I hope that at least a few of these recent posts will be of interest to you:
The Pumpkin Plan: A Simple Strategy to Grow a Remarkable Business in Any Field
HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations
Freedom, Inc.: Free Your Employees and Let Them Lead Your Business to Higher Productivity, Profits, and Growth
Brian Carney and Isaac Getz
The Success Equation: Untangling Skill and Luck in Business, Sports, and Investing
The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products That Win
Steven Gary BlanK
Enterprise Games: Using Game Mechanics to Build a Better Business
The Leader’s Pocket Guide: 101 Indispensable Tools, Tips, and Techniques for Any Situation
The Clash of the Cultures: Investment vs. Speculation
John C. Bogle
Blogging on Business
Peter B. Vaill
Conducted by Kerry A. Bunker and Laura Curnutt Santana
Extraordinary Leadership: Addressing the Gaps in Senior Executive Development
Jeff Weiner (LinkedIn) in “The Corner Office”
Conducted by Adam Bryant
The New York Times
John P. Kotter
“On cleaning up messes”
Russell L. Ackoff
From Redesigning the Future: Systems Approach to Societal Problems
“And the winner of the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award 2012 is….”
Financial Times/Goldman Sachs Press Release
“It Don’t Cost Nuthin’ to be Nice”
Paul (Bear) Bryant
“Designing Products for Value”
Ananth Narayanan, Asutosh Padhi, and Jim Williams
The McKinsey Quarterly
“How To Apply the 80/20 Rule At Work”
“What Women Know about Leadership that Men Don’t”
“How to Build a Better Innovation Team”
Management Tip of the Day
“The True Measures of Success”
Michael J. Mauboussin on
“Business Leadership Lessons from the Military”
Editors of Harvard Business Review
“Ten Ways to Get People to Change”
Morten T. Hansen
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Todd Henry is the founder and CEO of Accidental Creative, a company that helps creative people and teams generate brilliant ideas. He regularly speaks and consults with companies, both large and small, about how to develop practices and systems that lead to everyday brilliance. Todd’s work has been featured by Fast Company, Fortune, Forbes, HBR.org, US News & World Report, and many other major media outlets. His book, The Accidental Creative: How To Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice, offers strategies for how to thrive in the creative marketplace and has been called “one of the best books to date on how to structure your ideas, and manage the creative process and work that comes out of it” by Jack Covert, author of The 100 Best Business Books of All Time and founder of 800-CEO-READ. You can connect with Todd here, or learn more about how to hire him to speak at your event or train your team.
Here is my interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.
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Morris: Before discussing The Accidental Creative, a few general questions. First, Who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth?
Henry: I have a counter-intuitive answer to this. Probably the biggest influence on my personal growth was a 20th-century mystic and monk named Thomas Merton. It seems strange that a man who lived the biggest part of the late years of his life in isolation and contemplation would have much to say to a 21st-century, tech-immersed creative, but I found his writings to be deeply reflective on the nature of humanity, and also an illumination on the mechanics of doing important work.
If I were talking only about contemporary influences, I would have to say that I’ve been incredibly blessed to be around a group of mentors who, over a period of several years, really made it a project to develop me and help me understand both my capacity and my limitations. It was in this virtual incubator for leadership that I first discovered my voice and began reflecting deeply on the creative process.
Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course that you continue to follow?
Henry: I was a leader in an organization trying to scale a team while helping them handle the pressures and demands we were facing, and in my effort to do so I reached out to several other creative directors who I knew would be dealing with the same issues. My biggest question for them was, “How do you serve your team, and help them do their best work without burning them out?” They stared at me like I was from another planet. “What you mean?” they almost unanimously asked. In other words, it had never occurred to them that it might be possible to exist in any create on-demand environment and be simultaneously healthy in the way you approach your work. This began a long journey for me of exploring whether or not it was possible to be prolific, brilliant, and healthy simultaneously in life and work. This research eventually led to my company, which now shares these insights with teams around the world, and then eventually to the book, The Accidental Creative.
Morris: To what extent has your formal education proven invaluable to what you have accomplished in your life thus far?
Henry: It may be cliché but I believe that the biggest contribution formal education made to my career accomplishments is that I learned how to structure my uncertainty and questions into a format that could be pursued and digested effectively. I learned to deal with ambiguity and suffer through process. When I was in school, information wasn’t so readily available, and there was more risk involved in pursuing a specific avenue of research. It was much more difficult (and costly!) to pivot mid-course, so it forced me to stay focused while going about my work. This allowed me to develop the capacity of deep, intermittent focus that has served me in my work as a professional creative.
