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Posts tagged ‘Innovation’

the art of procrastination

It’s been sitting on the corner of your desk for the past two weeks. It’s a decision waiting to be made, a project waiting to be started, a feedback session waiting to be scheduled. You stare at it. Then leave for another meeting.

All of us procrastinate. Every human being does. In a society obsessed with speed, efficiency, and productivity, we always have more to do than we can possibly accomplish. The question is, “Are we procrastinating well?”

Procrastinating poorly is finally cleaning out the basement, but paying a late fee on the bill that was due today. Worse, procrastinating passively is numbing experience by surfing the web or watching television all while lying on the couch. These types of procrastinating are unquestionably problematic.

On the other hand, active procrastination – the art of delay – is an important skill. Procrastinating well is putting off shoveling the driveway or cleaning your file drawer by doing something that is more valuable. Active procrastination can improve our decision-making and better inform our actions.

What makes active procrastination beneficial? First, it stops the clock. What is the actual deadline? Understanding the timeframe allows for assessment: Am I asking the right questions? Do I have all of the data and information required? What have I experienced in the past that may be influencing my thoughts, beliefs, and feelings? How do my needs for certainty, approval, and belonging effect this?

Active procrastination allows us time and space to check our reality and intuitions. Our tendency to passively procrastinate may be unhealthy avoidance. Our need to constantly race quickly forward with decisions and projects may be supporting our need for control and certainty. Brené Brown states that slowing down allows us to trust ourselves and use intuition well, to “hold space for uncertainty and our willingness to trust the many ways we’ve developed knowledge and insight, including instinct, experience, faith, and reason.”1

Secondly, it allows for a delay in making the decision or taking action until the last possible moment. If there is one minute to the deadline, you have 59 seconds to make the choice, a month  – 29 days, a year – 364 days. The best athletes know to the millisecond how long to wait before hitting the ball. The best managers know how precisely how long to wait before offering feedback in order to have the maximum effect. The key is using the delay, the gap, to the best advantage.

For example, actively procrastinating until the last moment to offer feedback allows you and those you are interacting with to fully consider how the experience has affected you. It creates a space to understand the gap between where you are and where you want to be. The gap allows time for preparation: for insuring that our values and actions line up, listing contributions that are being made, identifying problems and growth areas, seeking options to support development.2

The psychologist Robert Sternberg says, “The essence of intelligence would seem to be in knowing when to think and act quickly, and knowing when to think and act slowly.”

Are you actively procrastinating: first stopping, then engaging the gap?

Notes and further reading:

1Brown, B. (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection. (p. 89). Penguin Group US.
2Brown, B. (2012). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (p. 203). Penguin Group US..
Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. Macmillan.

Provocative Leadership: Beyond “Best Practices” to “Next Practices”

Here is an excerpt from a longer article:

Have you thrown out your strategic plan yet? If you made one several months ago, I’m willing to guess that you have. The landscape of reality has already changed … . So now what? Here’s a story-poem, “Brief Thoughts on Maps,” to consider:

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, who knew a lot about maps
according to which life is on its way somewhere or other,
told us this story from the war
due to which history is on its way somewhere or other:

The young lieutenant of a small Hungarian detachment in the Alps
sent a reconnaissance unit out into the icy wasteland.
It began to snow
immediately, snowed for two days and the unit
did not return. The lieutenant suffered: he had dispatched
his own people to death.

But the third day the unit came back.
Where had they been? How had they made their way?
Yes, they said, we considered ourselves
lost and waited for the end. And then one of us
found a map in his pocket. That calmed us down.
We pitched camp, lasted out the snowstorm and then with the map
we discovered our bearings.
And here we are.

The lieutenant borrowed this remarkable map
and had a good look at it. It was not a map of the Alps
but of the Pyrenees.

Goodbye now. 1

When faced with an unfamiliar situation, the soldiers discovered that “any map” can be useful. Why? A map leads to confidence and action. You take steps forward, re-check the map, learn, make adjustments, and take more steps. As you re-check the map, you look around, surveying the environment. You re-orient to the reality that is. You learn, assess, and consider options. You make decisions about what to try next. You embrace error and uncertainty; yet you still chose to take the next step.

Provocative leadership is not about authority. Provocative leadership is about …

Click here to read more about Provocative Leadership

What are your ideas about “best practices” vs. “next practices?”

Imagining New Maps

1Holub, M. (1977) ‘Brief Thoughts on Maps’, Times Literary Supplement, 4 February 4, p. 118.

Idea for reflection – 32

I am enough of an artist
to draw freely upon my imagination.

Imagination is more important
than knowledge.

Knowledge is limited.
Imagination encircles the world.
Albert Einstein

Spontaneity
Improving your brainstorming sessions

How genius works

The Atlantic magazine has a project called “First Drafts: How Genius Works.” The interviews with novelists, chefs, architects, and musicians are a creative process x-ray. Here are a few excerpts that resonate with me:

Frank Gehry on how our creations are a reflection of ourselves, “Some people may say my curved panels look like sails. Well, I am a sailor, so I guess I probably do use that metaphor in my work—though not consciously.”

Tim Burton on the need for space, “I don’t sit down and try to draw a character. I attempt to reserve some time each day for myself to sit and do nothing—stare off into space or doodle or whatever–just be in my own head. That time is very precious for me, and sometimes the characters will strike me in these quiet moments.”

