Two Simple Words that Kill Team Creativity














In our creativity workshops, we ask people to participate in a simple exercise. They are to work in partners through 3 scenarios:

  1. Person A invites Person B to do a favorite activity and Person B keeps responding with No, I can’t.
  2. Person B invites Person A to do a favorite activity and Person A keeps responding with ‘yeah-but” that will never work, we tried that already, etc etc
  3. Person A invites Person B to do a favorite activity and Person B keeps responding with”yeah and we could”

We then ask people in which scenario did they feel the most energy and creativity. Not surprisingly, it’s scenario 3. The really interesting thing, however, is that people find the yeah-but response more demoralizing than the straight no.  There’s something about no being definitive but objective, whereas yeah-but feels more like a subjective put down of an idea.

Sometimes people really resist the idea of dropping yeah-but from their repertoire. They argue that we’re asking them to give up their logic or expert knowledge. I think yeah-but sometimes gives leaders the allusion that they are just looking after the best interests of the team and trying to save people from disappointment or hurt. But I think that masks the real issue of yeah-butting. I know mine kicks in when I am attached to my  way of doing things or feeling a bit insecure or tired and just not up to trying something different or risky.

So the next time you find yourself yeah-butting, take a minute to reflect on your true motives and the impact you’re having on your team’s ability to problem solve and come up with creative ideas.

Written by Tammy and based on the 5 of diamonds from our Teamwork Explorer.

10 Reasons We Use Email to Manage Conflict and How to Stop it!

I take a risk with this blog’s video.  I am new to using advanced features in powerpoint and new to converting powerpoint to a video format. I hope you enjoy it (more importantly I hope my point is clear!) and while I am open to feedback, please be gentle 🙂

More time and energy is wasted on escalating “email wars.” I have been both instigator and hapless recipient. Why do we do this? A few reasons come to mind:

  1. We misread the intent behind the email because so much of the visual and emotional context is missing.
  2. We are stressed and have lost perspective and don’t think we have time to deal with an issue.
  3. We work on a virtual team and so face to face immediate contact isn’t possible (there’s a bit of an excuse here but with technologies like Skype not so much.)
  4. We don’t have a whole lot of emotional intelligence, in particular self and relationship management.
  5. We’re better writers than talkers and there’s a fair bit of satisfaction to be gained from a brilliantly (albeit destructively) worded email.
  6. We’re procrastinators and it’s more interesting to engage in an email war than get on with a really difficult project.
  7. We read meaning into an email (whether real or imagined is not important) about our overall competence or identity and feel a need to come to our own defense.
  8. We’ve been avoiding a difficult conversation with someone for some time and seize the opportunity to be righteous.
  9. We poked at wasp’s nests as kids and the pattern is still alive and well and thriving.
  10. We’re cowards, willing to put something in an email, but not address an issue face to face.

Outside of #9, I think I’ve been guilty of all of these although in the last few years I have learned some skills. Here’s what I try to do:

BREATHE … Breathe, Resist (React), Explore, Alternatives, Time, Honest, Expression

Put together … Breathe, resist the urge to react, explore alternative interpretations, take time before responding, take an honest look at your motivations and come up with an authentic and positive expression … whether that is heading down the hallway and having a face to face chat or asking your colleague halfway across the world for a skype call the next convenient time.

Oh, and BTW, BREATHE works if you are instigator or hapless recipient 🙂

This blog is based on the 3 of Diamonds, Don’t Use Email to Manage Conflict, from our Teamwork Explorer. Written by Tammy

What Improv Everywhere Can Teach your Team about Having Fun

I have always believed that teams do their best work when they’re having fun and that’s why I have fallen in love with Charlie Todd and Improv Everywhere, a New York City-based collective that organizes fun and joyful pranks.  I was thinking about why their “acts” are so appealing and funny and how teams can use this insight to put more fun into their work. Here are my insights:

