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Posts tagged ‘Creativity’

Success – or not

“We want to be successful; we want to be the best,” is one of the most common responses when leaders are asked about organization goals. But as I watch those organizations and individuals who are outwardly and apparently successful, I wonder, “Is that what we really want? Or do we want to inspire mastery?”

Success is a peak moment in time, captured in a photograph or by the plaque on the wall. It might be captured in Monday morning data, now the recent past. It may be celebrated for a night or a few days. It might even be noted on the local television station or newspaper. But success is not lasting.

Mastery focuses on what there is to learn, where the growing edge might be, and the discipline to continue moving forward. Mastery demands endurance and courage. It is not motivated by success or perfection – which have more to do with how others view us and what we do.

Mastery is not the same as success – which is only a moment in time. It is a constant pursuit of improvement, growth, and creativity. It is resilience in times of less than desirable outcomes and even outright failure.

Leaders can act to promote the pursuit of mastery over success:

Analyze Failure. Intermountain Healthcare, a system of 23 hospitals in Utah and Idaho, routinely analyzes physicians’ deviations from medical protocols. The goal is growth and improvement. Actively tracking and analyzing deviations and sharing the outcome data encourage physicians to buy into this program. The goal is to motivate people to move beyond the surface: “procedures weren’t followed,” to identifying critical thinking skills and understanding outcomes and results.1

Promote creativity. Mayo Clinic created the “queasy eagle” award honoring near, but abandoned wins. The goal was to create change and transformation after realizing that years of intolerance of failure stopped medical breakthroughs. In the 18 years prior to this award, Mayo had created only 36 new ideas for patient care in a particular field. In the year following, 245 new ideas were created, some of which are now patented.2

Build a learning culture. A learning culture is one where failures of all types, large and small, are reported, analyzed, and used as opportunities for discovery and growth. It is a culture where experiments are encouraged over and over again. Some leaders worry that being sympathetic to failure will lead to “anything goes.” In our complex world, failure is certain. It is our response to it that will dictate whether positive change and transformation emerge.

Creating an organizational culture that seeks mastery over success is not magic. It must be fought for every day in a disciplined, intentional way. It requires leadership, not management. If you lose this battle, you may lose the battle for talent and sustainability.

Mastery invests in people not just tools. It encourages risk rather than punishing failure. It rewards contribution not competition. It accepts responsibility rather than assigning blame. It thinks of span of influence, not span of control. It focuses on “what” is right instead of “who” is right.

A master does not know a subject perfectly, from end-to-end. An organization that seeks mastery will not be a perfect place to work. Those who seek mastery know that there is more that they don’t know that what they do know. The learning organization knows that there will always be more to learn.

Those who lead toward mastery know that courage is not the absence of fear. How do you define success?

1Bohmer, R.M.M. (2010). “Fixing Health Care on the Front Lines,” Harvard Business Review, April 2010
2APQC. (2006) “Mayo Clinic Innovation: Putting Ideas into Action,” American Productivity & Quality Center, p. 139.

unexpected discoveries

One of the things I love to do is walk into a small bookstore with an uninterrupted hour at hand. I realize “love” isn’t usually used on an organization development blog, but I find my pulse quickening with anticipation when I discover a small, independent bookstore. I know an adventure is about to begin.

I love walking into a small bookstore. I observe the store lay out. I look at what’s kept closest to the check-out. I get a cup of coffee. And I listen. I listen to the kids playing in the children’s section, the clerk suggesting books, the three retirees rehearsing the morning’s golf game in the coffee shop, the baristas planning their evening escape.

And I read. I pick up random books, reading and browsing. There are some by local authors, fiction, history, photography. But the most exciting thing is encountering books by authors that don’t appear on my Barnes & Nobel or Amazon suggestion list. A random trip through the independent bookstore defeats the algorithm. Discovery begins.

