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When we work from the assumption that people are creative, resourceful, and whole, we quickly realize that creativity often gets blocked, perhaps devalued, and even dismissed by many people. Figuring out what blocks it, what prevents it from happening, and what it takes to break through is something we have found it is important to study. 

To do that, we've invited a University of Illinois graduate student, Jeff Bogue, to work with us to help uncover what gets in the way of leaders using the best of their creativity. Jeff is completing a Master of Science in Technology Management (MSTM) through the Gies College of Business. At the end of his article here, he asks some questions - I invite you to reach out to chat with him.

Here's what he has to say, enjoy! 

+MMT


BogueHeadshotCreativity: That thing that, over the course of a decade, I felt slowly slip away, has crept back up on me in what seemed the most unlikely of places. 

I believe that everyone is naturally creative and that hurdles pop up along the way that make us feel less so. Think about a time when you had to write something for a class, for work, or for fun, but as soon as you sat down, couldn’t put pencil to paper (or fingers to keyboard). Something gets in the way, and it could be many somethings, but what are they? Despite it all though, you finished writing it. You pushed through the block. Jumped the hurdle. Maybe it was a deadline that did it, or you went for a walk to clear your head, or found inspiration form listening to your favorite album. But you did it.

No matter who you are or what you do for a living, I believe that people are naturally creative, in big and small ways. The easiest place to see this is in children. They play pretend, build pillow forts, and draw whatever comes to their imaginations. I cannot recall a time when I was little where I was in a creative rut. There was no pressure to create, it’s a kid’s natural state. As adults, it’s easy to find creativity on full display in fields typically labeled as “creative,” such as film, music, the arts, and so on. Creativity also plays a key role in scientific breakthroughs and feats of engineering. It’s even visible in more mundane ways. How many doorstops have you improvised out of a shoe or a book, or found clever ways to reach the remote because the couch was just too comfortable to get up from? That’s creativity too.

Growing up, I spent practically every waking moment playing with LEGO and drawing all over school notes, homework assignments, and really any piece of paper I could get my hands on. Art class was always my favorite, with band in close second. I took as many art classes as I could in high school and went on to pursue a degree in Industrial Design. An art degree. Something happened to my creativity along the way though. It was like a campfire slowly burning out to nothing but embers. Nearly four years after finishing my undergrad, I still haven’t worked as a designer, let alone in a “creative” field. I was back at home, living with my parents, with my seemingly useless art degree, working as a café manager, feeling like a waste of space, and even worse, feeling stuck. I tried to work on new projects to keep my design portfolio fresh, but I didn’t have any more energy. My creative drive was completely gone, and if nobody wanted to hire me as a designer, I not only didn’t feel good enough, but also felt like I wasn’t creative anymore. I’d lost a part of myself and didn’t know how to get it back. Then out of nowhere, something started to fan those flames again.

I’m now in the midst of work toward a master’s degree in business, a discipline that I’ve always seen as the antithesis to my passion for art and design. Art and design were always these free flowing, community based, egalitarian endeavors full of creativity. Business, on the other hand, looked, from my vantage point, to be a bureaucratic hierarchy of narrow-minded clones in dull suits, desperately trying to climb the corporate ladder because there was a gold watch after 30 years of sitting in a cubicle. Nothing about that sounded creative to me. Business always asked, “how much money will that make me,” while art always asked, “how will that affect us?” Artists hate corporate suits, and by extension, I wanted nothing to do with business. Then why am I, the proud recipient of an art degree, studying business? If my design education taught me one thing, it that there are multiple sides to every situation. I’m studying business to gain institutional knowledge about the subject in order to not just be an armchair expert, or a misinformed critic. The further along in the program I get, the more frustrated I become with contemporary business practices, but I’m also beginning to see striking parallels between creativity, and success. Keep in mind, this is not simply monetary success, but also individual success, and success that lasts.

Over the next couple of months, I want to discover what the hurdles are that get in the way of us meeting our creative potential. I want to find out how to overcome them, and how to harness that rekindled creativity in order that we might incorporate it into how we move through our lives. I’m going to be looking to some of the most influential minds in the arts, design, science, computing, and yes, even business, and look at the psychological, environmental, and societal aspects that influence creativity. I’m not sure what I will find, but if I know one thing about creativity, it’s that it never happens in a straight line.

What’d you think, sound interesting? Have you found yourself, like me, feeling less creative as the years go on, or are you on the other side feeling more creative than ever? What gets you out of a creative rut, and why do you think you fall into one in the first place? Are you an expert on creativity? This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., I’d love to hear your stories.