  1. They add something unusual to routines. That’s why seeing “no pants” people get onto a subway is so funny.  It breaks up a predictable, boring routine. Try something like organizing your next agenda as a treasure hunt or blow a horn whenever anyone says a commonly used term on your team.
  2. It’s easy to participate. Dressing like a Best Buy store clerk requires only khaki pants and a blue T-shirt. Have a “wear red” day to celebrate a milestone. Put out a unique and difficult jigsaw puzzle on a desk and whenever anyone on the team accomplishes a task they get to complete 15 minutes on the puzzle. Put a sign-in sheet beside it to record the accomplishments of the team.
  3. They are keen observers of human nature and turn a “rule” on its head. Evening wear is “supposed” to be worn for special, formal events. Taking it to a beach turns that rule on its head. Instead of doing a “lessons learned” after a project is complete, do a lessons not learned at the beginning of a project.
  4. There’s a harmless element of secrecy and curiosity. In their Mp3 Experiment, thousands of people downloaded an Mp3 and followed instructions, like choose an object in the store and dance with it or stand still wherever you are until further instruction. Choose a super hero and have everyone on your team act and talk like that superhero for a day but don’t tell anyone else what you are doing.
  5. They switch up communication channels. In The Mute Button, a group of people in a park square engage in all sorts of activities like break dancing to music, talking to one another, playing with a dog, and on a signal they all stop using sound and continue to participate in the activity.  Just imagine how you could inject fun into your team meeting by having people play charades to discuss an issue rather than talking!

How can you take these 5 insights and create a bit of fun on your team? I’d love to hear what you come up with!

This blog is based on the 4 of Hearts, Have Fun, taken from our Teamwork Explorer. Written by Tammy.

Image credit: Mira Hartford

An Acronym That Will Make your Day and Build your Team


The cartoon says it all … how would doing the opposite of your usual communication style make someone’s day and build your team?

Oh, and in case you didn’t catch the acronym, it’s WAIT (why am I talking/thinking?)

This blog is based on the 9 of Diamonds, WAIT, taken from our Teamwork Explorer. Written by Tammy.

Don’t Read This if You’re a Procrastinator!

I am a very skillful procrastinator and this video is a brilliant and funny study of it! Procrastination strikes all of us at times and strikes all the time for some of us 😉 I fall into the latter category and have spent many years discovering techniques to move from procrastination to execution! I was excited when my brilliant husband developed a 2 x 2 matrix to guide some of his coachees (and himself as I think he also falls into the latter category … how is it we ever get anything done????)

Procrastination Matrix

The idea is quite simple … we will do the things we enjoy and most likely procrastinate over the things we don’t enjoy or find difficult.  We will also use the things we enjoy doing in order to avoid doing the things we don’t!

Ideally a good portion of our work falls into the top left quadrant – urgent and enjoy doing – as we are most likely tapping into our strengths in that particular quadrant. I would put a majority of my work here – I love designing leadership programs, facilitating and coaching. I also love researching things on the Internet and, while occasionally related to my work, more often it’s not urgent.  I don’t like organizing files or paperwork (bottom right for me) and I also struggle to write blogs and do general marketing (top right).

The trick is to limit yourself from doing the bottom left (red X) while moving the top right over to the left. So, when I set aside a morning to blog, I don’t turn on my email program and reward myself when I do write a blog (like check my email, go to Amazon and check out some books, read my favorite book, watch my favorite TV program).  These are what I would call external or behavioral attempts to deal with my procrastination.

There are also internal ones which basically involve changing the way we think about things, so instead of fearing marketing or blogging, I need to think about them differently, addressing my fears and making them fun.  In the last few years, we have offered free half day seminars to our local clients and would be clients, sponsored meet and mingles, award ceremonies, and given away half day workshops at charity silent auctions. We love doing these things and they have helped us build our business.

I have also discovered one last insight … I procrastinate when I think a project is too big or too hard or beyond my skills. In those instances, I have started to ask myself one question, “What’s one step I can take right now to address my fears and move me closer to my goal?”

And with that last thought and for those of you who did watch John’s Kelly’s procrastination video … I think there’s a cup of tea I need to make!

This blog is based on the 4 of Spades, Procrastination, taken from our Teamwork Explorer. Written by Tammy.

6 Ways to Develop your Creativity

Ordinarily, I don’t embed 20 minute videos into my blog posts, but this is one of my all time favorite videos, full stop. That it’s about how we lose our creativity as we age is profound and that Sir Ken Robinson is so funny makes it poignant and memorable.  That I stumbled across it after we had developed our own framework for creativity and that he so wonderfully reinforces our message is exciting. If you don’t have time to view his video but want tips now, here are our 6 ways to develop your creativity, based around the acronym CREATE.

