Are You Safe or Trapped?

Dave and I have been teaching and giving talks for over 30 years and so it was surprising to both of us just how much angst we both experienced getting ready to present at DisruptHR Victoria. To be fair, it was a bit of a different format – 20 slides automatically forwarded every 15 seconds – and it was being video taped but nonetheless I have given hundreds of talks over the years … WTF? Why did my inner critic rear its ugly head to such a degree? My first thought was that my angst was all about not having control over when the slides advanced, but upon reflection there was a lot more going on.

Serendipity being what it is, I was just reading Tara Mohr’s Playing Big and Denise Jacobs’ Banish your Inner Critic, both of which offer insight and tips for dealing with your inner critic, albeit from slightly different perspectives.  Both of them suggest that the inner critic is a hardwired safety instinct. The role of the inner critic is to protect us from harm,  whether that’s physical or emotional.  This insight alone has helped me reframe what’s happening. Instead of the usual “this is ridiculous” message I give myself, I’m now saying, “Thank you for trying to  protect me, but I’ve got enough experience to handle this.” It’s a subtle but powerful shift that leaves me feeling more grounded.

My next insight came from Tara’s book … that our inner critic will yell most loudly when we are getting ready to play a bigger game. I realized that while I have given many talks, I can only think of one or two that were actually videotaped and none were going to get circulated more broadly.  There were several firsts in this talk … first time with a 5 minute, highly structured talk, and first time with a video about to be circulated. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to be “perfect,” another sign that the inner critic truly has a hold on you. I reminded myself of the Leonard Cohen quote I often say when perfectionism is taking over

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

My final insight came from Denise Jacobs’ book. She has a chapter on “comparison syndrome” that really resonated for me. She talks a lot about the role of social media in feeding the inner critic and how to deal with that by tracking your triggers and then eliminating some of those sources. It was her ideas around becoming self-referential, however, that were so helpful to me. In preparing for the DisruptHR talk, I watched quite a few talks from the previous year, watched a number of shorter TED talks and read quite a few blogs about what to do/not do. The more I did this “preparation” the more freaked out I became. I was becoming other referential, not self referential. I needed to stop preparing and comparing,  get centered in on what I wanted to say and trust my own experience.

Jacobs’ suggests that to be self referential you determine your success by looking at who you’ve become over time. You then focus on becoming the best version of yourself. I was so anxious my first day of teaching high school English (many years ago now), I actually vomited in the staff washroom before I made it up to the class to teach! I realized that I had come a long way.  Embracing my “onlyness,” the space in which only you can stand, allowed me to embrace who I am and what I have to offer and do the talk “Tammy style” instead of “everyone else style.”

I’m happy to say that I got myself centered and, while I did feel many nervous flutters while waiting to give my talk, I did not vomit 😉 I have not seen the tape yet, but I will deal with that inner critic when the time comes 😉 In the meantime, I’m excited that I took the risk and very appreciative of the entire learning experience!

Go Where You’re Loved

 Go Where Youre Loved learning leadership happiness engagement decision making creativity appreciative inquiry

I remember listening to an author once (sorry I can’t recall who it was!) who was asked about how she dealt with critics of her work. She replied, “I go where I am loved.” Most of us already have really well developed inner critics and so we don’t need to seek them out. Going where we are loved to find an audience for our work and our style (whatever work that might be!), leaves more energy to continue developing ourselves. Continually going down a path with people who don’t appreciate who we are leaves us demotivated, uninspired and worn out. Find those who love you and nurture them!

Didn’t I Do This Yesterday?

 Didnt I Do This Yesterday? uncategorized leadership creativity coaching change  Vanity Fair Bruce Springsteen
I’m a bit of a biography nut and was intrigued by an article on Bruce Springsteen in a recent Vanity Fair article. In it he stated that, ““You have to create the show anew, and find it anew, on a nightly basis,” Springsteen said. “And sometimes,” he concluded, laughing, “it takes me longer than I thought it would.” Later on in the article, he says, “I’ve always felt a lot in common with Sisyphus. I’m always rolling that rock, man. One way or another, I’m always rolling that rock.”

I was struck by the connections to creativity and leadership in what he said. Our creativity gets expressed when we continue to push that rock uphill. In my case, just because I may have created a blog I really liked yesterday (or many other previous days!), doesn’t mean I don’t have to go through my creative process again and find some inspiration. While my creative process might become familiar to me, I don’t know that it’s gotten any easier. Some days that rock is pretty heavy!

