August 25, 2015 Anil Saxena

Leadership Follies – How You Kill Possibility

I was recently sitting in a meeting watching an executive give a professional proposal for a new initiative.

The presenter, Brenda, did a great job. She was cogent, articulate, compelling, and succinct. The idea seemed plausible to me. I was optimistic that the project would be a success!

But then the winds of change began to blow. And they blew hard and swift! The decision-makers in the room began with a flurry of questions that seemed only to take the idea off the table. they fired questions like:

  • “How will we make this project work?”
  • “How will this be funded?”
  • “How will you get this done?”

With all the questions firing at the presenter, it was amazing that she could even stand.

“It’s always like this“ Brenda told me after the meeting ended.

“Always like what?” I asked.

Brenda replied, “Before we can even discuss if an idea is good, or seemingly even contemplate the idea for just a moment, it gets killed by all the focus on how are we going to get it done.”

Killing Me Softly

As I walked away from the conversation, I wondered if we kill creativity or shoot down possibility with our relentless pursuit of fitting things into what we know. After talking to a number of people far smarter than myself I found some interesting trends:

1. Most people listen to ideas based on what has worked in the past
2. In the spirit of practicality, many ideas are discarded before even being considered
3. Many of the tools we use to make us “efficient” have a tendency to limit our attention to things that don’t fit neatly into a category.

So instead of working with people when they come to us with ideas, we kill them.  Mercilessly.

Think about the last conversation you had:

  • With your teenage child about their future
  • Your spouse about a fancy vacation
  • A member of your team about a new project
  • An intern about how to make a process work better

At what point did you start dismissing the idea?  At what point did you start asking the dreaded how?

  • How you get a job?
  • How will I get the time off?
  • How will we get this past the review committee
  • How can that be done given our current political environment?

Now, let us not be naive.  We must think about how to get things done, but only after we explore the idea, uncover the hidden, be a little idealistic, take our time.

The Same Same

Do you ever wonder why everything seems to look the same nowadays?  Really, take a look at your town.  If you drive from one city to another in almost any country, they have started to all look the same, have the same restaurants, and people all dress the same.

Why has everything become so homogeneous?

This is because we have figured out what works and what sells and just replicate it.  Over and over.  When we look at the world around us, our wish to be practical and efficient have turned us all into leadership lemmings.

Don’t believe me?  Well, think about the trends in the past few years – Who Moved My Cheese, Good to Great, Paradigm Shift, and the list goes on and on.

So what can we do?

Being More Creative
Author Peter Block provides some great insights in his book The Answer to How is Yes on how using creativity in creative ways can help get better organization results.

Here are some highlights:

1. Be more idealistic
Look to act on what really matters. Compassion, justice, etc.  Don’t get caught up in the “do this because I get or will get.” It tends to make the project or task very mercenary.

2. Work towards more intimacy
Talk to people, work with people.  Try to do it face to face or at least in real time.  Don’t rely on email, text and instant messaging. Working with people has a tendency to increase the reliance on values or idealism.

3. Act with more depth
In the effort to increase speed and make things more efficient, reflecting on what is good, different or interesting is lost.

4. Create a plan of action
Once you have teased out the idea, create a solid plan of action. When the idea or project has been allowed to formulate, then a plan can be put in place.  Now those how questions can be very valuable.

Allowing ideas to be discussed and debated can produce magical, creative, fun ideas that will move people to action.  It will draw out passion and be evident to customers.

Tired of a rehash of the same ideas and problems coming up over and over?  Try amixture of idealism, intimacy and depth to create a solution that addresses problems once and for all.


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