I purchased two books: This is the Story of a Happy Marriage and Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect. In the first, Ann Patchett gathers essays on life, relationship, work, and art. Her writing flows, and the essays kept me asking myself about my own choices. In the second, Matthew Lieberman asks who we are as individuals and what drives our behaviors in relationships. His use of a mix of stories, examples, and research was interesting, but his writing style is what kept me reading: “fairness tastes like chocolate; our trojan horse selves; business brain.” I asked what this means for me and the people in the organizations I encounter.

I recommend both books. And, more importantly, I recommend seeking out an adventure this weekend.

What will you discover?

The photo is of my longtime favorite independent bookstore: Page and Palette in Fairhope, Alabama.
And my favorite local independent bookstore is Watermark Books in Wichita, Kansas.


Freud, Kandinsky, and Mahler meet in a coffee shop

“People” who give advice about writing blogs say that an entry should always be short – terse and concise. But, I’ve been processing information about neuroscience, creativity, history, art, and education – asking how this all fits with organization development. This reflecting process doesn’t fit neatly onto one computer screen. If you’re interested in the same, I invite you to read on and add to the conversation … .

Mixing together at coffee shops, museums, and parties, Freud, Kandinsky, and Mahler were some of the scientists, painters, writers, and musicians who lived in Vienna, Austria at the opening of the 20th century. It was an exciting place and time. Biology, anatomy, chemistry, and physics stirred together giving birth to neuroscience. Painters, musicians, and writers experimented under the influence of new ideas from scientists and philosophers.

While I think of Freud as one of the fathers of psychoanalysis, Freud began his career studying anatomy. He was part of the group of scientists at the University of Vienna medical school who studied the brain, deconstructing one cell at a time – and anticipated the neuron doctrine. Another, Santiago Ramón y Cajal was a painter and anatomy specialist who ultimately theorized that neurons are the brain’s building blocks. Biology, neurology, fine art, and human behavior intersected.

Is it important that Ramón y Cajal was a painter? Eric Kandel, In Search of Memory, writes, “He brought to his task an uncanny ability to infer the properties of living nerve cells from static images of dead nerve cells. This leap of the imagination, perhaps derived from his artistic bent, enabled him to capture and describe in vivid terms and in beautiful drawings the essential nature of any observation he made (p. 61).” The suggestion made by Kandel and others is that Ramón y Cajal used his cross-disciplinary skills to make discoveries.

The connections formed across disciplines in Vienna included interactions with musicians like Mahler who were bridging from Mozart and Beethovan to a new school of composers. It included interactions with the expressionist and early abstract painters including Klimt and Kandinsky in Vienna and Cézanne and Picasso elsewhere in Europe. Klimt in particular interacted with scientists and artists; he was influenced by Darwin and the research coming from London’s Royal Society. For example, Klimt’s paintings, Adele Bloch-Bauer’s Portrait and The Kiss include geometric, cell structures hidden within the figure.

These artists and musicians were using the ideas of deconstruction to experiment with perspective, time, and form. Eric Kandel, The Age of Insight, reconnects these: “Visual perception begins in the retina as an information-processing system that deconstructs the form of objects and faces and then turns the critical components of those images into a neural code; this code is reflected in a pattern of action potentials in the brain (p. 219).”

Kandel asks if there is a common set of neurological skills underlying all of this creativity? While not implying that scientists, artists, philosophers, and musicians can swap places, his argument is that creative insight is universal. He suggests that creativity depends “on abilities like constructing metaphor, reinterpreting data, connecting unrelated ideas, resolving contradictions, and eliminating arbitrariness (TAoI, p. 458).” While “arbitrariness” is different for a quantum physicist and a painter, Aha! moments arise from similar strategies: planning, then relaxation, and even dreaming.

Research in neuroscience demonstrates that “the brain is a creativity machine. It searches for patterns amid chaos and ambiguity and it constructs models of the complex reality around us. This search for order and pattern is at the heart of the artistic and the scientific enterprise alike (TAoI, p.498).”

