Engaging And Sustaining Creativity And Innovation: Part 2

“There’s an inherent tension between systems and innovation.”  -Tom Kelley The Ten Faces of Innovation

Creativity and innovation is not just found in a new idea, a tool or even technology…it is found in our mindset.  And for creativity and innovation to take hold in our organizations, we have to engage that mindset on a systemwide basis.  Especially if we want to see creativity and innovation push out beyond inconsistent pockets…

And for that to happen, we have to pave the way for it to be actionable, useable, and even scalable…at all levels of an organization.

Unfortunately, we too often see creativity and innovation as an add-on, an extra…when it should be woven deeply into the very fabric of all our organization is and does.

So we look for sustainability.  As individuals, in our teams, as well as throughout our entire organization.  We are constantly looking to find ways to sustain our efforts…so we create reminders, processes, systems all in the effort of sustaining those things that make us effective and better.

But so often, especially in regards to creativity and innovation, we still believe it only resides in a choice few individuals…

So we spend more time singing its praises, hoping that more of those ‘creative’ individuals will spring forth, than looking for ways we can truly engage and sustain beyond those ‘choice‘ few.  Let alone, how we can cascade it across an entire organization…allowing it to flow and flourish from all levels.

But this is crucial to education and our organizations, and where we must continue the journey towards employing more creativity and innovation…

We must look at those processes that allow creativity and innovation to flourish and move beyond the ‘choice‘ few who have been blessed with the ‘creative‘ gene.

So let’s embark on this journey by looking at some processes that will be vital and necessary if we are to begin to engage and sustain creativity and innovation in our organizations on a systemwide, rather than individualistic and incremental basis…

  • Flow and the Idea Well – if we are going to disrupt our current level of what we consider possible, then we need access to an ongoing flow of ideas.  We have this tendency to consider creativity and innovation as this ‘eureka‘ moment that we are in constant search of…believing that if we search long enough we will come to this incredible original idea.  That ‘eureka‘ moment.  Where, in fact, much of what we consider to be original is just a remix of the many ideas and thoughts that we encounter on a daily basis from our conversations, thoughts and reading.  Instead of working towards that one original ‘eureka’ moment…we need to be engaging daily at the ‘idea well‘.  Gathering from the flow.  Remixing towards creativity and innovation. Creativity and innovation is found more in perseverance and fortitude than it is in any ‘eureka‘ moment.
  • Within and Beyond – in the same way we have our ‘well of ideas’ that we go to for our flow…we have to acknowledge that this well exists both within our organization and beyond.  It is not one or the other, it is both.  We have to engage and pull from the creativity that exists within our organization, as well as be willing to search beyond our walls for ideas and thinking that can and will disrupt our current view of what is…for what can be.
  • Connections and Networks – as Fritjof Capra alludes to in ‘The Web of Life‘…”The perception of the living world as a network of relationships has made thinking in terms of networks – another key characteristic of systems thinking.”  We’ve had a tendency, in our organizations, to spend too much time focusing on the parts, in isolation, when we need to take a bigger, whole approach to the picture.  Especially as we consider sustaining creativity and innovation.  We have to begin to think more in terms of networks and connections.  The more collaborative opportunities we have to engage in expressing and considering the thoughts and ideas of others…the more opportunities we create in allowing those in our organization to dip into the ‘idea well‘.
  • Empathy, Value and Self-Worth – to create any type of collaborative community where we can engage and sustain creativity and innovation…trust must exist.  Those in the organization have to feel valued for what they have and bring to the table.  Otherwise, when they don’t feel valued…they will no longer choose to engage and bring what they have to offer to the table.  And when that happens…the best ideas will never be shared and brought forth, let alone make it to the organizational table.  Which is why empathy is vital.  We have to be able to engage those within our organization in ways that allow them to feel value and worth.  And for that to happen, people have to know that you are for them and their success.
  • Action and Permission – permission is often the golden ticket for change, for creating and building individual and organizational capacity.  When we create trusting and supportive environments…and then give people permission to try, to engage in risk that moves them out of their comfort zone…only great things can happen.  Even when failure occurs…because it leads to greater learning.  And it is this permission, that ultimately leads to what is necessary for creativity to turn into innovation…which is action.  Permission leads to action…and action ultimately leads to creativity and innovation.  And this will only happen in those environments where it is supported.

