#022 - As a leader, you need to "Imagine That" by promoting creativity and nurturing the imaginations of those you lead. It's a lot like being the coach of a winning team or being the conductor of a symphony orchestra. It may look easy, but looks can be deceiving. Join Dr. Charles Boyer for a session on helping yourself and others to become more creative.
Hello there, and welcome to Keys for New Leaders, a podcast just for you – a new or newer leader who leads by serving others. This is your host, Dr. Charles Boyer, but my friends call me Charlie, and that’s YOU, my friend. I’m so glad you are tuning in for this episode, because it’s a very important topic for all leaders, but especially for YOU, one who leads by serving others. If you haven’t already done so, please take a minute to subscribe to this podcast on your favorite audio platform. If you are already a subscriber, thank you so much! I continue to be amazed at the numbers of downloads I see every time I check the “stats” for the show. Thank you ALL! As we’ve done in previous sessions, I’ll ask you three open-ended questions toward the end of the episode, and I’ll also include a Special Key, just for you! So here we go with Episode 22.
“IMAGINE THAT!” I can still hear my grandma saying that to me after I had told her some wild idea I had that seemed OK to me as a kid but must have sounded a bit outrageous to her no-time-for-nonsense adult mind. Now that I think of it, “Imagine That” said a lot in just a few words. Maybe she was just humoring me with that expression, or maybe her practical mindset just couldn’t make sense of my pipe-dream idea. But she didn’t put down my thoughts or ideas. Her “Imagine That!” was, for me, a reassurance that it was OK, that I was OK, and that she really was trying to “Imagine That.” At any rate, I thought it would be a good starting point for this episode: Imagine That. And why not?
As a leader, you need to “Imagine that” by promoting creativity and nurturing the imaginations of those you lead. And you can’t expect creative energy from others if you can’t INSPIRE them – AND YOU - to flex those creative muscles. Albert Einstein said, “Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
Well, Einstein sure said a mouthful there. Your imagination really has no limits, except those that YOU put there. So, what we’re going to do in this episode is to encourage you take away some of those limits. We can’t do it all; we’ll only make a start, but we can at least get a good start.
So, let’s begin by trying to stretch your creative muscles just a bit. Let’s take a familiar, everyday object and see what we can do with it. Try this on for size: take any familiar object – say a pencil or a coffee mug – something that you normally don’t give much thought to how to use it. Put the pencil or coffee mug in front of you. Get a big piece of paper and a pen and write down at least ten things you can do with that pencil or mug. Be as open, as creative, and as outrageous as you want to be. There are no limits, and nobody is going to judge your ideas. Just let go and let your imagination run wild. Did you come up with ten different things? Great! Five things? Still great! Twenty-five? Still great!
That’s only a start. You didn’t have to be practical or useful or prove anything to anybody, did you? Just generate ideas, no matter how ridiculous they may seem. Now, you just did that by yourself with no one around to criticize you. Think about how free you felt during that exercise, and remember how being that free felt to you.
Now let’s imagine that you are in front of a group of people – maybe your work team, or friends, or relatives. How free do you feel to share your creative ideas with them? Not so much, right?
What starts to happen? That fear of judgment, fear of criticism, fear of failure starts to kick in, and our creativity begins to shrivel up. You are not alone. It happens to us ALL. We do it to ourselves.
Now, imagine how different you would feel if you and that group of people were used to being together and working together in a safe, open, trusting environment where ideas were presented openly, ideas weren’t criticized from the get-go, and the person with the ideas wasn’t being judged at all. How would you feel NOW about sharing those creative ideas with the others?
Listen again: Imagine being in a group of people where ideas are generated freely, without limitations and without any judgments about the ideas or the person expressing those ideas. Imagine how free and how creative everyone could be. Sounds delightful, doesn’t it? Now, here’s the kicker: your job as the leader is to create and maintain such an environment among those you serve. Easy? NO. But do-able? YES – with LOTS of good work building TRUST, freeing up everyone’s CREATIVITY, great TEAMWORK, and the ability to INSPIRE others. It’s a lot like being the coach of a winning team or being the conductor of a symphony orchestra. It may look easy, but as the old saying goes, looks can be deceiving.
I really admire those teams, orchestras, and businesses where TRUST, CREATIVITY, TEAMWORK, and INSPIRATION are valued and put into practice. It’s obvious when those values are present, yet it is hard to describe. What comes to my mind right away is the Disney concept of IMAGINEERING – of being creative, of imagining the most wonderful things to entertain people – and THEN, bringing those creative ideas to life by imagining how everything will work and then engineering them into existence. Easy? NO. But do-able? YES. Just take a look at Disney’s theme parks to see how successfully the Disney people IMAGINEERED all that into being. It took a lot of hard work, based upon TRUST, CREATIVITY, TEAMWORK and INSPIRATION to make all that happen.