Morris: In your opinion, what are the most significant differences between creativity and innovation?
Henry: The definition of innovation I use is “progressive and useful change” which typically involves (or at least begins with) a creative act. Creativity, at the heart of it, is problem solving. A designer might solve a problem visually, while a manager might do so by thinking up a new system. But that creative act is only innovation once it’s applied and creates useful change.
Morris: What do you say in response to someone who says, “I’m just not creative”?
Henry: I would say they are wrong. We are all creative, because we all have the ability to solve problems and create value with our mind. I think the biggest reason people say “I’m not creative” is because they confuse creativity with art. The very act of holding a conversation – which most of us can do – is a creative act, because it’s based on improvisation! Once we re-frame creativity as problem-solving, it helps people see their own creative capacity in new ways.
Morris: Isaac Asimov once observed, “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not Eureka! (I found it!) but rather, ‘hmm… that’s funny…’” Do you agree with him?
Henry: Yes! Steven Johnson has called this the “slow hunch” and I agree. Brilliant work is most frequently the result of focused, laborious effort punctuated by moments of insight, all of which is driven by curiosity sourced in the slow hunch. It’s only when we stay with the problem long enough to recognize those anomalies that we are positioned for breakthroughs. To do this we must develop the ability to ask incisive questions. The questions are – in my opinion – far more important than the answers. Every answer must lead to a new question.
Morris: Here is another quotation, this time from Oliver Wendell Holmes: “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” By what process can one get to “the other side of complexity”?
Henry: The trouble is that we get to the other side of complexity for a moment, only to find that there’s far more complexity to be conquered. The creative process is the perpetual assault on the beachhead of apathy, which means that we must fight a daily battle against our natural desire to stay in our comfort zone. Steven Pressfield calls this battling “Resistance” and I’m in 100% agreement. To get to those flashes of clarity – simplicity – requires persistent daily, and sometimes seemingly fruitless effort. At the same time, I don’t know that the illusion of simplicity lasts for long. Most creatives I know experience a brief, shining moment of satisfaction before they begin to see holes in their work. That’s what propels us to keep striving – the promise of greater clarity and simplicity.
Morris: Many major breakthroughs in creativity and innovation are the result of counter-intuitive thinking. For example, combining a wine press with separable type (Gutenberg and the printing press), removal of burrs from a pet’s hair with an attachment (George de Mestral and VELCRO), and leather softener with skin care (Mark Kay Cosmetics).
Here is my two-part question: What are the major differences between intuition and counter-intuition? What (if anything) do intuition and counter-intuition share in common?
Henry: I think intuition and counter-intuition are all about framing. A problem framed in a certain way leads to an intuitive solution. When framed in a different way, the same solution appears counter-intuitive. I believe that so much of this is determined by the focus of the individual solving the problem, and the stimuli that prompt their search for a solution. That’s why I believe it’s critical to maintain a proper level of focus on the true problems you’re trying to solve. If you don’t regularly define your work, you’re likely to drift and you’re less likely to notice those moments of intuitive or counter-intuitive serendipity.
Morris: Of all the books you have read, from which one have you learned the most about creativity and innovation? Please explain.
Henry: From an innovation standpoint, it’s really hard to top The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen. He thoroughly nailed the dynamics of living and working in a marketplace that requires perpetual reinvention, and I believe also unintentionally defined the single biggest factors that cause creative professionals to feel frustrated, under-utilized, and disengaged in their daily work. Purely from a “mechanics of creativity” standpoint, I’d say that I learned the most from Lateral Thinking by Edward de Bono. I also greatly enjoyed Creativity by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, which is a synthesis of his research into creativity across multiple domains.
Morris: Within the last few years, there have been several excellent books published in which thought leaders such as Roger Martin, Chris Brown, and Roberto Verganti discuss the design of business. In your opinion, why has this subject attracted so much attention?
Henry: Over the past many years it’s become obvious that design can’t be an after-thought, because it’s actually good business as well. We are in an age where ideas flow freely and with less friction, and many of the traditional means of creating and distributing goods were based on creating friction rather than eliminating it. Great design is about eliminating friction so that consumers can identify, connect with, and consume what they want when they want it. Good design, from operations all the way through the final point-of-sale communication, is critical in eliminating that friction, especially now that consumers have so many choices.