Grant Achatz on iterations before putting food on the table, “We do different tests of every dish. Someone will have an idea, work on it, and put something in front of me. I’ll taste it and make comments and suggestions. We’ll continue the process until we all think it’s where we want to be.”

I invite you to explore the project and let me know what inspires you! 

Can imagination be taught?
Getting unstuck

Commit to disruption

Diego Rodriguez pointed out this quote from Richard Foster this morning:

I’m convinced that for an existing company to innovate, they must first make the decision to get rid of something. Unless you get rid of it, it will always be more a more compelling argument to improve the old rather than commit to the new. That small decision over time adds up to a total deflection, and you are never as motivated to innovate as the unencumbered new entrant.

I’m reading Onward by Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, who also sees disruption as a primary challenge, “Icons disrupt themselves before others disrupt them.”

So how do you creatively disrupt your own patterns? Begin by asking questions such as how can we improve our customer experience? What did we implement 10 years ago that we are holding onto – just so we don’t have to change? What one new way can we tangibly show our values in our customer interactions and in our community? What will we do that will make our employees proud to work for and with us?

Act. Do one thing today differently than you’ve done in the past. Do another tomorrow…

Out of the ordinary
Idea for reflection – 26
Discovering differences that make a difference

Wrong is right


How can you tell if your organization is a learning organization? Or perhaps the question this year is, “Is yours an innovative organization?”

Here’s a one sentence test that will answer either question, “Are you allowed to make mistakes?”

If you can’t make, identify, and acknowledge mistakes, it is impossible to learn or innovate. Laurence Prusak of NASA makes the following observation:

If you pay a substantial price for being wrong, you are rarely going to risk doing anything new and different because novel ideas and practices have a good chance of failing, at least at first. So you will stick with the tried and true, avoid mistakes, and learn very little. … What would happen if we all accepted that being wrong is as much a part of being human as being right, and especially that errors are essential to learning and knowledge creation?

A great question! How do you and your organization handle errors and mistakes? To err is human. To intentionally go beyond the disappointment and embarrassment of a mistake is to intentionally seek learning and innovation, change and growth.

Out of the ordinary

My teacher got rid of my imagination…

Last night I was working with a class of kindergarten and first graders. Walking around the table, I observed that one of them had taken the coloring picture page, turned it over to the blank side, and was drawing his own picture.

I commented, “That is a very interesting picture. You’re really using your imagination. Will you tell me the story that goes with the picture?”

Immediately, we were interrupted by a sixth grader, who was working as an assistant. She stated matter-of-factly, “My teacher got rid of my imagination.”

I absorbed this amazing statement and asked, “How did your teacher do that?”

“Well – first semester, he told us we could only write about facts and to get rid of our imaginations.  So I did.  But now (second semester), he told us we need to use our imaginations to write stories; but I can’t seem to find mine anymore.”

I’m still reflecting on this interaction, seeing implications on many different levels …

Orbiting the Giant Hairball – Thought 3

Out of the ordinary

About a week ago, I got up at 4:00 a.m. to go with Jon on a photo shoot at Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge. The site of mist over the refuge, the Rocky Mountains glowing in the background, and the noise of hundreds of birds taking flight at dawn was awe-inspiring.

How important is it for us to have new experiences, to break out of the routine? Neuroscience research demonstrates that when we break out of the routine and enjoy something new, our brains reward us with a dopamine flood.  We essentially give ourselves a pat – not on our head, but inside our head. If we continue to do the same thing over and over, the dopamine flood recedes and eventually dries up – the routine deadens the response.

For me, this is a significant argument for the importance of life-long learning. If I am intentional about experiencing and learning new things each day, I will benefit consciously from the new knowledge, the memories of the experience, and from increased well-being.

Creatively breaking the routine in organizations can work to build innovation and organizational energy. For example, want to improve customer service? I can imagine individuals being asked to go out and observe at a variety of retail and restaurant locations, then coming back to discuss their experiences and how they could be applied internally. Or, want to build leaders? I can imagine having individuals interview each other about when they’ve experienced exceptional leadership, then sharing the stories and characteristics of great leaders, and together designing strategies for integrating those characteristics into their own leadership style.

What are you doing to escape the routine as individual? As an organization?

Orbiting thought – Over and out

You may agree or disagree with Gordon MacKenzie’s ideas from Orbiting the Giant Hairball that I’ve been posting. Personally, I find his stories cause me to consider what works and what doesn’t work in organizations as well as my own life. I’ve been asking myself what the unspoken rules and systems are which create the hairball cocoon where it is safe to measure and plan based only on the past. And asking myself just what is invisible leadership?

Jon and I had lunch with one of our Friesen Group advisors last week who told me, “If you’re not a little uncomfortable, you’re not going to grow and make progress.”  He is right. It is time to try something new, push the boundaries, and, just maybe, achieve Orbit.

… if you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life you ought to be living is the one you are living.
  – Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

Orbiting thought – 7
Orbiting thought – 6
Orbiting thought – 5
Orbiting thought – 4
Orbiting thought – 3
Orbiting thought – 2
Orbiting thought – 1

Orbiting thought – 7

The escape from habitual culture must always be temporary if you wish to be permitted back into that culture…”Yes, you may go out and play; but you must be home by dinner time.” However, temporary as these Orbits out of the Hairball may be they are expeditions that promise finding in the chaos beyond culture antidotes for the stagnation of status quo.
 – Gordon MacKenzie, Orbiting the Giant Hairball

Orbiting thought – 6

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