As I consider organizations, I observe a necessity for knowledge of science, philosophy, art, and, even, music. Organizations need external knowledge of logic and analysis along with internal knowledge of human behavior. They need strategy, engineering, and planning along with emotion and perception that allow creativity and adaptability. They need to creatively construct and destruct. The music flowing through the headset of the engineer and project manager can shift neural pathways. All of this works together, generating Aha! moments.

Recently a student asked which business books and magazines she should be reading in order to grow in understanding of organization development. Along with the usual suspects like Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, and Wired, I asked her if she had a membership at the local art museum, plans to attend concerts with friends, and a hobby that engaged her emotions and mind.

I close this reflection with a quote from biologist Stephen Jay Gould:

I want the sciences and humanities to become the greatest of pals, to recognize a deep kinship and necessary connection in pursuit of human decency and achievement, but to keep their ineluctably different aims and logics separate as they ply their joint projects and learn from each other. Let them be two musketeers –both for one and one for both– but not the graded stages of a single and grand consilient unity (p. 197).

What generates Aha! moments in your life? Do you engage with others who have broad interests?
How can organizations intentionally embrace science and the humanities?

Gould, S. J. (2003). The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Magister’s Pox. Harmony Books, New York.
Kandel, E. R. (2012). The Age of Insight. Random House, New York.
Kandel, E. R. (2006). In Search of Memory. Random House, New York.

Can imagination be taught?
Brain Pickings: The Age of Insight

booster shots for life

One of the things I love about Organization Development is that it integrates disciplines from philosophy to sociology to art to neurobiology to adaptive systems and beyond. It nests into my love for learning. (Hmmm, I just used the word “love” twice in as many sentences; . . . the words remain as written.) I care deeply about learning, synthesizing, and sharing information and ideas.

Friday I heard Maria Popova interviewed by Flora Lichtman:

And the education system is, in a way, this antiquated universal vaccine model: We think that we can cram it all in a few years of formal schooling, and it’s going to protect us for the rest of our lives. But the way I think of learning and creative curiosity is as a kind of immune system against the life of mediocrity. … It requires constant boosts and constant sort of shots against that and priming the mind and the creative muscle.

Yes, this is a creative image! A few years of formal education, whether 12, 16, or more – at any age, cannot provide the knowledge we need to navigate all the years of our lives. That is why I seek exposure to a broad range of people, cultures, and organizations. That is why I read newspapers, blogs, peer-reviewed articles, and books from many locations and disciplines. That is why I love discussions in person and online that challenge my way of seeing and being in the world.

Where do you get your booster shots for creative curiosity? For life?

After reflecting on this, consider checking out Popova’s site: Brain Pickings.

Just tell me what to do!

closer than they appear

Yesterday Jon and I went on a long-awaited Saturday adventure. Our adventures begin with a destination in mind,  while actively looking for side roads and the unexpected along the way.  Encounters: beautiful Kansas scenery in the Flint Hills; a palette stimulating lunch at an eclectic restaurant; and, intriguing byways. There was our usual non-sequential, wide-ranging, random-topic conversation.

Then – a stop in a local art gallery proved pivotal. Not pivotal because we bought artwork. Not pivotal because it held art that spoke to us. Pivotal because we walked out saying that we didn’t understand what the artist was trying to communicate. Our adventure went forward. But 24 hours later, it’s the artwork that didn’t resonate that we’re still discussing.

The discussion continues because it doesn’t fit comfortably with our models of the world. We have a choice. We can dismiss it and return to our regularly scheduled life; or, we can wrestle with it. How do we intentionally engage what doesn’t resonate? Do we stop and notice things that are “closer than they appear?”

Some questions I’ve asked myself: What memories or stories come to mind? What emotions arise? Does this fit with other things that I’ve liked or disliked? The next time I design something new, how will this experience influence my creative process?

What adventures have you had that continue to extend your boundaries?