Above are fives processes to consider as we look to engage and sustain creativity and innovation in education and within our organizations.  All of which require leaders to create and sustain environments that are conducive to allowing creativity and innovation to be initiated and flourish.

“The more we study the major problems of our time, the more we come to realize that they cannot be understood in isolation.”  -Fritjof Capra ‘The Web of Life

In an upcoming post (Engaging and Sustaining Creativity and Innovation: Part 3), we will continue looking at ways we can engage and sustain creativity and innovation on a broader level, by looking looking at those processes that other creative organizations have initiated in their efforts to engage and sustain creativity and innovation.

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Reciprocal Leadership: The Seesaw Of Trust

When you care for those you lead more than your own comfort and well-being…deeper levels of trust and a reciprocating cycle of support will emerge…

While they don’t exist as much anymore…there are very few structures on a playground that require more communication and trust than a seesaw or teeter-totter.

Whether getting on, getting off, or the actually movements and motion required to ride it successfully…communication and trust are vital for it to be a fun and enjoyable experience for both riders.

And while it comes in many shapes and sizes, the basic and simple design remains inherent in each one.  It requires some form of a board, balanced at the center, with a place on either end for a person to sit and take turns pushing one another into the air.  And while it is mechanically simple in its design, it requires great communication and trust for it to be enjoyable for both riders.

Not only does it require great trust and communication to make sure that the ride is enjoyable and smooth, there is a bit of vulnerability required as well.  Each rider is constantly putting themselves in an unstable position, up in the air, relying on the other rider to support and bring them back into a more stable and supportive position. ..

A constant back and forth of support and vulnerability…

The seesaw or teeter-totter can serve as a great example of how well people can work together when communication, trust…and even vulnerability are reciprocated and supported in a positive manner.   An ongoing back and forth.

A seesaw of support…

The seesaw or teeter-totter is also a great example of how disjointed and difficult things can be when communication and trust are lacking.  The ride is not only no longer enjoyable…you also lose sight of the other rider as you only look out for yourself and your own comfort and safety.

The equilibrium tilts and goes off-center…

Eventually eroding communication, trust…and the willingness to allow yourself to be or be seen vulnerable in front of the other.

It is only when communication, trust and the opportunity to allow ourselves and others to be vulnerable in supportive environments occur..will we create organizations that will have the ability to reach their full, and often untapped potential.

All of which require reciprocal leadership…

Engaging And Sustaining Creativity And Innovation: Part I

“The first step toward being creative is often simply to go beyond being a passive observer and to translate thoughts into deeds.  With a little creative confidence, we can spark positive action in the world.”  -Tom and David Kelley Creative Confidence

We would be hard-pressed to find an adult that doesn’t have some recollection of the traditional English nursery rhyme…”Jack and Jill”.  Especially the first two stanzas…

Jack and Jill went up the hill

To fetch a pail of water.

It is within these first two lines, if we look deep enough, that we are provided great insight and consideration…into our next steps for engaging and sustaining creativity and innovation in our schools and organizations.

And while it did not work out for them in the end, as Jack fell down and broke his crown

Jack and Jill were very sure why they were going up the mountain and what they were after.  As to whether that well and pail of water existed at the top of the hill, we will never be sure.  For, according to Wikipedia…”the rhyme has traditionally been seen as a nonsense verse, particularly as the couple go up a hill to find water, which is often thought to be found at the bottom of hills.

Which provides us with an interesting perspective as we determine how to better infuse and engage creativity and innovation…in our schools and our organizations.

Unlike Jack and Jill

Do we always know why we are going up the hill?  Do we even really and truly know what we are after? Is the hill even where we need to go?

Or, are we making our way up the hill in search of answers to questions that we haven’t even truly clarified for ourselves, let alone for others…and our organization as a whole.

