Creativity First

Leadership

Good ideas require creative thinking. Creative thinking requires time, the right mindset and usually a problem. We always have problems, but we do not always have the right mindset or the time.

You would not throw a child into a pool of water if they did not know how to swim, but yet, here we are, throwing our teams into a pool of water knowing they can’t swim. The innovation pool that is. To become an innovative culture requires us to challenge and change our current adaptive culture. How are we preparing our members to switch to an innovative mindset? Most people dislike change. A battle of its own. What about mindset? Thinking out of the box requires a change in mindset. How do we change a culture to include mindset? The idea of innovation poses more questions than our plan describes. Why the emphasis on innovation? Is it to save money, time, resources, and manpower? All great areas to ‘save,’ but are we being intentional enough about it or taking a big shot in the dark hoping to hit somewhere on the target of innovation. We must be deliberate about which areas we need change.

Technology is advancing, as is our heavy reliance on it. We have simultaneously hit an era of business with higher demands for saving time, resources, money and manpower. The consistent problem with leveraging technology to our advantage is that as technology advances the cost increases. Another problem begins, but let’s take a look at the precursor to innovation.

“Innovation in the military, as in other sectors, seems an isolated event only when we intentionally separate the culminating breakthrough from the sequence of preceding events.”

“If we view history with this restricted view, then Edison’s light bulb and the Wright brothers’ aircraft appear as dynamic manifestations of inspiration. Conversely, if we view these innovations as products in their full context, then we begin to see innovation as the consequence of creativity and effort applied over time.” 1

Innovation is a result of creative thinking and implementation. It must be looked at as the product we get from how we solve problems. We solve problems by being creative. The path from problem to solution is creativity. If we want to improve our organizations beyond our current state we have to focus on the driving force of innovation which is creativity.

Creativity is process for generating ideas to solve problems. It is also the catalyst for adapting, changing and making our processes better. Innovation is the level of change from creativity. If you reference Kirton’s Adaptive Innovative theory, adaptive thinkers improve the system while innovators change the system, but both begin with creativity.

“We tend to treat innovation with reverence. We have romanticized it, and we are always chasing after it, as if it is some holy grail.” Although this notion may seem counterintuitive, given all of the rampant advocacy for innovation, Quinn argues that a clear, negative side exists to having too much of a push for change: “Innovators, for example, can be creative, but if they push their inclinations too far, their behavior leads to belligerence, chaos, disastrous experimentation, and unprincipled opportunism.” 2

The negative side effects of forcing change can lead to unnecessary risk. In most instances, we are not ready for risk. Risk is challenging. What are we willing to risk for innovation? Since culture is born through actions and we’re giving everyone the green light to “fail forward,” then at what point, if not successful, do we become a culture of failure, not a culture of innovation? Are we willing to bet our culture on it?

“To capitalize on this opportunity, senior leaders must promote a clear understanding of innovation and work to shape the military’s culture of compliance into one of disciplined creativity.” 3

Above all, creativity breeds opportunity for change. Change is required as we move forward to become a better Air Force. To capitalize on the efforts to innovate let’s focus on solving problems with creative minds. If we’re creative enough we may just innovate. If not, then at least we’ve solved a few problems.

Notes

1, 3 Colonel John F. Price Jr., USAF, Fostering Creativity in a Culture of Compliance, Air University, Air and Space Power Journal September-October 2014, Volume 28, Issue 5

2 Robert E. Quinn et al., Becoming a Master Manager: A Competency Framework, 2nd ed. (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1996), 62, 61

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The Risk of Leading

Leadership

Failing the mission.  Team disfunction.  Loss of resources, time, money, and people.  These are all outcomes when leading.  It’s scary to step into the role of a leader.  Once you have decided to care for others the people and the mission become your responsibility.  It’s terrifying knowing that the decisions you make could hinder the mission or the people around you.  And if everything does go south, all fingers could point to you.

There is risk in leading, but that’s what makes a leader a leader.  They understand things may not always work out and that the outcome is never guaranteed.  Leaders take on the risk in order to achieve success, but they make decisions using their knowledge and experienced combined with the team’s knowledge and experience to make wise decisions.  Leveraging the power of the team is necessary to reduce the risk.  Leaders do this constantly and consistently. 

Bottom line, it’s going to be scary.  It’s going to be challenging and it’s going to be tough.  There is no avoiding it.   The greatest part about risk is that when it works right everybody wins!  Innovation requires risk and without leaders pushing the boundaries of the line between failure and success innovation will not occur.  

There is purpose to why we spend so much time developing our leadership abilities.  The more prepared we are the higher chance we have at succeeding.  The approach to risk always has the same liabilities, but the action to challenge it gets easier every time you take risk.  It’ll never feel perfect or guaranteed, but the fear, the uncertainty goes away because you know it has to happen.  People need to grow and the mission needs to be accomplished.  We can’t halt everything just because we have to face a decision with risk.

Keep in mind risk will come in many forms, but don’t approach it alone.  Use your team, the mission and the values that guide the culture to overcome it.  

Develop your Team

Leadership

If you could strategically pick people to create the ultimate team would the people on your team now make the cut?  If they would, why would they?  If not, why wouldn’t they?  If they could do the same, would you be on the team?

Teams are the life blood of organizations.  They provide results, growth and function.  We often don’t assess the team as if it’s a one person with many different abilities. We identify a team as a group of individuals with many talents.  Most people on the team will play to their strengths.  It’s natural that we step forward when we are familiar with something that we know.  Our weaknesses on the other hand often go unplayed and undeveloped.  We’ve all heard the phrase, “A team is strong as its weakest link.”  Another way to look at it is one person’s weakness becomes the team’s weakness.  

Sometimes people don’t know what their weaknesses are.  It takes feedback from others to point them out.  How well do you provide feedback as a team?  Have you sat collectively as a team and talked about your weaknesses? If not, why not?  Every team needs to have a 360 degree view of what they’re capable of being. 

The only way to grow as a team is to learn as a team and develop as a team.  Sure, it does take individual parts to move and do so, but above all, if you’re going to be a team then develop as a team.  Growing together strengthens the team.  One of the hardest things to do is take a diverse group of people and work together in one direction.  A successful team crosses the finish line together.  Win or lose. 

As a leader, what are you doing to help develop the team?  Are you providing feedback when necessary?  Are you not only improving weaknesses, but identifying potential?  Leadership is essential to the progression of any team.  Without even saying it most people know the leader on their team.  Are you that leader?  If so, what are you doing to help develop your team?  It would be awesome to be able to strategically pick your ultimate team, but you don’t need to in order to have a great team.  You can create the ultimate team by investing in your current team’s development!