Reclaim Your Creative Confidence: Fear of Losing Control

Totally-Losing-ControlFew of us are creative in a vacuum. We need other people to help spur our thinking, test our ideas and give us feedback. Yet, involving others does mean letting go of at least some control. Notes David Kelley and Tom Kelley (K&K) in the article “Reclaim Your Creative Confidence” (HBR 12/12):

“When you abandon the status quo and work collaboratively, you sacrifice control over your product, your team and your business. But the creative gains can more than compensate.”

I heartily agree.

That philosophy is at heart of how we run Intertech, from the town hall meetings in which our employees give candid feedback and ideas, to our annual partner planning retreat, to meetings with customers, to FedEx Days — we constantly seek fresh ideas, input and new approaches. These steps, taken consistently and according to an overall management strategy, may sound a little plodding and not fit your idea of “creative,” but I respectfully disagree. As the Hungarian essayist Grorgy Konrad once said (as referenced by K&K),

“Courage is only the accumulation of small steps.”

And it takes courage to be creative!

If you’re a leader, it takes even more courage. As I’ve noted in previous posts, leaders must consciously cultivate a work environment that allows employees to take risks, test ideas and, yes, occasionally fail. But if we can do that, we have a much better chance of exceeding expectations and succeeding in spectacular fashion.

Creativity, after all, is not a formula.

Reclaim Your Creative Confidence and Fear of the First Step

First-StepsWho hasn’t sat staring at a blank computer screen, unable to take the first step on a project? As noted in the HBR (12/12) article “Reclaim Your Creative Confidence” by authors Tom Kelley and David Kelley:

“Creative efforts are hardest at the beginning. The writer faces the blank page; the teacher, the start of school; businesspeople, the first day of a new project. In a broader sense, we’re also talking about fear of charting a new path or breaking out of your predictable workflow.”

Many of us are productive once a project is defined and moving forward, but how do we create something out of nothing?

Authors K&K suggest a number of strategies, including giving yourself a “crazy deadline.” This is an idea we’ve started implementing at Intertech, which I first heard about from Drive author and business smart guy Daniel Pink in the context of commissioned versus non-commissioned work.

The idea is called “FedEx Day” and it revolves around giving employees 24 hours to have total control over what they work on, who they work with and how they do the work. It’s all about encouraging creativity and out-of-the-box thinking on an incredibly tight deadline (it absolutely, positively has to be delivered within 24 hours!).

Last year, our first FedEx Day, resulted in a framework/blueprint for our soon-to-be-released new Intertech website. Don’t laugh, but this has been a goal for the past decade!  Like the fabled cobbler whose children have no shoes because he’s too busy making shoes for everyone else, our website had become out-of-date and patched together. Our consultants loathed the site. Now we are on the cusp of having something they will enjoy working on and being associated with.

Other FedEx projects have led to a video called “the Intertech Experience,” which demonstrates what it’s like to attend one of our classes (watch out Mr. Spielberg!) and another group has re-thought how we manage our courseware.

The essence of this concept, of course, is “Just Do It!” If you have read my book “Building a Winning Business”, you know that I dedicated a chapter to the importance of moving ahead and not getting stuck: “It’s better to move and get things done than to let organizational rigor mortis set in as you search in vain for perfection” were my words of wisdom. But all kidding aside, getting stuff done means we have to push aside inertia. If we can do that, creativity has a much greater chance of coming forward as well.

Next time: Fear of Losing Control

Reclaim Your Creative Confidence and the Fear of Being Judged

Fear-with-GogglesFear that others will judge us negatively keeps many people from making creative suggestions or trying something new when working on a project. That can be especially tricky when you are a consultant and are expected to “the expert” from day one! But taking creative risks is important when clients (whether external or internal) want results that exceed the status quo.

According to David Kelley and Tom Kelley (HBR 12/12), most people “self-edit, killing potentially creative ideas because we’re afraid our bosses or peers will see us fail. We stick to ‘safe’ solutions or suggestions. We hang back, allowing others to take risks.”