  1. C – Critic – Creativity cannot take hold in an environment of judging or criticizing. Many of us struggle with an inner critic, basically any internal message we send ourselves about what we can’t do — this includes messages that we aren’t creative! Similarly, we have external critics, judgments we place on others that create an environment where new ideas or risks are discouraged. Creativity needs a supportive, open environment where wild ideas and unconventional approaches flourish. Tame your critic by replacing judgment with curiosity.
  2. R – Risk – Our most important inventions come from someone who was willing to take a risk to be different. People’s openness to risk depends upon many factors — nature of the risk, who’s involved, impact of the risk and overall personality factors.  We also tend to overestimate what we have and underestimate what we might gain by taking a risk. The next time you want to do something different, write down everything you currently have in one column and what you might gain from the risk in a second column. What are you overestimating in the first column?  What might you be underestimating in the second column?
  3. E – Energy – Creative people have paid attention to their natural body rhythms and are deliberate about not only when they are most energetic, but also which environments most facilitate their creativity. Become more aware of the times and environments that are low energy for you and do something to shift that energy.  Take a walk, dance to disco music (works for me every time!), do something different from your usual routines (sit with a different person at lunch, read your newspaper at a different time) and declutter your desk or office.
  4. A – Alternatives – Much has been written about creativity and a majority of it focuses on different ways to generate alternatives. Creative people are great at brainstorming. They can think of different ways to approach a challenge and utilize a number of tools to stimulate ideas. An easy way to explore alternatives is to choose a random word or object and then apply the characteristics of that to whatever challenge/problem you are facing.  Try this nifty little online tool for inspiration.
  5. T – Time – Creative people devote regular time to developing their own creativity. Take an honest and fearless look at where you spend your time and trim out those activities that eat up your time but don’t challenge you creatively (like watching TV!). Take yourself on a monthly date and do something highly creative and outside your comfort zone like visiting an art gallery, taking a pottery or art class, going to the theatre, learning how to woodwork, etc.  Do this on your own so you don’t have to worry about your partner, but can explore your own creativity.
  6. E – Execute – Ensure that your good ideas don’t go wasted. Creative people who are good at executing experience success. A great way to move closer to execution rather than procrastination is to simply take one step at a time.  Many times we can be overwhelmed by a big project … just make a commitment to take one step a day towards it.

Here are a list of my favorite resources for creativity:

Happy creating!

This blog is based on the 6 of Spades, Get Creative, taken from our Teamwork Explorer. Written by Tammy.

Why Won’t We Call Time-Outs?

Bang Head Here

Graphic Calliope Learning - Original Source Unknown

No doubt you’ve seen this poster as it’s been around for years.  It’s a good chuckle as it seems ridiculous and exaggerated, but I caught myself doing the equivalent of banging my head against the wall just last Friday and while I didn’t lose consciousness literally, there certainly was no intelligence in my actions. I continued to spin my wheels, get even more upset,  ruin my day, and not get anything done … just move email messages around into different folders and write out a to do list in half a dozen different places.

I know better!  Had I taken myself on a time-out to my newly created workout room for a bit of wild dancing to disco music, I might have gotten a grip, gotten a perspective, renergized myself, found my groove, reclaimed my day, etc, etc.

When we work with teams in our one week leadership programs, we ask team members to choose the 5 cards from our Teamwork card deck that they think will help them be successful. A number of them choose this particular card, Call Time-Outs, the 2 of diamonds, which suggests:

Many a meeting has become unproductive because people mistakenly believe that all problems can be solved on a timetable and ticked off their list. If your team is spinning its wheels, calling a time-out can help break the tension and give people an opportunity to gather their thoughts. Shift your energy by calling the meeting, going for a walk, sleeping on it, or simply moving to another room.

The trick of course is to use the card!  In my role as a team coach, I observe teams who are spinning their wheels and will wait 20 – 30 minutes before I gently ask “Would you like some feedback?”

“YES” is the resounding answer from everyone on the team.  My first bit of feedback is  … get up out of your chairs, take a walk down the hallway and come back. I then ask people to stand away from their meeting table and “observe themselves as a team” and ask them “what was happening on this team?” and “what does this team need to do?” Inevitably, the team gets itself back on track and knows what it needs to do.

