I married a creative genius, who constantly comes up with all kinds of ideas, sometimes practical, sometimes not. He just doesn’t see the boundaries that most of us are hidebound by, so his imagination roams unfettered. At times, I really appreciate his ability to see things in a different light, in ways that I would not have thought of in a million years. At other times it drives me nuts.
To him, it must seem like I’m an inconsistent, irrational woman. Before you start nodding in agreement let me explain, because the penny has just dropped. There is a difference between the times I am receptive, and times I’m not. He can be forgiven for not always seeing the distinction between the two, because often it is internalised and not visible. I’ve been thinking about how this might also be happening in other relationships, especially in the workplace.
When I’m receptive to creativity
It’s this. If he comes up with ideas before I’ve made a decision, they are welcome. They go into the melting pot, get kicked around and dissected for relevance, usefulness or nuggets or brilliance. (Yes, there have been times when I have been berating him the nonsensical, ridiculous ideas and realised the brilliance midflow. Duh.) I find that my own creativity works best when I have others to spark off, so his input often kick starts my own thoughts and flow. You might call it synergy.
When I’m not
You know where this is going, don’t you? I’m not receptive to having suggestions about how to do something differently once I’ve reached a decision. It’s usually pretty easy to handle if action has already been taken; you can dismiss the ideas as being too late. There are times, of course, when a great idea comes too late, and with it comes the irritation or criticism that either action was taken too soon, or the idea bringer was too slow.
What I find even more taxing is that space where a decision has been made, but I have yet to act. It’s unsettling because it challenges the very decision – I have something filed as ‘sorted’ when I am given the choice of reconsidering. It’s an option, but not one I’m usually enthusiastic about taking, unless the idea comes shining with obvious benefits and gifts. In this scenario, doubts and uncertainties are swirling where I’d just had peace. Hmmm.
It’s not just me, is it?
It’s worth considering, both personally and organisationally, where you stand on being open to innovation. If you’ve ever taken a Myers Briggs or similar questionnaire, you’ll know that some of us get satisfaction from the process of reaching a decision, enjoying the seeking information, weighing up options etc, while others of us prefer the pleasure of ‘Job done!’ and will race through the process to get to the finishing line.
Where do you stand? What about your colleagues? From my perspective, it is fascinating to see both ends of the spectrum at work in organisations. I’ve seen places where people ruminate all day, change a few words in a document, achieve next to nothing and consider it a ‘productive day’.
Much more common though, is the tendency to get things done at all costs – decisions are made based on knee jerk reactions, not only disregarding ideas, but often salient facts as well.
Here’s a true story
Take, for example, the story I was told by a student a few years back. She applied for a job where the task was to offer support to young people in Further Education who had just left the care system. At the time (and probably still the case) care leavers had a poor track record for completing or passing courses at college. Fired with enthusiasm, she took the full time role and was given the target of supporting 30 care leavers in the local colleges. She contacted the colleges in her designated patch, got the details of all the students who had recently left care…..There were two. A job was created, advertised and filled without anyone quantifying the size of the issue or looking for other ways of approaching it.
This is hopefully an uncommon story, but I see the same ‘Just do it’ approach for smaller issues all the time. Of course we need to scale the effort we put into ideas and innovation to the importance of the issue. One consequence of the pressure to get things done and dusted is that it becomes a habit, and slowing down to allow innovation space to breathe becomes, well, just not the way things are done. it’s not the culture.
Make good decisions
Part of the process of making a good decision is ensuring sufficient space for gathering and evaluating ideas before moving forward. You know this. The questions I want to ask are these:
- Do you know whether you lean towards ‘Enjoy the process, who needs an outcome?’ or ‘Get it done at any cost’ ?
- Are you able to adapt your behaviour to include your non-preferred style so that good decisions are made?
- Is it obvious to your colleagues (ok, your spouse too) when it is a good time to bring ideas to the table?
- Do you know when others want your creative input – and when you might be annoyingly too late?
- Does your organisation have strategies that make it possible to encourage and reward innovation?
Food for thought? I love running training days on creative thinking, where delegates get to understand how different minds work, and how to flex their own. By the way, if you missed the popular “33 Ways to grow your creativity” poster, you can see it here.
By Julie Cooper
Author of Face to Face in the Workplace
“If you deal with people you need this book” Buy your copy here