And even if we make up it to the well (network), have we equipped ourselves with the necessary questions (the pail), to pull up and gather the water (ideas) that can drive us towards the vision and direction that we seek.

As we consider our next steps…

We understand and see the necessity and need for infusing and weaving creativity and innovation into all that we do. but we struggle to visualize what that truly looks like…or even means.

So, in regards to creativity and innovation, we’ve sounded the trumpets, we’ve rolled out the red carpet, we’ve even opened the gates of the kingdom wide to welcome both of them in.  The only problem…

Neither creativity or innovation may be standing at the gate waiting to come in…and if they are, we may struggle to recognize who they are.

And even if we have the awareness to notice and welcome them both into the kingdom, we would be hard-pressed on how to get them to take up residence and stick around.

However, the only thing we do know for sure…we can’t wait much longer to usher them in because we know how much they will add and benefit the kingdom as a whole and everyone in it…making it better place for us all to live.

Which is why, in the end, we know that creativity and innovation will play a vital role in moving education forward, as well as creating and sustaining positive organizational momentum…as well as relevance.  Creativity and innovation will be processes that we will not only need to infuse and engage to improve learning…but the overall lives and futures of our students and adults.

Which is why it will be so important for us to push forward in our efforts to infuse and engage creativity and innovation at all levels of our organizations…

So even though we know it, we say it, and we expound their benefits…it often comes to a screeching halt at this point.  Knowing about the importance and benefits of something is much different than taking action and determining ways to experiment with, incorporate, and weave it into the processes of what we do…on an ongoing and daily basis.

And while we know they are both necessary, needed, and important…we are still often not sure how to truly infuse and engage creativity and innovation…especially as sustainable and scalable processes across our schools and organizations.

Which is why we not only have to determine and define for ourselves what creativity and innovation is, but where it comes from, and even what it looks like…

We have to look at those methods, strategies and processes that allow them to cascade and flow across and at all levels of the organization.

And that begins first…with our mindset.

And unfortunately, most of us fail to consider ourselves to be either creative or innovative.  We lack what Tom and David Kelley refer in their new book as “Creative Confidence”.  Which is where the discussion must begin…our starting point.  Especially, if we are going to move towards increased creativity and innovation across the organization.  If we are going to move it beyond small pockets and just a few individuals.

We have to begin by determining what are the first, as well as the next steps, towards infusing creativity and innovation into education.  To weave them seamlessly into the very fabric of what we do…

Which will require us to figure out what that looks like, sounds like, feels like, is like…when engaged and active.  To determine how we, as educational organizations, districts, classrooms, teams, and individuals…create that necessary “Creative Confidence” that the Kelley Brothers refer to.

So, instead of trying to take it all on, maybe we need to just start here…

We need to make sure we know why we are going up the hill.

To overcome inertia, good ideas are not enough.  Careful planning is not enough.  The organizations, communities, and nations that thrive are the ones that initiate action, that launch rapid innovation cycles, that learn by doing as soon as they can.  They are sprinting forward, while others are still waiting at the starting line.” -Tom and David Kelley Creative Confidence

(In a future post, we will look at a variety of processes that successful institutions have implemented and incorporated to build up and sustain creativity and innovation across all levels of their organization).

Building School Morale

Morale isn’t built in isolation…and neither is it something tangible that we can point to and say, “There it is!”  Rather, it is a force that builds and rises out of the ashes of our daily actions and interactions.

As educators and educational leaders, words such as data, accountability and achievement have been ingrained into our daily vocabulary.  We look for the tangible…the visible, those things that we can monitor and measure.  As educators, very seldom have we been able to avoid the words of W. Edwards Deming famous quote, “In God we trust; all others must bring data.

And yet…

There is another side, you might even say a “softer” side to what Deming is saying…a side that is necessary and needed if we are to build a “whole” culture.  Albert Einstein does an eloquent job of summing that up with…”Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.

As educators and leaders, it is imperative we acknowledge that some of the most important pieces for building a “whole” culture are often those pieces we can’t necessarily measure through data…they are the intangibles.  Those things we know exist…but we can’t touch it, we can’t put our finger on it, we can’t even see it.  But we know it is there…and we know it is important because it affects our schools and organizations as a whole, as well as everyone within it.