Morris: What are the defining characteristics of a workplace environment within which creativity and innovation are most stimulated, nourished, and when necessary, protected?
Henry: There is no one-size-fits-all solution, though many still try to find it. In my experience, the most innovative and productive workplace environments have less to do with physical space than psychological space. Is there clarity of purpose? Are we rewarded for the things that move the needle, such as taking measured risks, asking good questions, and spending ourselves on behalf of the work? Do we foster an environment of conversation, or of secrecy? No one goes to work in the morning hoping to crank out a mediocre pile of misery, yet over time our work environments either reward continual growth, or encourage systemic mediocrity. You’re either growing or dying, there is no stagnancy. But growth is difficult and messy, and requires persistent effort. Many give up when it’s “good enough.” (One of the best examinations I’ve read of teams who accomplished great, innovative things is Organizing Genius by Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman.)
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Todd cordially invites you to check out the resources at The Accidental Creative website by clicking here.
In my old life, when I was in ministry, it look a lot of intellectual and emotional energy to preach a new sermon every week (many times, 2-3 new sermons per week). And, the moment one sermon was finished, I had to work on the next one…
In other words, I was never “finished.” I could never “stop.”
Tony Schwartz writes about this in his HBR article, The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time. Here’s a key quote:
What we’ve lost, above all, are stopping points, finish lines and boundaries. Technology has blurred them beyond recognition. Wherever we go, our work follows us, on our digital devices, ever insistent and intrusive. It’s like an itch we can’t resist scratching, even though scratching invariably makes it worse.
It’s the first line that is the best: “What we’ve lost, above all, are stopping points, finish lines and boundaries.”
A preacher I knew used to print the church bulletin every week. He would print it on Friday nights. I mean an old, get ink all over your fingers kind of printing. I asked him once why he did not have someone else print the bulletin. He said, “I want to do one thing a week that, when it is done, I know I finished something.”
Don’t we all wish for that? – some kind of stopping point, when we can say, “I finished that.”
Feeling “never finished” really can make you tired and less productive.
Read the Schwartz article. Think about your own work habits. We all need to find ways to build in regular stopping points. They might just make us easier to get along with, a little more sane, and a lot more productive.
How to “take a hard line on the soft issues”
Many of those who get “fired up” about a new job, a new assignment, a new promotion, etc. eventually become “burned out” by it. What we have in this volume, written by Michael L. Stallard with Carolyn Dewing-Hommes and Jason Pankau, is a remarkably thoughtful and sensitive examination of the causes and effects of this familiar workplace situation. Stallard observes that, “Although people generally enter their organizations fired up, over time most work environments reduce that inner fire from a flame to a flicker.” Why? They lack “connection” with others, especially with their supervisors and immediate associates. As a result, they have unmet needs; more specifically, to be respected, recognized, included and accepted.
In this context, I presume to share a complaint I hear constantly: Being held accountable to achieve results without receiving any explanation of the ultimate objectives, much less an explanation of the given assignment’s relevance to achieving those objectives. Worse yet, not being provided with sufficient resources. And even worse yet, having no “say” about how the given work will be done. Jean-Francois Manzoni and Jean-Louis Barsoux have much of value to say about all this in The Set-Up-to-Fail Syndrome: How Good Managers Cause Great People to Fail.
Stallard asserts that “the lack of connection will gradually burn [employees] out. Organizational environments where connection is low or absent diminish [employees'] physical and mental health. They create a low level of toxicity that drains [their] energy, poisons [their] attitudes, and impacts [their ability and willingness] to be productive.” It is difficult (if not impossible) to calculate the total cost of such a situation, including its impact on customer relationships and retention of valued employees. The potential damage and (yes) cost of a group’s disconnection must be at least the number of people in a given group compounded by a factor of 3-5, if not greater.
