The Land Of “But”; Where Ideas Go To Die

Each day hundreds of thousands of ideas are formed, considered…and most often disregarded, cast-aside, and left to wither and die…

Each day, ideas, both good and bad, survive and thrive or wither and die due to the mindset in which they are formed and the environment in which they are tossed into.  Most barely make it through the gates of the kingdom before judgment is cast down up them.

In fact, most of our ideas are left to face the arena of lions in the coliseum…

A place where many of us are either unwilling or wanting to go.  And why should we?  Why should we want to make ourselves and our ideas vulnerable to an environment that is both unfriendly and unkind?  A place where our ideas are held up, ridiculed, shredded, and cast aside.

Unfortunately, many leaders, some knowing and others unknowingly, are much like the emperor of Rome…casting unsuspecting ideas into the arena without giving them much thought, before casting judgment upon them.  Into the arena they go.  Little time to show their worth or plead their case.

For organizations to thrive, to remain creative and innovative idea factories, we need a safe place where our ideas can have time to incubate, percolate, warm up, stretch, play, and grow…to see if they can break through their shell into living, thriving beings capable of action.

For this to happen, we have to learn to curb the quickness of our critical voices.  Creative companies, such as Pixar and IDEO, have worked diligently to create processes that curb that instantaneous rush to judgment on ideas…no matter how off the wall or ridiculous they may be.

In his book, Little Bets, Peter Sims discusses how a creative company such as Pixar uses a strategy called “plussing” to improve their idea process.  Sims shares that…“The point of plussing is to build upon and improve ideas without using judgmental language.  Creating an atmosphere where ideas are constantly being plussed, while maintaining a sense of humor and playfulness…”

Very often, the language leaders use does more to eradicate than “plus” ideas within individuals, teams, and the organization as a whole.  And when that happens, when the language is judgmental and lacks the ability to further and acknowledge the thinking and ideas of those within…then people will no longer be willing to share their ideas or thinking.

And why should they…

Very often, it is the very language within our processes that determines how we grow, flourish and build capacity as an organization…as well as our ability to engage thinking, create ideas, and remain creative and innovative.

Peter Sims, using Pixar as an example in Little Bets“Again, notice the use of the word and rather than a word that implies a judgment, such as but.”  He continues that Pixar uses “suggestions” within the idea process such as “what if” or “would if be clearer if” as ways that “everyone at Pixar has gotten very good at plussing ideas or changing directions without judging.”  Sims goes on to add that…“effective plussing requires that people let go of the need to control every detail.”  

Which means that when leaders fail to use “plussing” language and have this need to “control every detail”…not only does the creative and innovative processes begin to wither and diminish across the organization…so doe the sharing of ideas and thinking.

And when this happens…

The organization loses its ability to effectively function as a collaborative, creative, and innovative force.

Unfortunately, many people have to spend their days in the land of the organizational “but”.  A place where ideas go to die…as well as the thinking, creativity and innovation of that very organization.

It is only when we learn how to “plus” our organizations, that we learn how to take ourselves out from the dry, desolate landscape of “but”…to the land of “and”

That we truly begin to engage the thinking, ideas, creativity and innovation inherent within our organizations…

The Ship Is Still Sinking

In bad environments…busy makes us feel good.  It makes us feel productive.  So we tend to spend our time rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic.  And not because it is what we need to do, but because it feels good…feels like progress.  Unfortunately, rather than engaging in the real work of attending to that environment, of repairing and healing the culture of the organization, we plunge ourselves and our organizations into meaningless busywork.

The only problem…

The ship is still sinking.

So, instead of fixing the real problem, instead of attending to the real issues within the organization, we just divert attention to other parts of the ship for short periods of time.

And yet, the problem still remains…

Until you attend to the gaping whole that exists in the bottom of the ship, the water will continue to pour in…and the ship will continue to sink.  Dragging everyone farther and farther down and into the depths of the abyss…while nullifying any real attempts at forward progress or momentum.

Which is why toxic and dysfunctional environments, cultures, systems tend to stay the same, remain fixed in this state.  Instead of doing the necessary, needed and difficult work of repairing and healing this toxic and dysfunctional state…leaders who are neither intentional or knowledgable focus on the busy, on the appearance of doing the real work.  The necessary work.