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night day treeSustainable organizations know that all members of a team have something valuable to offer. They instill this belief in their culture, and apply it both internally and externally to clients, customers, partners, and vendors. They build their business on good relationships with people, which are based in respect.

As consultants, we often challenge our clients to differentiate between their aspirational values and beliefs and their actual values and beliefs: we instruct them to place their aspirational values in the category of vision; their actual values then remain as the things they do so naturally that they are assumed – and yet, still somehow distinct from others in the marketplace.

Believing that all members of a team have something valuable to offer is aspirational for many organizations. And those who believe it, but who don’t consistently live it out, find that they let value they already have go to waste. This waste weakens their company and is often symptomatic of other structural challenges in the organization, as well as mindsets and habits that are not sustainable in the long run.

Like an un-booked hotel room on a night when every other spot in town is sold out, missing team members’ value stands as the opportunity of a lifetime in the evening, or a foolishly missed opportunity in the morning. It certainly matters what time it is.

In the clear light of morning, we see that there are two ways we miss out on our team’s value – or, in serious cases, actually devalue our team: Structural Misses and Personal Misses.

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ElizabethDishwasherWhether we are trying to lead change, sell a product, or come to a team decision, we encounter resistance. When we encounter resistance in an organization, we tend to get frustrated and blame those resisting our proposal, our pitch, our leadership, or our point of view. This is a natural human tendency. Sustainable leaders see resistance not as a place for blame, but as information. Moreover, without discovering what information we are receiving in the resistance, we will be unlikely to find a way forward.

Quick story:

My two-year-old helps me unload the dishwasher most mornings when we come downstairs. She pulls dishes out at random, and hands them to me. Before I get a chance to really get that dish or fork put away, she hands me another. I end up working as fast as I possibly can to keep her from breaking whatever is in the dishwasher.

After we are done, she insists on pushing the racks in (“Do-it. I-SELF!”), and closing the dishwasher door (“Coze-it, Daddy!”).

While I admire her growing agility, independence, and desire to spend time with me, my two-year old’s “help” is often more work for me. On several occasions recently, I have had to find something else for her to do, relocate her, or put either my wife or her siblings in charge to play with her while I finish. She is utterly confused when I tell her to stop helping me. In this way, I am giving her resistance. Of course, helping her understand how to help, helpfully, is the challenge of working with a two-year-old.

The problem is that we most often treat resistance from others as their obstinance, old-fashionedness, being blind, being stuck, or being deficient.

Where We See Resistance

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Manager Leader

 

I worked with a young executive. Everything was going extremely well for his organization. But like any good leader, he would regularly do his SWOT analysis and he had identified threat looming on the horizon.

 

No big deal. He picked out the threat two years in advance. He had plenty of time to prepare.

 

Here's the kicker: he was the only person in his organization who perceived the threat. The rest of his team was content with the status quo and saw no reason to adapt.

 

[P]eople will rise to a challenge if it’s their challenge. They won’t necessarily rise to your challenge.
 – Wayne Smith, Former Assistant Coach of World Champion New Zealand All Blacks

 

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helpingupHealthy vulnerability is essential for sustainable leaders and organizations.

When we develop as leaders, we typically have to un-learn much of what got us to where we are in the first place, and replace it with a way of being that at least initially strikes us as uncomfortable and disconcerting. However, if we can hold that discomfort for what it is, we are likely to be sustainable for the long term.

How we get here

We spend most of our formative years in settings where we are rewarded for what we know, what we can do with confidence, and whom we can persuade. From those things, we are then rewarded again for being able to solve problems based on that knowledge, confidence, and persuasion.

Our first jobs, typically, take the same viewpoint: the manager hires us based on those things. We have a core body of knowledge that allows us to build from there, or to be able to train to do tasks that apply that knowledge over and over again.

This model works relatively well as long as we are working in a 1-to-1 relationship with our boss, receiving orders and executing on them. It starts to show strain when we move to a team setting, shows fault lines in a cross-disciplinary team setting, and crumbles once we begin to expect people to lead.

Why does this system crumble?

True leadership is the ability to see the potential in other people and systems and develop and empower that potential. (See Brown, 2018, p. 4.) This means that helping others solve their problems in a way that they can then solve them for themselves is the highest praise for a true leader.

The challenge is that most of us leaders are afraid to actually lead – because we are actually truly afraid. We are afraid that the empowerment of others and the development of their potential and the potential of the systems in which they operate, will cause us harm: we will no longer be needed, we will be surpassed, we will be left behind, we will be somehow harmed. Those fears are real. Many situations have validated these fears in many of us. We have seen those things in the past when others get rewarded for surpassing us in knowledge (even when that knowledge has come through violation of boundaries), confidence (even if it is just bravado), and persuasion (even if it is just manipulation).

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