.  Is it a recipe for madness and mediocre results?  Certainly.  For most creative people concentration is key to getting desirable results, and a barrage of frequent interruptions not only slows down the process, it can completely stifle it.

3. A lot of us creatives don’t take criticism well.  Ever see the posters made by designers to illustrate the worst client feedback they ever received?  Yeah, well, sometimes the most well intentioned feedback comes across like a customer telling their mechanic which wrench to use to fix the car.  Still bosses and clients have to give feedback, and my favorite managers were the ones that gave me lots of information up front and less as the project progressed.  More information in the initial planning stages of a project is almost always preferable (and more efficient) than endless revisions.

Once a creative employee presents their work for review, think about giving feedback like a book editor.  Skilled editors know the difference between a sentence that is tragically ungrammatical, and a sentence that is soundly written, but perhaps just phrased differently than the editor would have written it.  A great editor will hold back comments that would alter the author’s voice and style without offering clarification.  I think this philosophy can be expanded to cover most creative work.

Changes cost time, and by extension, money, so with any change it seems prudent to weigh the costs to the benefit.  Will a quick change clarify the message or make it more accessible?  Probably worth it.  Spending time adjusting the color scheme to match the bosses personal preferences?  Maybe not so much.  That’s a good time to take the role of editor and say to yourself, “it might not be my favorite color, but it gets the job done.”

Recognize too, that sometimes creatives knock it out of the park on the first try*.  If you want a happy creative staff, recognize and reward those home runs.  It might feel like you haven’t done your job unless you made a few changes, but believe me nothing makes a creative stop trying to hit one out of the park like the realization that no matter what they produce, the boss just has to tinker.

*Rarely does a creative person show their manager or client an actual first draft, so when I say “knocks it out of the park on the first try,” of course I’m talking about the first polished draft.

 

(Photo credit: Microsoft)