And neither is it something we can produce or manufacture…

It is value.  Self-worth.  Morale is a by-product of it…as is a positive and authentic culture.  And when a culture is founded in value, where people feel valued and appreciated…for who they are, what they do, and the talents and gifts they add…it creates a “whole” organization or school.

To do this, leaders need to intentionally create opportunities for connection and relationship to occur, to flourish, to strengthen, and build…otherwise, that authentic community and culture will fail to exist.

For all of this to occur, leaders need to intentionally and purposefully attend to the 5C’s in their school and organization…

  • Culture
  • Climate
  • Community
  • Connection
  • (Capacity)

You can’t set the tone and climate of your organization without first attending to the culture.  For most schools and organizations, culture is not a thing, as much as it is a deeply-embedded mindset.  “The way we do things around here…”  Which is why connection and relationship remain paramount to building a strong school culture, climate and morale.  Until people feel valued for who they are and what they do…it will remain difficult to break down the structures, barriers and obstacles that inhibit growth, progress and change.

When we build a culture and climate where the “whole” feel valued…we create the conditions for authentic community to exist.  Community where connection and relationship strengthen the “whole”…for it is in this environment where everyone feels a part of something bigger than themselves.

With culture, climate, community and connection in place…a school or organization has now created the conditions, as well as the environment, where leaders at all levels have the opportunity to invest deeply in building and expanding the capacity of those within.

In a time when leadership knowledge and best practices are no longer hidden commodities to be held close to the chest…the 5C’s provide rare advantage to create organizational momentum and flow.  As well as creating an environment where all people feel valued…and morale can flourish and grow.

Which is why it remains vital for leaders to understand…

“Creating culture, climate, community, connection and (capacity) are intentional acts…where leaders need not only understand how to create them, but the kind they are trying to create.”

Cross-Pollinators and Idea Magnetism

“There’s magic in cross-pollination – and in the people who make it happen.”  -Tom Kelley The Ten Faces of Innovation

We are living in a time when leadership requires not only the ability to connect dots…but to connect dots that are seemingly unrelated.  The leaders who can do this will not only have an advantage…they will set the stage to allow creativity and innovation to grow and flourish within their organizations.

For this to happen, leaders have to broaden their range…to essentially become idea magnets.  Drawing learning from a wide and diverse range of thinking and thinkers.  Or, to become what Tom Kelley refers to in the Ten Faces of Innovation, as “Cross-Pollinators“.

According to Tom Kelley…

Cross-pollinators can create something new and better through the unexpected juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated ideas or concepts.  They often innovate by discovering a clever solution in one context or industry, then translating it successfully to another.”

And it is not just in connecting those seemingly unrelated dots that invokes creativity and innovation, it is connecting them in a way where people think and say, “Why didn’t I see that?”

And yet, it is this same wide and diverse range of learning which can also make it difficult for others to understand or reside on the same page as “cross-pollinators”.  Most often because they are drawing references and ideas from so many different disciplines and areas of thinking…many of which seem unrelated and far removed from the other.  Or, as Tom Kelley shares…

“Cross-pollinators stir up new ideas by exploring worlds that may at first glance seem to have little relevance to the problems at hand.”

Which means that “cross-pollinators” must not only have a diverse and wide range of interests and learning…but an ongoing flow and well of ideas from which to draw from.  In order for “cross-pollinators” to connect dots…there must be dots from which to draw from.  Or as Tom Kelley relays…

“Give your team greater variety and they will start seeing the outlines of new connections, making new leaps of imagination.” 

And while organizations need all types…“cross-pollinators” have the ability to be real change makers and game-changers.  They have the ability to bring together those ideas and dots that can upend and revolutionize the current level and way of thinking that exists in an organization.

It is in the Ten Faces of Innovation, that Tom Kelley paints a broad picture of what a “cross-pollinator” is…

“Cross-pollinatiors retain the childlike ability to see patterns others don’t, and to spot key differences.  But they’ve also honed the very adult skill of applying those subtle differences in new contexts.  The often think in metaphors, enabling them to see relationships and connections that others miss.  They act as matchmakers, creating unusual combinations that often spark innovative hybrids.  Cross-pollinators frequently approach problems from unusual angles.”