TRUST is first and foremost the most important element in developing a winning team. Brene Brown described what can happen – almost immediately – when trust begins to fade. She wrote: “Just the slightest inkling that someone is questioning our trustworthiness is enough to set total vulnerability lockdown in motion. You can almost see it happening: Shields engaged? Check. Armor up? Check. Heart closed? Check. Defenses activated? Check.” Wow! Her words are very descriptive and leave us with very powerful images of how our protective instincts flare up to protect us.
It happens all too frequently. I’ll bet it happens around you all the time. Somebody comes up with a really creative idea, and then the critics kick in. They can always find some reason why it won’t work, or some excuse why we can’t do that. I call them the “YEAH-BUT” Brigade. Mention a good, creative idea and they start in: “YEAH-BUT” that’s too expensive. “YEAH-BUT” we tried that once and it didn’t work. “YEAH-BUT” it’s not very practical. Jon Gordon calls these people ENERGY VAMPIRES because they suck the energy out of any creative idea or proposal. YOU, as leader, must insist that, in an idea-generating session, ALL ideas must be presented freely without criticism or judgment, or you don’t really have good ideas generated. The defense shields go up, and your team won’t trust one another with their ideas.
Well, let’s leave the “YEAH-BUT” Brigade and the Energy Vampires behind us, and focus on what we can do to keep the creative juices flowing in ourselves and in the people we serve. One of the first things we can do is to accept the reality that creativity is important to all of us and is not limited just to artistic fields. Tom and David Kelly wrote that: “…Creativity comes into play wherever you have the opportunity to generate new ideas, solutions or approaches.” Choreographer Twyla Tharp wrote: “Creativity is not just for artists. It’s for business people looking for a new way to close a sale; it’s for engineers trying to solve a problem; it’s for parents who want their children to see the world in more than one way.”
Yet, getting a team to be creative is about as difficult as finding hen’s teeth. The need to have everyone in the group onboard with free, open, non-judgmental brainstorming is absolutely vital to generating creative ideas. Spend whatever time and energy is necessary to get everyone to commit to the process. It takes time and trust and perseverance. And the process can’t be rushed, or the results could be – shall we say – much less than satisfactory. Been there. Done that!
So far, we’ve focused on generating creative ideas, and that is essential, because – well, obviously – every creative project begins with an idea. However, even though it might well be a long time getting those creative ideas generated, ideas are the easy part. Putting those ideas into practice is the hard part – the engineering of those ideas into reality. Here’s where the “YEAH-BUT” Brigade and the Energy Vampires can – and often do – gum up the works.
YOU, as leader, must commit yourself to creativity, take risks as you build trust and confidence, overcome negativity, and reward others for their curiosity, their creative ideas, and deflect the efforts of those in the “YEAH-BUT” Brigade and the Energy Vampires. There’s a place for that energy, if you can re-direct it to the solutions part of the project.
Your commitment to what is possible is the essential element in all of this. Roger Nierenberg wrote that “…a leader must commit to that which has not yet happened. Otherwise, you are not leading, you are actually following…” That statement reminds me of President Kennedy’s assertion that we would land a man on the moon within a decade – and by golly, it happened!
After the creative ideas are generated, it’s time to begin the intricate process of finding what ideas actually can work. One technique I have found helpful is to have each person take the entire list of ideas generated, and select their top 10. After some comparison and discussion, have each person select their top 5, then top 3, finally narrowing the list down to 3 ideas that the whole group has selected.
Then, the group can discuss which ideas are the most likely to be successful. I like Edward de Bono’s “Six Hats” Technique: Imagine different colored hats that represent different viewpoints. For example, putting on the Yellow Hat represents the positive, the optimistic viewpoint. What WILL work? Putting on the Black Hat represents the negative. (The “YEAH-BUT” Brigade LOVES this one!) What WON’T work? Both points are valid and must be considered carefully. And so on for the Blue, Green, Red and White Hats. It gives everyone a chance to consider the idea from six different perspectives.
Well, those are just a few ideas to whet your interest in helping your group learn to “Imagine That!” We’ve barely scratched the surface of what creative energy and ideas can do. The process sure isn’t easy, but it’s well worth your best efforts. Good luck, my friend.
And now, here are those three questions I promised you. No right or wrong answers, just what is the best answer for YOU.
1. How would you describe your “free” feelings during the pencil/coffee mug exercise?
2. Where in your body did you feel any resistance to feeling free during the exercise?
3. What is ONE thing you CAN do for yourself to become more creative? Then, what WILL you do? (Big difference there!)
And that Special Key I mentioned at the beginning of this episode? Well, there isn’t a Key of “I” but there is a Key of “C” – for CREATIVITY, CURIOSITY, and the COURAGE it takes to be CREATIVE, CURIOUS and COURAGEOUS in this day and age of armchair experts, the “YEAH-BUT” Brigade, and the instant critics, the ENERGY VAMPIRES.
What’s next? Well, the news can be pretty depressing these days, so I think it’s time for a few good laughs to make us all feel better. I’m calling the next episode FOOD FOR YOUR FUNNYBONE. Join me, won’t you?
Until then, stay safe and well, my friend, and have the COURAGE to be CURIOUS and CREATIVE.