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

5 Leadership Lessons from Steve Jobs

Ideas, Innovation, Leadership, Organization

Ask any person walking with a cell phone who Steve Jobs is and they’ll tell you.  They wait in line for hours to buy the next IPhone.  They hear smartphone and IPhone is the image that comes to mind.  Steve Jobs left the world with a product that is now a part of every day life.  

Most people are aware of his innovative approach to technology, business and how he made people better.  I find Steve Jobs to be one of those most influential, inspiring and innovative people in this generation.  I have listened to Steve Job’s Crazy Ones speech at least 500 times.  It gives me purpose.  It inspires me.  It opens possibilities that we are all better than we allow ourselves to be.  

As a leadership enthusiast, I want to point out some of my favorite quotes from Jobs that have inspired me to be a better leader.  We need to understand that Steve wasn’t just a brilliant innovator, but he was also a leader.  

“What leadership is is having a vision and being able to articulate that so that the people around you can understand it.” – Steve Jobs

If anyone is going to make that first step into leading, they MUST have vision.  Leaders must know where they’re taking their team.  Leading people implies we are going somewhere.  Leading implies we have a goal/objective to accomplish.  Leaders must create a vision to accomplish that goal.  Call it a plan, a path, an idea, but communicate it in such a way that your team can see what you see.  Communicate that vision clearly, concise and easy enough for their followers/team to understand. It’s one thing to know, it’s another to understand.  When we understand things, we get the full spectrum of what it is we’re about to do.  Thus, a leader must paint a vision so that their team can see it too.  

“My job is not to be easy on people. My job is to make them better.” – Steve Jobs

Leaders invest in people.  That’s what they do naturally.  They make people better.  Steve Jobs nails it.  A leader’s job isn’t to be easy on people, it’s to make them better.  If we’re going to invest in people, let’s make it count for them.  A leader must be honest with their team.  If a team member needs a wake up call, hold them accountable to the values and standards that are set in place.  It’s a leader’s job to coach, mentor and guide their team members to not only be better, but do better and know better.  Don’t forget that a leader focuses on people.  They are in a way, our soul purpose for being a leader.  We don’t just want to make them better, but also want to make them leaders.  

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.” – Steve Jobs

Leaders want to know that what they’re doing is working.  They want to know that their leadership is effective.  They want to know that their vision is being carried out and that progress is being made.  There is only one way to check how you and your team is doing and that’s by stopping to assess where the team is and how they have been performing.  You can’t look forward to see that, you must look behind you to see how far the team has gone.  Looking back provides an opportunity to grow from your experience, the failure, the perseverance, the challenges you’ve faced and so on. It’s important that we look back to connect the dots, but don’t forget that more dots need to be made.  Don’t focus too much on the past, but look to the future.  Leading is about where we’re going, but we must learn and progress from where we’ve been.  

“Be a yardstick of quality.  Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.” – Steve Jobs

Think from the follower’s perspective.  Followers want amazing leaders leading them. Leaders must be that quality that followers are looking for.  I’ll say this in the nicest way, but followers don’t need a half-ass leader.  They need someone who is of the utmost quality.  The quality of the leaders depends on the follower’s development, progress and effectiveness.  Leaders will always have a high standards of excellence for their team and their work environment.  A leader cares about how things are done.  They expect high quality results.  They expect high quality performance.  As a follower, be selective on who you follow.  Who you follow is not only important for the objectives and goals, but also important for the followers.  A leader will raise the bar for the benefit of their followers. They see your potential and will ensure that you are growing to meet it. 

“Innovation distinguishes between and leader and a follower.” – Steve Jobs 

This may be one of those most recognized quotes from Steve Jobs.  Some people have yet to understand the correlation between innovation and leadership, but it’s quite simple.  Innovation isn’t just an action, but being innovative is seeing outside the box.  Like innovators, leaders also see outside the box. Leadership and innovation are actions of a decision to not accept the normality of how people and products are grown. Leaders see around corners in ways that others don’t see.  They are strategic, they are creative, they are risk takers and they certainly don’t fear failure. It’s very important for leaders to see things in ways other people don’t.  A leader isn’t a leader because they have all the answers; a leader is a leader because if they don’t know an answer, they find or create their own solution to any challenge or issue. 

7 Ways to be a Great Follower

Leadership

We hear a lot about developing leaders, but how often do you hear about developing followers?  I believe a great leader was once a great follower.  It’s important for all leaders to understand the perspective of their followers.  If we want our teams to be successful not everyone can be a leader. Teams require followers.  We all can be great followers. What does being a great follower mean? It means being the best you can, doing the best you can and knowing all you can while pursuing a task or a goal with a team.  There are many characteristics, skills and abilities of followers.  The list below is not the end all be all to great followership, but it is a great start.  If you would like to contribute to this list, please let me know. 

CommunicateTalk with your teammates, not at them.  Listen to understand and not to debate.  Be open to hearing ideas and have courage to give ideas.  Provide feedback appropriately and in the right environment.  Communicate up, down, left and right. There is a time to absorb information and a time to ask questions. Ensure you execute each of these clear and concise. Keep the lines of communication open.  If an issue comes up, talk about it.  Inform your leader of any challenges that may be happening. A great follower communicates.   

AccountableIf you make a mistake, own it.  Don’t pass blame or try to justify a reason why it wasn’t your fault. Integrity isn’t about doing the right thing when no one is watching, it’s also about telling someone you did something wrong when no one was watching.  Hold your teammates accountable too, but don’t do it with the intent to cause tension.  Do it educationally for both of you.  There is always a proper way to provide feedback, which is why communication is important.  A great follower is accountable. 

ManagePrioritizing is how we determine what needs to be done first and what can be done last.  Management also includes time.  Time management is a very important factor when working on any task.  If you’re the veteran on the team prioritizing may be easy, but if you’re new you may need to ask which tasks are most important. Asking questions will help you be a better manager.  A great follower knows how to manage. 

Contribute – If you’re going to be on a team be a team player.  Sounds easy enough, right?  Contribute what you can when you can.  In order to contribute effectively you must know your strengths and weaknesses.  Play your strengths and improve your weaknesses. If someone needs help do your best to provide it. I believe it was Simon Sinek that said, “If you want to change to world show up to give.”  I believe what he meant by this is contribute what you can to making things better and that includes people and teams. Also, don’t just contribute when asked, you should seek to serve.  Find opportunities to help others.  A great follower contributes. 

Solutions – We all can point out problems. They’re usually easy to spot.  The hardest part about problems is that they need solutions.  Pointing out problems and not providing solutions to them can make it sound like you’re just complaining.  If you’re going talk about a problem, provide a solution for it. If you don’t have a solution, seek feedback from others that may have an idea. A great follower provides solutions. 

Adaptable – No one really likes changes, but it happens.  Be an early adopter to change, not a laggard.  Change may stick and it may not, but don’t be the person that is resisting it. Resisting change is going against the grain.  It’s not just important to survive in your environment, but it’s important you thrive and the only way to do that is to adapt to the changes around you.  Just like in a football game.  If one team calls an audible, the other team must adapt to it.  Our challenges can sometimes be our audible and we must learn to adapt to accomplish them. A great follower is adaptable. 

Enthusiastic – It’s hard to put on a smile 24/7, especially if something personal is going on, but being positive and in good spirits is a great healthy way to work.  It keeps the mood positive between teammates and drives motivation upward.  With the help of managing the balance of your work and personal life you can create a positive vibe that others can feed off of.  Negativity can affect your performance and others.  Performance issues can create more issues. Be positive and have a great attitude. A great follower is enthusiastic.