And as much as “cross-pollinators” can be embraced for their ideas and thinking, they can also be dismissed and marginalized.  A “cross-pollinators” broad infusion of ideas and thinking, as well as the unique way in which they connect their dots, can be difficult for many decipher and understand.  Leading to frustration on both ends…from both sides.

But it is this marginalization and dismissive attitude that we have to avoid.  We have to encourage and promote this type of thinking in our individuals, in our teams and in our organizations.  Especially if we want our individuals, teams and organizations to remain creative, as well as innovative.

“The Cross-Pollinator is an essential part of the ecosystem of innovation.”  -Tom Kelley Ten Faces of Innovation 

References and quotes taken from…

Kelley, Tom. The Ten Faces of Innovation: Ideo’s Strategies for Beating the Devil’s Advocate and Driving Creativity Throughout Your Organization. 2005. Currency Doubleday.

Blendered Learning

“Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long.  We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious…and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”  -Walt Disney

Ideas are the lifeblood of creativity and innovation.  When ideas slow down, so does our creativity and innovation.  And for our systems to remain both creative and innovative, they don’t just need a few ideas…they need an ongoing flow.

Ideas ignite ideas, which, in turn, ignite more and more ideas.

The problem is…we can have a tendency to sit around wait on that one great idea to hit us, to provide us with that “Eureka” moment.  And unfortunately, those “Eureka” moments are far and few between.  Especially, if we are sitting around waiting for it to happen.  The real “Eureka” moments are born out perseverance and hard work.  And sifting through a lot of ideas…

Think of it like that entertainer, musician, or band that has been tagged by the industry as the new “overnight success“.  And while they’ve finally gotten their big break or “Eureka” moment that has sprung them into stardom…most likely, if you look past the surface, you will find that they were anything but an “overnight success“.  For most of them, they have been toiling away for years…working at and perfecting their craft.

Creativity and innovation work in much the same manner.  They are the by-product of hard work and perseverance.  Pushing and practicing your craft daily.  It requires engaging daily…in those processes and thinking that evoke creativity and innovation.  But, most people see it differently.  They see creativity, which leads to innovation, as an innate ability.  Either you have it or you don’t.  So, when the “Eureka” moments don’t come, they label themselves as not being creative.  Which is unfortunate.

For we are all creative…but, we have to choose to do the work that allows our creativity to surface.  

Which not only means working hard and persevering…but creating access.  Access to ideas.  A constant flow from which to draw from…to ignite our creative and innovative juices.  When we have access to an ongoing flow of ideas, it creates an avalanche effect.  Ideas build upon ideas, which ignite and create momentum towards even more and different ideas.

Which is why access is crucial…

We have to search out the people and platforms that provide us with that ongoing, collaborative forum for not only gathering, but sharing and building upon ideas.  It is the work necessary, if we are to become more creative and innovative…as individuals, as leaders, as teams, and as organizations.

It is those people and platforms that create the opportunity for “blendered learning”.  Where ideas can be formed, mixed, blended, reformed, changed, improved…on an ongoing basis.  Where we can toss ideas and thoughts into the mix, often churning up new ideas, which can often lead to that “Eureka” moment.  Which is why a constant flow of ideas is so important…we will have to go through a lot to get to that “one” that works.

To engage in “blendered learning“…you have to find the people and the platforms that ignite your creative and innovative juices, you have to find your flow…

Do you know where to find your flow?

“Go out and find some real people.  Listen to their stories.  Don’t ask for the main point.  Let the story run its course.  Like flowing water, it will find its own way, at its own pace.  And if you’ve got patience, you’ll learn more than you might imagine.”  -Tom Kelley (Ideo) Ten Faces of Innovation

Are We Missing Something?

