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

Mentorship

Leadership

Many people go years without having a mentor. What’s the point of having a mentor? To tell you what to do? To tell you what you are doing wrong? In a subtle way, yes. They are there also there to help you progress and grow professionally and personally.

It is important that you look at a mentor as a guide. A person to help you navigate through foreign terrain and help you reach destinations you would never otherwise reach on your own. In other words, mentors are there to help you reach your goals and your potential. Along the way you’ll gain knowledge, perspective and learn things about yourself that you, yourself haven’t realized. I like to think of mentors as navigators on the roadmap to success that you can’t find on Google. Everyone’s experiences variable change in their career, thus, a strong navigator is essential.

Do you have a mentor? Are you looking for a mentor? I highly recommend utilizing experienced personnel that may have had a similar path that you are currently on. You will need someone that can understand your aspirations and career path. Someone that has been there and done that.

Finding a mentor can take time. I have had a few mentors in my career and still have a few mentors I go to. As I reflect on the mentors I have and had, I believe mentors are meant to do three things. They listen, provide feedback and provide advice. I will break them down.

First, the mentee/mentor relationship, just like any relationship, begins with communication. A mentor will not able to help if they do not listen first. Listening is the basis of all communication. Mentors listen. The mentor will not be able to help you if they do not get to know who you are, what you have done and where you wish to go. The only way to get to know that information is for them to listen. Listening is key to building a relationship. For the mentee/mentor relationship to build, grow and thrive, listening is the most important factor. As communication is a two way street, you must also listen. You must listen to what your mentor has to say because mentors provide feedback.

Feedback is mentorship. It is critical that you know and understand things about areas you are doing well in and what areas need improvement. Feedback will provide you with this information.

Feedback plots you on the map of where you are going and how much fuel (development) you will need to get there. Through feedback we learn about our self. We become aware of what we’re good at and what we need help with. Sometimes it takes an outside perspective to show us what we really know or don’t know, but more importantly what we need to do. This cannot be done without feedback and mentors are great at providing the feedback necessary for your advancement.

If feedback plots you on the map, then advice is what provides you with a direction to move in. To understand where you are is one thing, to understand where you are going is another. This is why receiving advice from a mentor is important. Feedback is data from the past and present. Advice is for future use. We must have a clear path for reaching the next checkpoint on the journey in our career and in our personal development.

When mentors provide you with advice, they provide you with the best possible path when you are uncertain of what to do or where to go on your map of growth. Mentors can assist with a new direction when circumstances change, when the road all of a sudden becomes blocked, or when you are experiencing rough terrain. Advice is a course of action.

As advice provides you the direction, your action to that advice moves you along the road. All of the words mean nothing without action. Mentors will provide the necessary feedback and advice, but it is up to you to take it and put it into action.

In closing, here are a few questions to challenge you to think about how a mentor could help you reach destinations you want to reach.

Without a mentor where are you now?
Without a mentor where will you be in the future?
With a mentor where could you be?
With a mentor where will you be?

3 Ways to Stay Sharp as a Leader

Leadership

When the new IPhone comes out all you have to do is have enough money and stand in a line to get it.  Once in hand you have adapted to the newest technology.  If only leaders could stay ahead of the culture the same way as buying something.  Unfortunately, teams evolve and environments change.  It’s hard to keep the edge up, but we must adapt.  One must continually develop their talent and skills in order to keep up with the culture around them.  It’s not a question of if you should, it’s necessary.  You must be adaptable as a leader.  Over the last few years I’ve found a few key elements that have helped me stay sharp as a leader so that when I do enter a new environment or the team changes I am prepared to adjust as needed to lead those around me.

1. Balance Stress is nobody’s friend.  The more stressed you are the higher chance you have at making mistakes. Stress takes a number on the body as well.  Knowing when to take a break can relieve stress.  This is why being resilient is so important. Resiliency is the ability to cope, adjust and recover from stresses or adversity.  We live in a go, go, go society and the standard for working overtime is well, fairly normal.  It may be necessary at times to put in the extra hours, but how many extra hours are we putting in when it’s not necessary? 

The human body wasn’t meant to work 12 hours a day. We created that standard.  We’re maybe not even meant to work 8 hours a day.  Whatever the case, time for yourself and your family is always necessary for staying balanced with work and your personal life.  Everyone handles stress differently, but it’s safe to say the best way to relieve stress is to not work.  Ensure you prepare time for you.  Work will always be there.  It can take time to find the balance you need to remain at the top of your game, but there is a balance.

2. Professional Development/Mentor – Every goal I have reached I can rewind back and point out at least one person who helped me get there.  Not everyone will be a mentor, but it’s beneficial to have one.  I have a few mentors and anytime I need advice about a decision, or another perspective on a situation, I ask them.  Think of them like a trusted adviser.  Ensure you pick a mentor that knows a little about what you’re going through.  They must have experience and knowledge about the path you’re pursuing.  Mentors help you grow, they help you progress in your career goals and they can be great coaches. Find a mentor that can be there for you, but don’t forget that a mentor and mentee relationship is reciprocal.  It’s a two way street.

Mentors will help develop you into the person you have the potential to be.  Having a mentor is one form of professional development, but there are other things you may need to do in order to get the development you need.  I spend much of my time reading.  I gain a lot of insight from reading books about topics such as leadership, entrepreneurship, innovation, and psychology.  Hearing other people’s stories and advice can help you understand specific areas of interest.  I also attend seminars, participate in book clubs, Twitter chats, and discussion sessions on specific topics.  Whatever you can do to further your knowledge and understanding of a topic, or area of interest should be something you do continually and consistently.  Never stop learning and never stop growing. 

3. Self-Awareness (strengths/weaknesses) – Have you ever handled a situation with your weaknesses?  No.  Of course not.  You take things head on with strengths, but you’ve got to know them in order to know how and when to use them. You must be self-aware of what you’re good at and what you need improvement on.  Most of us can’t point out our weaknesses because we don’t operate with them.  For me, someone pointed them out to me. I received feedback which is a great way to help learn them. You can also take a personality test or a strength/weakness test to hone in on each. Above all, you’ve got to put the work in.  For anyone joining a team, self-awareness is a great place to begin. There will always be strengths and weaknesses and you get better with each with practice, knowledge and understanding.  Play your strengths and develop your weaknesses.