A relatively new approach to software development, Agile/Scrum, is changing this dynamic in a positive way. With Agile’s focus on more frequent deliverables and smaller timeframes, it allows for more creative solutions.

Unlike in project development models used in the past, the Agile team isn’t trying to define all the requirements up front. Instead, they’re just defining the stuff to finish in the next sprint and a set of backlog features/items, which gives them the flexibility to adjust and modify their approach throughout the project. In fact, the concept of “rework” is a key piece of Agile. In the traditional model, rework was seen as a failure because requirements must have been missed.

An Agile approach means fixes are expected, which allows the team to keep moving forward quickly and confidently. It’s a great analogy for creative problem solving in any work situation and in life!

Next time: Fear of the First Step

Reclaim Your Creative Confidence and Fear of the Messy Unknown

Messy-OfficeIn this new series on Reclaiming Your Creative Confidence, I’m recapping ideas presented in HBR (12/12) by Tom Kelley and David Kelley (see my previous post for a full reference). The authors suggest that four fears most commonly block people from exploring creative ideas in the work place, with “fear of the messy unknown” at the top of the list.

I agree wholeheartedly, which is why Intertech routinely has brainstorming sessions with our team. Our goal is focused: finding creative solutions to problems that have been clearly defined.

But how? We’ve found that being creative in problem solving involves creating an environment where people can generate ideas without fear of criticism. In our sessions we call this “green light thinking,” which means no idea is a bad idea. We want to generate as many ideas as possible.

Sometimes the zany ideas lead to the best ideas! Kelley and Kelley (K&K) note that “creative thinking in business begins with having empathy for your customers” and they urge managers and executives alike to get out and talk with customers. From listening to customers in online chat rooms to meeting them in their own environments, nothing beats getting into “the mess” of real life and real problems. As consultants and software instructors, Intertech interacts with our customers every day. We’re in the trenches helping solve problems and working with teams to reach goals.

Getting into our customers’ home turf definitely gives us empathy for the challenges and opportunities they face. We step into the unknown together – bringing experience, knowledge and confidence — and the outcome can be amazing.

Next post: Fear of Being Judged

Reclaim Your Creative Confidence

Creative-VictoryIf you’re reading my blog, I’m guessing you are a business leader, a software professional, or both. You probably majored in business, technology or computer science. And, if you’re like most of us in these types of fields, you don’t consider yourself “creative.” The creative types (or, simply, “creatives”) are those slightly off-beat people in the organization who write marketing copy, develop advertising or create the creative packaging for your products or services.

But a provocative article in the December issue of Harvard Business Review (HBR), “Reclaim Your Creative Confidence” presents a vastly different way of thinking about – and cultivating – creativity in the workplace.

“The world seems to divide into ‘creatives’ and ‘noncreatives,’ and too many people consciously or unconsciously resign themselves to the latter category. And yet we know that creativity is essential in any discipline or industry. According to a recent IBM survey of chief executives around the world, it’s the most sought-after trait in leaders today,” write authors Tom Kelley and David Kelley.

What makes their article particularly interesting to me is their sensible plan for overcoming the four most common creativity blockers: (1) fear of the messy unknown, (2) fear of being judged, (3) fear of the first step and (4) fear of losing control.

Tom Kelley and David Kelley (who do not mention if they are related) bring academic and real-world experience to this topic. Tom is the general manager of IDEO, a design and innovation consultancy, and the author of The Ten Faces of Innovation (Currency/Doubleday, 2005). He is an executive fellow at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and the University of Toyko. David is the founder and chairman of IDEO and the founder of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, where he is the Donald W. Whittier Professor in Mechanical Engineering.

In my next series of posts, I will share their recommendations – and some of my own – for rediscovering creative confidence within your self and fostering it in the people you work with or lead.