I find this phenomena fascinating. Why won’t we call time-outs? I think there are a number of factors

  1. Initially, our self-awareness skills … the ability to stand back and observe ourselves and others in the moment.
  2. Secondly, our belief system.  In particular, our belief about time and that we don’t have enough of it. Our deeply-rooted belief that we can continue to be effective after hours, days or years (yes years … how many of you have not taken a vacation in years???) of not taking a time-out. Our belief that we SHOULD be able to be totally effective and productive ALL the time, no matter what the circumstance (ok shortcut version … perfectionism).
  3. Finally, our courage to act.  To call a time-out on a team can mean rubbing up against other team member beliefs and anxieties about not having enough time or not being good enough.

And, one final thought, sometimes we just need an outsider to help us. Some of us are toddlers when it comes to recognizing when we are tired and need a time-out.

This blog is based on the 2 of Diamonds, Call Time-Outs, taken from our Teamwork Explorer. Written by Tammy.

If Computer Problems Were Real

My computer crashed yesterday and I am still waiting for the computer doctor to let me know if it will live. Right now I am making do on an old laptop, and every time I go to do something, I realize I actually do not have anything I need to do what I need to do.  I’ve become even more unorganized than I usually am and have spent a fair bit of time staring off into space (well, this is not entirely true … I’ve actually spent more time swearing and yes, crying, and yes, sending desperate emails and text messages to my computer techie whiz of a husband  …)

Our home has not been a particularly happy one for the last 24 hours.  Patience and optimism are not my natural tendencies … just ask my ever patient, optimistic husband.

So, what’s a stressed out woman to do? First off … breathe … and then perhaps take the advice that she often dishes out to her coaching clients.  Rule #6 … the one that says, “Stop Taking Yourself so Damn Seriously!!!!” No one is sick, no one has died, you do have a fairly recent backup of your computer, etc, etc … in other words, ask myself, how important will this be:

  1. 6 minutes from now?
  2. 6 hours from now?
  3. 6 days from now?
  4. 6 weeks from now?
  5. 6 months from now?
  6. 6 years from now?

I only got to the first two and so need to get over myself and put things into perspective. Find something to appreciate in my life, go for a walk, phone a friend I haven’t talked to in a while, organize my desk, find something to laugh about like “If Computer Problems Were Real” …

This blog is based on the 6 of Hearts, Rule #6 by Ben Zander, taken from our Teamwork Explorer. Written by Tammy.

Silo Busting 101


The Blind Men and the Elephant is an old parable (popularized by John G Saxe’s poem as read in the YouTube video above), and like all great wisdom and insight, stands the test of time. It’s perhaps even more relevant in today’s overly complex world than it was when it was originally told. The basic premise is that 6 blind men each have a hold of a different part of the elephant.  One thinks he is holding a snake (the trunk of an elephant) another a tree trunk (leg), etc. Though each of them might be partly right, they are all wrong about what they are holding.

For me, it’s one of those powerful analogies that I call on whenever I work with teams and organizations who may have become “entrenched” or “siloed” in particular viewpoints and, therefore, aren’t really working well together.  It’s also something I have to remind myself to call upon whenever I have become entrenched as well!

It’s a simple concept. Why is it so difficult to apply? A few reasons occur to me:

  • We are problem solving beings who want quick solutions.
  • Our identities are wrapped up in being right.
  • We are too busy to take the time to fully explore a particular challenge.
  • If we consider other perspectives, we fear we will need to compromise or give up something.
  • We are future oriented and have a difficult time paying attention to present realities.
  • GU – goo – what’s that you ask? It’s Growing Up goo … and it refers to the types of defense mechanisms we develop in childhood based on messages we get from our families, schools, etc
  • Others?

Whatever the case, it’s true that this basic inability to “consider the whole elephant” is at the heart of most miscommunication and a silo mentality. Weisbord and Janoff in Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There! (one of THE best books on leading meetings I’ve ever seen) suggest that exploring the whole elephant (or “getting the whole system in the room”) is necessary in order that people experience that they:

  • live on the same planet, subject to the laws of nature
  • share the same psychological and physical needs

Only when they have experienced this, can people move on to resolve differences and tackle problems.