The difficult work that is required of the leader.

In toxic and dysfunctional environments, we have leaders who focus on structures, programs, and answers…instead of processes, progress and questions.  Leaders who focus on mandates and busy, over creating capacity.  Leaders who are unable or unwilling to engage organizational learning.  Leaders who focus on top-down pressure, as opposed to systemic, systemwide change that cascades across all levels of the organization.

Ultimately, we can’t expect our people and organizations to think different…if we are unable to get our leaders and leadership to think different.

So, instead of action, movement and flow within our organizations…we tend to drown ourselves in busyness and minutiae.  And then wonder why we are sinking deeper and deeper into the depths of that abyss…depths mired in inaction and bureaucracy.

And we continue to wonder why the ship is sinking…

Are We ‘Fixing’ Our Organizations?

Mindsets don’t just happen in individuals…they invade and overtake our organizations, as well.

And they have a tendency to cascade down from the top…

And as much as the leader is responsible for the culture and climate of the organization…they are just as much responsible for the overall mindset of that organization.

And just as much as we can engage and develop a growth mindset…unfortunately, the same can be said for a fixed mindset.

And yet, many leaders choose to lead in ways that cascade a ‘fixed’ over a ‘growth’ mindset in many of today’s organizations.  They create and cascade an organizational mindset through their words, their actions…and even their reactions.

As we consider these leaders and organizations, consider the words of Carol Dweck from her work Mindset

”Key weapons of the fixed mindset – blame, excuses, and the stifling of critics and rivals.” 

And then think about how many of the leaders in our organizations, even in our modern times, still incorporate these “key weapons of the fixed mindset…”

  • Leaders who choose to lay blame, than take responsibility.
  • Leaders who choose to make excuses, than make change.
  • Leaders who choose fake praise, over authentic feedback.

The kind of feedback that not only improves their leadership, but the overall effectiveness of the entire organization.

As Dweck adds…

“When bosses become controlling and abusive, they put everyone into a fixed mindset.  This means that instead of learning, growing, and moving the company forward, everyone starts worrying about being judged.  It starts with the bosses’ worry about being judged, but it winds up being everybody’s fear about being judged.  It’s hard for courage and innovation to survive a companywide fixed mindset.”

So the questions remain…

  • When will we learn?
  • When will learn to lead in ways that grow our people and our organizations?
  • When will we learn to quit ‘fixing’ and start growing?

When will we learn to lead and serve in ways that do less to feed the ego of the leader…as the growth, trust, capacity and success of the organization and the people within…

“When leaders feel they are inherently better than others, they may start to believe that the needs or feelings of the lesser people can be ignored.  None of our fixed mindset leaders cared much about the little guy, and many were outright contemptuous of those beneath them on the corporate ladder.”  -Carol Dweck ‘Mindset

The Internal Shift: The Difficult Side Of Creativity And Innovation

“Without vulnerability, you cannot create.”  -Brene Brown 99U

If we are ever going to move past our current circumstances, to that special place we dream about, that we consider, but have determined not to share, to keep hidden and below the surface…to do that thing we really want to do, but scares us the most…

Will require an internal shift…

From fear, judgment, condemnation, criticism…and the 100 and 1 other reasons that are holding us back.  From the deep and dark recesses of those very 100 and 1 reasons, to the courage and vulnerability necessary to put ourselves out there…to put ourselves on the line, to say, “Here I am, take your best shot!”

Which is the difficult and dark side of creativity and innovation… 

The courage necessary and needed…the vulnerability demanded and required to engage those ideas and dreams that are welling up inside each of us.

Those who are out there sharing their ideas, living that dream, accomplishing what they once considered impossible…are no different than any one of us.  Except, that they chose to step out, to take action, to jump over or step around those many obstacles that get in the way of us moving on those very ideas and dreams that are welling up inside of each of us.

Creativity and innovation is not just the ability to come up with new ideas…it is being willing to put them and yourself out there, out on the line.  It is in being willing to step out into the unknown, knowing full well that those very ideas and dreams have laid themselves open to an onslaught of criticism and ridicule. And that is never easy.  In fact, it is deep down, painfully difficult and hard.  Which is why very few choose this path.

