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Rekindle Your Creative Thinking

Working Resources is an Executive Coaching San Francisco Bay Area Firm Helping  Companies Assess, Select, Coach and Retain Emotionally Intelligent Leaders; Talent Management; Leadership Development; Competency Modeling; Succession Management; and Leadership & Team Building Retreats

Creative Thinking

I recently spoke with the Human Resources Director of a company regarding providing executive coaching for the company president. The HR Director asked some very pertinent questions to determine fit. She specifically wanted to know how I worked with different personality styles, and my methods for initiating behavioral change.

The HR Director and I spoke about my approach to coaching, and my belief that possessing a psychological understanding of human behavior and business acumen are important competencies for coaching executives. We also spoke of the need for her organization to create a culture where innovation flourishes.

The Human Resource Director is interested in partnering with me in helping the president to become a more motivational and inspire his executive team to ignite their creativity. We further discussed how company executives can benefit by working with a seasoned executive coach.

According to a global IBM survey of chief executives, creativity is the most sought-after trait in leaders today.

Without continual breakthroughs, Facebook, Google, Apple, Procter & Gamble and General Electric couldn’t sustain success.

It starts with an innovation mindset. Creativity isn’t something that’s learned, as much as rediscovered. Most people are born creative. Just look at children to see how naturally they use their imaginations. But somewhere around adolescence, we begin to stifle our creative impulses as we become more aware of what other people think.

We learn to be more cautious and analytical. This tendency becomes even more pronounced as we join organizations that favor critical thinking. As we become mature contributors to corporate culture, we are continually rewarded for our analytical abilities.

Creative thinking takes a backseat, except in breakthrough situations. But you cannot achieve such innovations unless your company’s culture supports new ideas—even those that fail.

In “Reclaim Your Creative Confidence” (Harvard Business Review, December 2012), Tom Kelley and David Kelley suggest strategies for rediscovering our innate creative thinking abilities. The authors are the manager and founder, respectively, of IDEO, an international design and innovation consultancy.

They identify four common fears that block our best ideas from coming to fruition:

1. The messy unknown

2.  Being judged

3. Taking the first step

4. Losing control

Fear of the Messy Unknown

Creative thinking in business starts with having empathy for your customers. You cannot be truly inspired if you’re sitting comfortably behind your desk—unless, of course, you’re venturing into online forums and social sites where customers express their complaints.

Looking at spreadsheets filled with focus-group data won’t inspire breakthrough ideas. In the real and virtual worlds, you’ll hear unexpected, outside-the-box comments. Even feedback from irrational people—the customers whose comments you really don’t want to hear—can provide important insights.

Implement these strategies to conquer your fear of the messy unknown:

  • Visit online social sites to tap into customers’ grievances and desires.
  • Ask colleagues who regularly go into the field to report what customers are saying.
  • Seek opinions from an unexpected expert, such as a repairman.
  • Be a spy. Observe people in places where your product is used.
  • Interview potential customers in stores or other places they may be found.

Fear of Being Judged

Most of us care deeply about what others think of us. While we don’t mind being judged in some situations, we rarely risk our business-world egos.

We don’t want our bosses or peers to see us fail, as gossip spreads quickly in the workplace. We therefore stick to safe solutions and suggestions. We hang back, letting others take the risks. Unfortunately, this approach prevents us from unleashing creative ideas.

Trust your intuition and embrace your ideas. Write them down in an idea notebook so you can systematically find them, when appropriate. Keep something handy for note-taking during downtime: in the shower, next to the bed, while jogging, in the car.

You can also:

  • Schedule daily free-thinking time in your calendar.
  • Defer judgment or critical thinking until later.

Fear of Taking the First Step

Creative efforts are hardest at the beginning: writing the first sentence, making the first phone call, announcing the intended project. The first step can be anxiety-provoking and physically draining.

Stop focusing on the huge overall picture and find a small piece you can tackle right away. Give yourself a crazy deadline. Instead of “by the end of the week,” try for “before lunch.”

The first step will seem much less daunting if you make it a tiny one and force yourself to do it now.

Fear of Losing Control

Collaboration means losing complete control of your product, team and results. This is an enormous sacrifice, especially for control-oriented executives.

In reality, we have less control than we think. The downside of shunning collaboration is staying stuck with the same routines, products and business models. In a rapidly changing world, this really isn’t an option. If your business doesn’t change, it won’t sustain success in the long term.

Look for opportunities to cede control and leverage different perspectives. As a leader, you can:

  • Set up pilot projects.
  • Invite new people to participate.
  • Observe the culture to learn how mistakes are processed.
  • Make sure the unspoken rules don’t squelch risk-taking and creativity.
  • Frequently communicate shared values to reinforce creative thinking aligned with mission and purpose.

Focus on the Future

Top executives estimate they spend only about 3 percent of their time thinking about the critical issues that will shape their businesses 10 or more years down the road. It’s simply not enough.

Shift from small- to big-picture thinking by employing these strategies:

  • Daydream! Carve out time each week to peer into the distance and imagine what may be out there.
  • Take 30 minutes each day to learn what’s going on in your industry, with customers, and with your products’ and services’ potential future.
  • Ask others for imaginative thinking about the future. Create a task force to explore ideas.
  • Find out what competitors are envisioning. There are many ways to do this without spying (create relationships, host a panel, connect through trade organizations).

Even when the economy may be unhealthy, innovation must remain alive. Take a look at how the four fears that squash creativity are playing out in your corporate culture.

Are you working in a company where executive coaches provide leadership development to grow emotionally intelligent leaders? Does your organization provide executive coaching for leaders to develop an innovation mindset? Enlightened leaders tap into their emotional intelligence and social intelligence skills to create a more compelling future.

One of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself is “Am I a creative leader?” Emotionally intelligent and socially intelligent organizations provide executive coaching as part of their leadership development and innovation initiatives.

Working with a seasoned executive coach and leadership consultant trained in emotional intelligence and incorporating assessments such as the Bar-On EQ-I, CPI 260 and Denison Culture Survey can help tap into your creativity. You can become a leader who models emotional intelligence and social intelligence, and who inspires people to become fully engaged with the vision, mission and strategy of your company or law firm.

About Dr. Maynard Brusman

Dr. Maynard Brusman is a consulting psychologist, executive coach and trusted advisor to senior leadership teams. He is the president of Working Resources, a leadership consulting and executive coaching firm. We specialize in helping San Francisco Bay Area companies and law firms assess, select, coach, and retain emotionally intelligent leaders.  Maynard is a highly sought-after speaker and workshop leader. He facilitates leadership retreats in Northern California and Costa Rica. The Society for Advancement of Consulting (SAC) awarded Dr. Maynard Brusman "Board Approved" designations in the specialties of Executive Coaching and Leadership Development.

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