And this is certainly true of leadership as well. We need to show up every day and find the inspiration and best parts of ourselves. Just because we made a difference one day doesn’t mean we don’t need to do the same the next day. We have to recreate our passion and commitment for leadership every day. And that, too, can feel like pushing a big rock uphill.

In The Shower …

 In The Shower ... creativity

In our creativity workshops, we talk about managing your energy which means paying attention to how and when you get your best ideas. While we talk about the importance of taking walks, we don’t mention as often that both Dave and I find that some of our best ideas come when we are in the shower! It feels like too much information to say this in a workshop, but alas it turns out that there is research to back this up!

Gregoire and Kaufman in their 2015 book Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind highlight their 2014 research that 72% of respondents around the world reported having some kind of new insight in the shower! So the next time you are struggling for insight at work, just head to the locker room  In The Shower ... creativity  Hmmm … now that might just be TMI!


Letting go of fear

 Letting go of fear risk taking learning happiness creativity

Earlier this year I wrote about what it took to say yes to writing a book. Well the day has arrived when that book is actually published! I have let go of many fears – that I have nothing to say, that I can’t write, that I will expose myself too much, that no one is interested in this topic and, in particular, that people might think bosses already have too much power … why should we forgive them?

Much like letting go of fear, forgiveness helps you let go of pain, suffering and angst. 

Forgiveness sets you free and points towards renewed possibility for your life.
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It doesn’t mean you agree with or condone someone’s behavior. It just lets you get your life back.

If there is someone occupying space in your head and you’re tired of carrying that negative energy around, you may find my book, How to Forgive Your Boss (or anyone who has done you wrong), a useful read. And for those in Victoria on December 1, please join me at the book launch.

And watch this space for more as I will be sharing tidbits from the book in future blogs.

But I Have No Time …

  But I Have No Time ... strategy 2 risk taking happiness emotional intelligence creativity

“But I have no time,” is something I hear myself and my clients often say in relation to expressed desires about what we’d rather be doing. What I have learned from my 30-day blogging challenge is that by not prioritizing our creativity and making time for it, we just drift through our weeks, and one day jumbles into the next.

When we make time, however, things come together, they fall into place, we complete puzzles. And, according to Amabile and Kramer of The Progress Principle, engagement relates to our ability to see progress everyday.

For people who work on complex, long term projects with lots of moving pieces, doing something tangible every day that nurtures you and your creativity is not a nice to have, it’s a need to have.

Moving Past I Can’t Do This

 Moving Past I Cant Do This uncategorized creativity
For those readers who may have been counting, today is day 30 of my 30-day challenge to blog everyday. While I am planning to write much more about what I learned, today I am reflecting on the interesting connection between time and creativity.

A lot of days I struggled to blog. I was too busy with “real work”, tired and uninspired. I said on many days, “I can’t do this.” Ordinarily I would have stopped there and waited for another day.

But the challenge to blog everyday got me pushing through the confusion, anxiety and insecurity that I have nothing to say and am not capable of drawing anything. While praying might be too strong a word, being truly open and receptive to inspiration is something I hope to remember moving forward.

That, and pushing through when it seems like I can’t.

Who’s In Your Network?

  Whos In Your Network? strategy 2 learning leadership decision making creativity   
I’ve written about the importance of having cheerleaders in your life, especially when you are trying something new and/or taking risks. 

But we also need to step back and analyze who’s in our network more broadly in order that we don’t get blindsided by circumstances and perspectives we hadn’t considered.

Who do you interact with most and/or consult with around projects? Are they all like you? Or is your network diverse?

Innovation and Tradition – The Genius of the AND

From Tradition to Innovation – The Grand Challenge facing many large organizations

Dave Whittington, December 17, 2014

I was making a presentation and facilitating a conversation about innovation last week in Vancouver. The final part of my presentation was about the organizational context in which innovators need to operate and the challenges faced in many large organizations. During the ensuing conversation one participant observed that we perhaps needed to better understand how to make a business case for innovation. That got me thinking, and hence this blog.

I’m going to simplify things to make my case, and I know that real life is always more complex, but I think some of the ideas here might have value all the same. The normal route to a business case for innovation would go something like this. List what is wrong with the current state, and paint a vivid picture of the advantages to be gained by being innovative. On the face of it this makes a lot of sense. When you look at established models for leading change, such as John Kotter’s seven steps, we see the need to clearly state what is wrong with the current situation and communicate a vision of where we should be going.

There’s a downside to this approach, and I’m going borrow heavily from Barry Johnson’s work on Polarity Management to explain why. Let’s start by assuming that Tradition and Innovation are two sides of a polarity. So in any large organization there will be fans of tradition and fans of Innovation and they compete with each other for attention. There will be zealots on either side, but reasonable people would have to accept that there are positives and negatives on both sides. The first step in managing this polarity is to map the positives and negatives for either side.

