Sunday, May 26, 2013

Superheroes in the Office

I remember the first time I saw the Justice League on TV as a kid. I couldn't believe my luck. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman . . . all on the same team and fighting for a single cause. What atomic-mutated baddie could hope to prevail against their combined might? And as it turned out, the only thing that could bring their heroics to a halt was the 30-second interruption of a sugary breakfast cereal ad.

Let's face it, whoever assembled that super powered group knew what they were doing. If a team is greater than the sum of its parts, how great are the possibilities of a team where every part is capable of super feats? OK, I suppose you could argue that Robin may have been riding some cape tails, but there's probably always room for the youthful exuberance of a boy or girl wonder.

So how does your team stack up against the Justice League?

Steve Jobs often said, "Make sure you're hiring only A-players." His fear was that hiring B-players would ultimately lead to a C-level team. Once you start settling for less than the best, it's easy to just start settling. Instead, take a page from the Justice League manual. Look for heroes. Look for people who can accomplish great things while participating as part of a great team.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The "If It Ain't Broke Don't Fix It" Myth

There's a lot to be said for folk wisdom. In fact, it sometimes seems so commonsensical that we don't dare challenge it for fear of being labeled an ignorant grandma hater. I mean, it's tough to argue with old sayings like:
  • A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush
  • Bad breathe is better than no breath at all
  • A penny saved is a penny earned
  • Things turn up when you dig
But what if we never challenged conventional wisdom? Aren't there times when you'd rather have the dream of possibility given by those two birds singing in the bush?

One of my favorite disputable bits of folk wisdom is, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." I'm sorry, grandma, but that sounds a bit lazy to me. How could you perfect your quilting technique if you simply did what worked for everybody else? How could we ever hope to knock 3,000+ calories off your sweet potato pie recipe unless we try something new? How does anybody "create" anything without "fixing" something?

"If it ain't broke don't fix it" simply means that everything is broke. It doesn't matter if something seems to be working, we should always search for ways to make it better. To make it more interesting. Fixing what ain't broke is where creativity and genius are born.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Ideas That Fuel the Bonfire

Who doesn't love a bonfire? Seriously, who? OK, maybe the friend who stands too close and wakes up the next morning with half an eyebrow. Or the cousin who sips one beer too many and stumbles across the hot ash to burn rubber on sneaker soles. Or perhaps the neighbor who just wants some sleep so calls the authorities in hopes that you're doing something . . . anything . . . illegal.

But for the most part people love a bonfire. From the excitement of first ignition when the kindling bursts into flames that seem to reach heaven, to late in the night when the thick logs provide heavy fuel for a long sustaining blaze. People love a bonfire.

The same is true in your career. People love the burning bonfire of success that illuminates the company's value and warms the cold concern of a client in need of help. But every bonfire needs fuel and in your career that fuel comes in the form of ideas.

Many people focus on those quick burn ideas. The kindling ideas. Those new approaches that catch fire quickly and burn bright, grabbing the attention of everybody for a short time. Yes, those ideas are important. They ignite opportunity and brighten your role within the workplace. But they are not enough to sustain the kind of fire that results in long-term and dramatic change. Those come from the big ideas that are as thick and robust as heavy logs. The game changers. The risky moves. The ones you can't handle alone.

So don't simply rely on the quick burning thoughts that are easy to implement. Use them as kindling to ignite those big ideas that you roll onto the fire for them to burn with sustained brilliance and make that dramatic difference in the long run.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Getting a "B" For Effort

My son's teacher smiled as we went through the pile of work that had been set aside to review at the Parent / Teacher conference. "He's doing a wonderful job. An excellent student. In fact, this project was the only "B" he's gotten all year." With that he slid across the table a poster project with pages of research documentation attached. "Oh, it was a good effort," the teacher explained, "he just bit off more than he could chew. I asked the students to develop a report and presentation about a specific place. The other students picked some place they knew well, like their home town or a frequent vacation spot. Your son picked Oslo, Norway. He said he wanted to learn more about it, but no matter how much he read it was obvious that he didn't know Oslo like he knows his home town."

Ever choose the tougher path only to be given a "B" for effort? Decided to dig deep and learn something new so you could deliver something extraordinary rather than ride the status quo?

Sometimes gratification isn't so instant. You take that path less chosen only to have the crossing guard blow a whistle and frantically wave for you to rejoin the mainstream. In the office you're seduced to give the presentation that's expected. Use the tool that's standard.  Deliver the project as safely as possible. And if you do it you'll get a pat on the head and a nice shiny "A" on today's report card. But before I mix in one more metaphor let me stop to say tat the reward is short lived. Sure, you accomplished the task as expected, but did you even give yourself a chance to stand out? Did you identify yourself as a risk taker who is willing to embrace the greater challenge for greater reward? Did you push yourself to become noticed? Memorable? Exceptional?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Confidence or Competence: Taking a Stance

 
Why are you paralyzed in the workplace? Is it a matter of confidence or competence?

I watched Amy Cuddy's Ted Talk at the company's video screening yesterday. Her rap, Your body language shapes who you are, gave a boost to my long-held belief that a lack of confidence is the leading cause of workplace paralysis. To move forward, you must believe that you can. But you can't stop there, you must act as though you can.

Does competence matter? Of course. But competence can always be gained. Very few people take on a new challenge with every skill needed to actually complete the task with brilliance. But the most successful in our midst stumble their way through until finally hitting their stride and achieving excellence. The key is that they never stop moving forward. What they lack in competence, they make up for in their confidence that if they just keep going they will eventually find success.

In her talk, Amy Cuddy adds an interesting tool to help us find that confidence. She explains that your body language can provide measurable levels of biological support that can enhance confidence. Take a stance. No, I mean a literal stance. A power stance. Prior to an interview, a tough meeting or an important presentation, sneak off to the restroom and thrust both hands into the air as though you've just won Olympic Gold. Hold them up for a couple of minutes. Sure, you may look a little silly to anyone washing their hands next to you, but don't worry about it. You're gaining confidence, and that often happens in the most peculiar places.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Creative Switch

I have to fix my light. Every time I flip the switch I spend a long half-second of anticipation wondering if the light will come on, flicker like an angry firefly or simply stay stubbornly dark. It doesn't care if I stumble headlong into the table, muttering curses that scatter the kids faster than "we're having brussels sprout salad for dinner." The light seems to have a mind of its own and will work if and only if it feels like it.

Creativity often functions like my fickle light. Sometimes it illuminates instantly and brilliantly. Sometimes it flickers hopefully. And sometimes . . . sometimes despite our best efforts it stays dead dark. Unfortunately, a client, boss or teacher is like the switch. When the switch is turned on they expect results every time, no excuses.

The challenge of creativity is in making it turn on when we need it -- every time, no excuses. But like my fickle light, there are real steps that can be taken to make it work. The most effective steps for finding creativity can certainly vary from person to person, but a few that have worked for many include: getting involved with a creative community, redesigning your environment for creativity and comfort, Reading creative material, finding the humor in life, and letting your daydreams become your inspiration.