Creativity and innovation require courage…

If we are going to be creative, if we are going to be innovative…if we are going to engage those ideas that are welling up inside of us, screaming to get out.  If we are going to show others what we are thinking and what we are capable of…it will require us to step out of our comfort zone.

It will require us to lay ourselves wide open to those things…the fear, judgment, condemnation, and criticism that often hold us back…that stall us from being and becoming what we dream of.

And that requires real courage…the deep, down gritty kind.

Or, as Brene Brown puts forth…“If courage is my value, I have to do this. Whether it is successful or not, is irrelevant.”

So, to all you makers, creators, thinkers, tinkerers and disruptors, I leave you with these words from Brene Brown…words to those critics, to those 101 reasons, to those thoughts that lead us towards fear, judgment, condemnation, and criticism…

“When I am trying to do something new, hard and original, when I’m trying to be creative and to innovate…to those critics I say, I see you, I hear you, but I am going to show up and do this anyway.”

(Inspiration the from talk, ‘Why Your Critics Aren’t The Ones Who Count’ by Brene Brown for 99U)

Flash Points: The ‘Eureka’ Or Perseverance Of Creativity And Innovation

Most creativity and innovation in organizations, flickers and fades…most often because we still see it as a flash point, a ‘eureka’ moment…when its truly about perseverance.

Ideas, like stars, don’t just fall out of the sky…rather, we are responsible for pushing those ideas up into the sky so that they can be seen, just like the millions of other stars.

The best ideas aren’t born with feet, ready to run…you have to create the space and environment for them to grow and gain momentum.  Ideas are a dime a dozen, but that is all that they are, until we decide to do something with them, to turn them into an action.

Which is why leaders have to understand that it is not only in the discovery of new ideas…it is in finding ways to give those ideas legs so they can run…

Unfortunately, we have a tendency to let many, if not most of those ideas just slip and fade away.  We have a tendency to believe that we are not creative, nor innovative…so we don’t push forward with the belief that those ideas are worth exploring, worth giving legs, too.

We have to learn that, if we want creativity and innovation to flourish, that we will have to dissuade ourselves, as well as those we lead, from the perpetuating belief that creativity and innovation is either a ‘gene’ we are born with or a ‘eureka’ moment that hits us when we least expect it.

Creativity and innovation require initiative…it’s less of a ‘eureka’ moment, as it is applying ongoing perseverance and stick-to-it-ness.

Even when we think of those ‘eureka’ moments from the gold rush…there was a lot of time, effort and hard work put in panning for gold before that first sparkle ever lit up the bottom of that pan.

Which is why we have to learn to believe that we all have the creative ‘gene’…

But, do we have the perseverance necessary and required to sift through a lot of silt and rocks before we find that sparkle and shine at the bottom of the pan?

In ‘The Myths of Creativity’ by David Burkus, he expounds on this fabled…”notion that all creative ideas arrive in a “eureka” moment.  We tell stories about other people’s genius ideas as if the idea came suddenly; we conveniently gloss over the tireless concentration that came before the insight, or the hard work of developing the idea that will come afterward.”

Burkus shares in ‘The Myths of Creativity’ the work of psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his study of “creative individuals” to “understand how they believed they generated their creative insight”.  “In short, he was looking for how they produced their eureka moments, if they produced them at all”.

What David Burkus highlights in ‘The Myths of Creativity’, from the work of Csikszentmihalyi, was that …”almost all of the people he studied shared a similar creative process that consisted of five stages: preparation, incubation, insight, evaluation, and elaboration.”

This work shows us that creativity and innovation is far from any ‘eureka’ moment…and much more tied to stick-to-it-ness and perseverance.

What we are learning is that creativity and innovation is not something we are born with…it is something we work at, work towards.  It requires a lot of effort and hard work.  And it is from this ongoing effort and hard work that seemingly instantaneous flashes and ‘eureka’ moments appear.

Creativity and innovation aren’t hammers that hit us over the head…rather, they are the aftermath of the gritty, grapple and struggle that perseverance requires.