How can you do this in your organization? Here are a few things to consider based on some of Weisbord and Janoff’s ideas:

  1. Be willing to take the time to understand the issue/challenge BEFORE jumping to a solution or an action plan. This bit of patience is perhaps the hardest first step of all.
  2. Get the whole system in the room. If you want to silo bust, you need to bring people from each silo into the room together!
  3. Do regular roundtables or check-ins on topics as part of your meetings. Encourage all perspectives are heard by surfacing different perspectives yourself.
  4. Draw a mindmap of challenges with all stakeholders in the room before you try to resolve an issue.
  5. If your team is having trouble speaking freely, have each person brainstorm their challenges or perspectives, one idea per post it note. Post these notes on the wall, talk about them and then theme and name them. Then, discuss specific solutions.
  6. Engage in teambuilding activities that help you see each other as people.  When teams (and people across teams) start to drift apart, they often start to see each other as “positions” and the “enemy” and not people. Do things together that force you to have conversations that are not about work (like cooking together, bowling, golfing, etc)

 Do you have any other strategies for exploring the whole elephant? I would love to hear them!

This blog is based on the 8 of Diamonds, The Blind Men and the Elephant, taken from our Teamwork Explorer. Written by Tammy.

Innovation Lessons from Moneyball

Last Thursday I indulged in one of my favorite guilty pleasures, an afternoon movie. I chose Moneyball because Brad Pitt is in it and I like baseball. Other than that, I really didn’t know much about the film. It was an exciting surprise to discover that it is probably the best leadership movie I’ve ever seen and, in particular, a great study on the process of innovation.

The movie is based on the real Billy Beane, the Oakland A’s General Manager, and the A’s challenge of competing with the Yankees & Red Sox who had four times their payroll.  During the 2002 season, Billy Beane, with help from his young assistant, Peter Brand, challenges the traditional ways of building a team and introduces a new and controversial approach, sabermetrics.

Here are the lessons I saw about innovation:

  1. Think differently – Beane is acutely aware that the A’s don’t have the same payroll as other teams, and so they can’t build a team around highly paid superstars in the same way as richer teams. They need to think differently in order to compete, but this means challenging traditional wisdom and the “way things are done.” In an early scene, while the scouts are talking about the connection between looks and skill, Beane says, ” You guys are talking the same old nonsense like we’re looking for Fabio. We have to think differently.” and one scout responds with “Who’s Fabio?” while the others look at him blankly.  Thinking differently requires the ability to let go of the old ways of doing things, and embrace the ambiguity that might go with that.
  2. Be open to insight from unlikely places – While Beane knew he needed to think differently, he didn’t necessarily know how he did need to think.  During this time he encounters Peter Brand, who has been working with sabermetrics.  Brand is a young economist with absolutely no experience in baseball, and little work experience overall who challenges Beane to “buy runs, not players”, a very radical departure from traditional scouting wisdom. Research is starting to reveal that people who know nothing about a particular industry or product can make significant contributions to innovations in it.
  3. Don’t let the past determine what you can do in the future – This is as much a general leadership lesson as an innovation one.  Beane himself was scouted at an early age and did not end up being the superstar everyone thought.  Getting past previous failures seems a hallmark of great leaders and innovators.
  4. Be willing to risk alienation – Beane did not garner any support from anyone in the A’s organization with his new vision; in fact, he was ridiculed and his head coach refused to cooperate.  Fans and sports commentators also started to question his competence.  In Ignore Everybody and 39 Other Keys to Creativity, Hugh MacLeod suggests that “Good ideas alter the power balance in relationships. That is why good ideas are always initially resisted.”
  5. Continue to believe in a vision in the face of failure – While Beane was successful in recruiting players using the new approach, the A’s lost almost all their games in the first half of the season. It would have been easy to give up on the dream, but he continued to pursue, going so far as to trade “star” players thereby forcing his manager to use his approach.  Those who innovate know that failure is a part of the innovation process. As Dave Kelley, CEO of IDEO, a design firm in California suggests, “Fail often to success sooner.”

My favorite quote of the movie from Billy Beane which really summarizes the nature of innovation, “If we pull this off, we change the game.  We change the game for good.”

What is your experience of innovating?  Does it line up against these insights?

Written by Tammy.