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. 

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!

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.