Over the years, various questionnaires and surveys have been conducted among many millions of people, asking respondents to rank what is most important to them in a relationship with an organization either as an employee or as a customer. With very few exceptions, “feeling appreciated” was ranked among the top three…with compensation or cost ranked anywhere from 9-14, depending on the given feedback mechanism. Stallard cites one Gallup Organization study that suggests that only 25% of employees are engaged in their jobs, 55% of are just going through the motions, and that 20% of them are undermining efforts to achieve their employers’ objectives. He also cites a study of 50,000 employees at 59 global companies conducted by the Corporate Executive Board. One of its most significant revelations is that “emotional factors were four times more effective in increasing employee engagement rather than rational ones.” I presume to suggest that it is no coincidence that many of the companies listed on Fortune magazine annual list of those “most admired” are also on its annual list of those most profitable and many of them are #1 in their respective industry.
In collaboration with Dewing-Hommes and Pankau, Stallard carefully organizes the material within four Parts: “What Fires Us Up?”; “The Three Keys to Connecting Your Team and Lighting Their Fires: Vision, Value, and Voice”; “The Fire Starts with You: become a Person of Character and Connection to Ignite the Team Around You”; and finally, “Learn from Twenty Great Leaders Over Twenty Days.” Appendix A provides “Questions to Assess Organizational Culture and Connection.”
Stallard and his collaborators focus almost all of their attention on “how” when addressing challenges such as these:
1. How an individual, a group, and (eventually) an entire organization can establish and then sustain emotional connections others
2. How a clear and compelling vision can “ignite” commitment throughout the given enterprise
3. How shared values can nourish human development
4. How giving “voice” to an individual, group, and organization can expedite knowledge flow
5. How to become “a person of character and connection who ignites the team around you”
Of special interest to me is the material provided in Part IV. (That said, I must emphasize the obvious: The value of this material can be maximized only if the material that precedes it has been carefully absorbed and digested.) Stallard and his collaborators offer a self-improvement program that the reader completes with several “collaborators”: Stallard, Dewing-Hommes, and Pankau as well as “20 great leaders from various fields who fired up people by increasing connection.” These leaders do indeed comprise a diverse group. They include the Marquis de Lafayette, Ann Mulcahy, Ed Mitchell, Harriett Beecher Stowe, Howard Schultz, Frances Hesselbein, Fred Epstein, and Bill Belichick. (If at least a few of these names are unfamiliar to you, you will welcome the introductions to them in Part IV.) Over a period of 20 days (one leader per day), the reader is asked to consider what can be learned from each about firing up people by increasing connection (i.e. mutually-beneficial relationships) with others. At the conclusion of each profile, there is a follow-through section that will facilitate effective application of the given lesson(s).
My congratulations to Michael Lee Stallard, Carolyn Dewing-Hommes and Jason Pankau for producing such a thoughtful, sensitive, and eloquent as well as practical book.
When concluding this brief commentary, however, I do feel obligated to make one final point of my own: At one time or another, to one extent or another, everyone gets “fired up” only to experience “flame out,” if not suffer severe” burns” from the experience. That is true of Stallard, Dewing-Hommes, and Pankau and it is also true of every one of the 20 “great leaders” whom they discuss. What then? Long ago, Jack Dempsey said that champions “get up when they can’t.” In the business world as well as in competitive sports, that is as true of groups and even entire organizations as it is of individuals.
Note: Since this book was published in 2007, several other excellent books have addressed several of the same issues and I highly recommend three of them, also.
The Why of Work: How Great Leaders Build Abundant Organizations That Win
Dave and Wendy Ulrich
Be Excellent at Anything: The Four Keys To Transforming the Way We Work and Live
Tony Schwartz with Jean Gomes and Catherine McCarthy
The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work
Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer
150 “tips”…almost unlimited “icebergs”
Here are 150 “Management Tips of the Day” that have been featured by the Harvard Business Review blog (http://blogs.hbr.org/). On average, each has a total word count of about 50 and is best viewed as a reminder rather than as a definitive answer to a business question or a definitive solution to a business problem.
Their primary sources are HBR articles and books published by HBR Press. Therefore, it is correct to assume that these sources are consistently of the highest quality in terms of the information, insights, and advice (usually three specific action steps to take) that are provided by world-class authorities in the given subject area.
The material is organized within three sections, each featuring 50 “tips”: Managing Yourself (listed on Pages 195-198), Managing Your Team (198-201), and Managing Your Business (202-205). I include the page references because those who read this brief commentary and have a specific management need (self, team, or business) will need them to locate the most relevant tip(s) by checking out what is available.