“Increasingly, it is apparent that healthy organizations are those that can continually and flexibly respond to a world full of rapidly changing circumstances.  That means not simply “reorganizing” to meet today’s challenges but rather fostering a culture within which people continually adapt solutions and respond creatively to new conditions and discoveries.”  -Coughlan, Suri, Canales (IDEO)

Leading in today’s educational arena requires much more than making sure that the lights are turned on, students and teachers are in the classroom, necessary resources and supplies are provided, and the school is functioning in a safe and productive manner.  That is just the tip of the iceberg…

Today’s educational leaders have to be able to decipher and utilize data effectively, monitor the level of learning across the organization and when and where to initiate intervention or acceleration, as well as having a solid grasp of assessment and learning strategies…all wrapped up in the ability to lead initiatives, change, and an organization effectively.

To create a healthy learning environment and culture for all stakeholders.

Educational leaders have to have a strong understanding of their organizations past and where they have come from, where they are in their present circumstances (positive and/or negative), and a vision of where they are headed in the future.

As well as being able to engage their own learning and to provide their organization, as well as their leadership with “around the corner” thinking.  And it is often this “around the corner” thinking that differentiates the good from the great educational leaders…

Which is why modern educational leaders have to be committed and (connected) if they are going to engage and acquire the learning and skills necessary to lead their organizations forward, especially at the pace of change that today’s society is pushing.  Which means moving beyond the walls of our schools, the walls of our districts, and even the walls of our state and country.  We have to take on a global perspective to learning.

Which can also mean pushing that learning beyond the realm of education, to gaining perspectives and ideas from thought leaders in other arenas…from business to design thinking.  When education becomes a magnet for ideas…we incorporate more creativity, more innovation, more learning, and more ideas that enable our schools and districts to better serve the changing needs of our students, staff, stakeholders, and society.

And what better time than now, when we have not only open access to a deluge of great thinkers and ideas across a variety of platforms…but, from such a wide perspective of areas and expertise.

It is a great time for inquiry, curiosity…learning.

And one of those areas (outside of the traditional K-12 education arena) that I believe has much to add to the educational conversation is design thinking.  Which Coughlan, Suri, and Canales refer to as…“That idea – of adapting solutions and responding creatively – is design in its essence.”

And while some elements of design thinking, when considered, have been incorporated into education…there is one element of the design thinking that has been on my mind of late.  It is the idea of prototyping, which is a common and necessary part of any design thinkers vernacular and idea implementation process.

According to Tom and David Kelley in their work Creative Confidence…”The reason for prototyping is experimentation – the act of creating forces you to ask questions and make choices.”  “A prototype is just an embodiment of your idea.

Or, as Tim Brown shares in his book Change by Design, prototyping not only measures how innovative an organization is, but that…”A successful prototype is not one that works flawlessly; it is the one that teaches us something – about our objectives, our process, about ourselves.”

And it is not that we don’t prototype in education (even though we implement more than we prototype), rather we have a tendency to miss a very important step in the process.  The empathy portion…

Which Tom and David Kelley refer to in Creative Confidence as “the ability to see an experience through another person’s eyes.

Rather, we have a tendency to focus on data.  The outcomes of what we implement…whether that be a prototype or full implementation.  We look at the end result.  That is often our focus…

What we fail to do is, which is often highlighted by design thinkers at IDEO…is to become part of the prototyping experience.  To see how the experience affects the users.  The empathy is found in the experience.  Which is the data that we won’t receive at the result.  We will always fail to understand an experience from a spreadsheet.

Which is important for educational leaders to not only consider, but to incorporate into any change process.  That is not to say that the data, the end result is not important.  It definitely is.  However, we seldom sit in and gain the empathy from the experience.  To “see through the eyes of others” on how the experience is affecting them and to learn from that empathy…to improve and enhance the experience.

If we only move from idea, to implementation, to results…we fail to capture a very important piece of the process.  It is in involving ourselves in the process in order that we gain “new eyes“…new insights.

And that is one way we can continue improve…at all levels of the organization.

Coughlan, Suri, Canales (2007) Prototypes as (Design) Tools for Behavioral and Organizational Change: A Design Based Approach to Help Organizations Change Work Behaviors. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, Vol. 43 No. 1, March 2007 1-13.

Quotes taken from