Imaging new maps
Abstract perspectives

Idea for reflection – 35

Imagination is more important than information.
Albert Einstein

Holy curiosity
Idea for reflection – 33

Together alone

I am guilty of contributing to the rise of what Susan Cain calls the New Groupthink. I have clients do exercises in “table groups.” I conduct brainstorming sessions. I observe companies creating tiny, open “collaborative” workspaces. They build on the concept with flexible workspaces – the kind where the employee gets a rolling cart and choses a new space each day.

Are these suddenly outdated? No. Research shows that people are happy in a workplace where they have friends, a trusting atmosphere, and a free exchange of ideas. But, research supports the other side of the equation too: the need for personal space to work in quiet and solitude.

Privacy and uninterrupted time allow for learning and creating new ideas. The freedom of space and time allows our brains to quiet and focus on the one task at hand. IPNB tells us that autonomy motivates and stimulates creative thinking. Cain quotes organizational psychologist, Adrian Furnham. “If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority.” Companies who offer employees private space benefit from increased quality and quantity of work.

The counterintuitive evidence in the research is that people who collaborate remotely outperform other teams. While more research is needed, the hypothesis is that the electronic distance allows us to be “together alone.”

There is a balance: a need for interaction and idea exchange – and – a need for privacy and uninterrupted time to think. I’m considering how I structure my engagements, classroom, and work time.

What ideas does this stir for you?
(Note: Blogs fit into the “together alone” category!)

Read the full article: The Rise of the New Groupthink
Creating a space for critical thinking

Holy curiosity

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one  tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.
Albert Einstein

Idea for reflection -32

Have you used any “bullets” lately?

Those of you who have attended one of Friesen Group’s training sessions on public speaking and presentation know that we recommend the minimalist approach to PowerPoint slides. So you may have already guessed that I’m not talking about those kind of bullets – you remember, the bulleted list.

Instead, I’m writing about an idea from Great by Choice. Collins and Hansen tell the story of the Captain of a warship that has a limited amount of gunpowder. One option is to use all of the gunpowder to fire one big cannonball to disable or destroy the other ship. Problem: if it misses, there are no resources left. The wise Captain will instead fire a few bullets first – “ping” – “ping” – “ping” – to discover the best trajectory. Once discovered, the remaining gunpowder can be used to fire the big cannonball – at the precise trajectory needed to accomplish the desired outcome.

A “bullet” in an organization is a calculated, creative test. It is a “low-cost, low-risk, and low-distraction” experiment. Successful organizations are disciplined and innovative. They try multiple ideas. They iterate, trying again, making adjustments, measuring carefully. If they fire a bullet that misses, they aren’t critically crippled. When they fire a bullet that hits its mark, they can commit additional resources to exploit the opportunity.

Need ideas for creating and firing “bullets?” IDEO and the Stanford have published processes for doing disciplined, creative research that leads to results: Methods

What “bullets” are you firing, measuring, and validating?

Commit to disruption

Off the grid

I’ve been “off the grid” for a few days. It was enforced by being in several National Parks, including Glacier and Yellowstone. Places with no internet service and no cellular service. Places where there is no dopamine rush to the brain from the instant gratification of looking up an answer to a question, checking email, or immediately calling someone with information.

The feeling of calmness that came from disconnecting from the digital world is starting to fade as the demands of life appear again. But the time to think, to really “be” with family, and to stand in awe of the natural world brought renewal and new ideas.

As I was catching back up with the blogs I follow, I discovered Daniel Pink’s recent post: The Genius Hour: How 60 minutes a week can electrify your job. He writes about the power of taking one hour a week for improving skills or seeking out new ideas. The credit union in the story makes it happen by putting it on the schedule, having the boss pitch in, and getting the ideas implemented and skills used. Pink includes links to articles about Google’s innovation time and Atlassian’s Fedex Days.

Since I can’t live in the National Parks, I will remember that one hour a week can make a difference. And, I’m considering ideas from How Genius Works about how to best use that hour .

What would you do with one hour a week to dedicate to mastering a skill or learning something new? What difference would it make in your organization if each person had one hour to dedicate?

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