Tradition Innovation Polarity

Now we can see where the normal business case fits. It’s a clear call for a move from bottom left (the downside of tradition) to top right (the upside of innovation). The problem with this straightforward call to action is that it only acknowledges half of the issues and has the effect of further polarizing the situation with each camp becoming more firmly entrenched in their beliefs that “the other side” just doesn’t “get it”.

Why innovators need to embrace tradition

The way out of this is simple, but somewhat counter intuitive, and not a part of any model for leading change that I’ve ever seen. We first need to accept that there are positives on both sides. There are also negatives on both sides. If we are to have any chance of bringing on board the tradition bearers in the organization, we have to acknowledge the legitimacy of their perspective. We have to change the conversation from a left vs. right argument, to a top vs. bottom dialogue, because we can all (except for some of the extremists perhaps) appreciate the value of the positives on both sides and acknowledge the potential negatives of both too.

The business case goes something like this. “There are some real positives to the traditions we’ve built up in this organization and we do not want to lose them. We also acknowledge that there are potential pitfalls if a push to being more innovative isn’t well thought through. However, right now, we need innovate in some critical areas because our current way of doing things is not serving us as well as it has done in the past.”

You see, instead of simply talking about the down side of bottom left and up side of top right, we’ve acknowledged the whole system. We’ve also done this in a very particular order that involves acknowledging the position of the tradition bearers first, and making the case for innovation second. There’s a basic rule of communication that says that people are more likely to listen after they first know that they have been heard.

This shift to valuing both the positives of innovation and the positives of tradition is a great example of moving away from either-or thinking and as Jim Collins clearly stated in Built to Last, “embracing the genius of the ‘and’”. More recently, this capacity to reconcile what look like oppositional ideals was recognized as a critical skill for organizational leaders by Roger Martin in The Opposable Mind. This cognitive skill is also a key component of great innovators. According to Dyer and Gregersen, Associational Thinking is a key cognitive skill in the Innovator’s DNA.

To summarize, if we are to make an effective case for more innovation in the large organizations we work in, we have to embrace the genius of the ‘and’, practice associational thinking, and acknowledge the value of the traditional.

How to encourage creativity and innovation

In the last few years I’ve been seeing a pattern emerge in the strategic objectives of organizations I work with. This focus on innovation and creativity is not just a bandwagon that’s being jumped on. I believe this is an intuitive and direct response to the trend towards volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (the VUCA world) that we’re all living in.

Turning the strategic goal of innovation into reality is the struggle. I think the problem stems from the fact that innovation is a cultural phenomenon and not something that can be easily dictated.

If the organization you work in has innovation and/or creativity in its strategic goals, here are five things you can do to encourage innovation and creativity and start building the organizational culture you need:

  1. Develop it, at every level. Not only does investment in staff development give people the tools they need to be creative, it also sends a message that says the organization is prepared to invest in a new of doing things. It’s really important that the development opportunities are embraced by every level of the organization. There are lots of options here, from a visit to Stanford’s to local, and more affordable, creativity workshops.
  2. Demonstrate it, from the top down, by showing commitment to the ideas above. If an organization can find really creative ways to celebrate, train, reward and make time for innovation, then they’ll be in great shape for making it a cultural norm. Walking the talk is the most powerful way that senior leadership influence organizational culture. Innovation and creativity are as much to do with culture as they are to do with strategy.
  3. Reward it, quite simply, by making it a part of your performance review framework.
  4. Make space for it, in even the busiest schedules. There are stories going around of how some organizations allow their employees a half day a week to work on anything they like. This might seem outrageous; to give away 10% seems crazy. However, if you consider the value that you get from 90% of an engaged workforce versus 100% of a disengaged workforce, I know which I’d prefer, and I get the added benefit of all those creative ideas from the 10%.
  5. Celebrate it, especially when it fails. The end of the 20th century and early 21st century has been a time a time to tighten belts and batten down the hatches. We’ve generally become quite risk averse and failure is seen as unacceptable. Being innovative naturally involves trying things out, and not everything we try out is going to be successful. If we’re to be truly innovative we need to celebrate innovation wherever it occurs, and most importantly, we need to celebrate innovation for the sake of innovation, and not just for the successes it sometimes brings.

Any organization that’s really serious about innovation and creativity needs to pay attention to its culture as well as its strategy. The two need to work hand in hand. Org strategy supports and informs org culture. Org culture supports and informs org strategy.

Dave Whittington – June 2014