I hasten to add that all of the advice is practical, anchored in real-world experience, and of value to almost any manager, whatever her or his given circumstances may be. The “icebergs” to which the title of this review refers are, of course, the aforementioned primary sources. For example:
“Top Ten Ways to Find Joy at Work,” Rosabeth Moss Kanter
“Six Ways to Supercharge Your Productivity,” Tony Schwartz
“Learn to Embrace the Tension of Diversity,” Marshall Goldsmith
“How to Identify Your Employees’ Hidden Talents,” Steven DeMaio
“Why Most CEOs Are Bad at Strategy,” Roger Martin
“Innovate Like Chris Rock,” Peter Sims
I strongly recommend signing up for a free online subscription to the “Management Tips of the Day” series (http://blogs.hbr.org/). Each “tip” includes a link to its primary source.
Here is an article written by John Boudreau for Talent Management magazine. To check out all the resources and sign up for a free subscription to the TM and Chief Learning Officer magazines published by MedfiaTec, please click here.
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Employees are tired, but hard work is not to be avoided. The key is neither to push employees beyond their limits nor to demand so little you can’t compete.
We all experience the demands of the 24/7 workplaces. The opportunity to work where and when we wish often evolves into the reality of being on all the time. Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of GE, said, “There are 24 hours in a day, and you can use all of them if you want.” Technology creates massive productivity enhancements, but at what cost? Is fatigue just something each employee must deal with, or is it a legitimate focus for talent managers? Recent reports of air traffic controllers falling asleep on the job, for example, offer a vivid warning of the costs and risks that employee fatigue can cause.
So, we must ask ourselves, are work requirements that lead to stress and burnout a threat to organizational sustainability? At the Center for Effective Organizations, we are studying the factors that will shape the future of the HR profession. In our discussions with leaders across a wide array of organizations, they frequently point to the fatigue factor as one of the most important, yet most ignored, potential threats to talent management and organizational sustainability.
The answer likely isn’t that organizations should strive for a stress-free workplace — that’s impractical. Yet, it is not sufficient to just leave this issue to chance, or to continue to demand more and more from our employees. Talent managers have to find the balance.
I worked with a mining company on a project to improve its human capital planning and discovered the organization was facing a shortage of mining engineers and rising turnover among its existing engineers. The company was making do with the engineers it had, which meant giving every mine the necessary engineering attention, but nothing more. To do this, the company had to rotate engineers across the mines at a faster rate than if it were fully staffed. As a result, these engineers were constantly on the move. They were under more pressure, seeing their families less and traveling far more than if the company had a full complement of engineers available.
How could talent planning address this? We turned to another vital asset — the trucks that haul ore and other materials around the mine. Let’s say a mine needs four trucks, which allows each truck to be driven at the optimal speed, keeps wear and tear at optimal levels, and allows optimal maintenance. Truck health is measured relentlessly, including real-time speeds, lubricant deterioration, tire pressure and running hours. A mine manager could make do with only three trucks if they are run a little faster, are allowed to depreciate more and if the manager delays maintenance. This would probably even save money — in the short run. Yet, all those aforementioned measures ensure mine managers never do this. They are held accountable for optimal truck usage, not short-run expedience.
So, why would a company tolerate a shortage of engineers, with the resulting pressure, stress, health issues and turnover, when it would never allow that for trucks? This is even more troubling because research in industrial psychology and human resource management has indicated measures of stress, engagement, satisfaction and intention can cause employees to leave their organizations. Such measures are seldom in the lexicon of an organization’s leaders or talent management systems, yet they provide the same early warning about the deterioration of the mining engineer as the maintenance measures provided for trucks.
Yes, employees are tired, but hard work is not to be avoided. The key is neither to push employees beyond their limits nor to demand so little you can’t compete. Equipment optimization means finding the level of usage and maintenance that is best for the truck and its role. Employee optimization means addressing the fatigue factor analytically with human capital planning and measures, not just opinions or hope.
Human beings are not trucks, but doesn’t talent deserve rigor on optimum health and productivity? Shouldn’t employee fatigue be as much the focus of leader decisions as truck depreciation?
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In my opinion, the single best source for information, insights, and recommendations on workplace fatigue is Tony Schwartz’s The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance, recently reissued as Be Excellent at Anything: The Four Keys To Transforming the Way We Work and Live and published by Free Press (2011).
John Boudreau is professor and research director at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business and Center for Effective Organizations, and author of Retooling HR: Using Proven Business Tools to Make Better Decisions about Talent. He can be reached at email@example.com.