Practical thinking and conventional wisdom, seldom serve as the gateway to creativity and innovation.
At one time or another, ‘be practical’ is a term that we have all run into or encountered in our lives. Especially if we were entertaining thoughts of a big idea or a wild goal we were chasing. And while we may not have truly known what ‘be practical’ meant at the time, we understood it was time to put that big idea or wild goal back in the box, where it belonged.
According to Merriam-Webster Online, practical is relating to what is real than what is possible or imagined.
Now let’s just chew on and ponder that definition for a few moments, relating to what is real than what is possible or imagined. Now overlay that thought, that definition upon the world we live in. Always dealing in the real and never in the possible or the imagined.
What kind of world would we live in if we all aligned to ‘be practical’ as our mantra?
Think about how many incredible things people would have never tried, created, achieved, or changed. Just consider how many things in this world would not exist if ‘be practical’ was the mantra that we all lived by. Which is not to say that there is anything wrong with ‘being practical’, we all need to face reality. However, it is a pretty bland box we would all exist in today if we never moved from reality to the possible or the imagined.
And yet, ‘be practical’ is often a hidden mission and vision of many of our organizations and institutions. Practical keeps things on an even keel, moving in a safe and orderly direction. Practical is steady. It doesn’t rock the boat. There is comfort and safety in ‘being practical’. It is like a set of directions, it tells us what to do without getting us too outside of the box.
But it doesn’t do much else…
‘Being practical’ doesn’t stretch us or our thinking. It doesn’t require us to take chances or consider new possibilities. It doesn’t require us to move from small steps to big leaps. It doesn’t necessitate the strong possibility of facing a failure to achieve a big win. It doesn’t require the anxiety of stepping out and into the unknown in order to seek a possible or imagined idea. Nor does it require us to move outside of the conventional wisdom and thinking of the day.
Which is why it is good to remember that…
When people tell you to be more practical with your thinking, it is a good sign that you are or may be moving in the right direction. Especially if creativity and innovation is what you are seeking.
Practical is often code for status quo. It is a way to temper wild ideas. To slow things down when a leader feels scared. Especially as we move from the safety of the known to the fear that accompanies the unknown. Practical tempers the energy of the possible and the imagined to a level that can be considered tolerable, endurable, and controllable. And it very often serves as the reason creativity and innovation flatlines in many of our environments and organizations.
When our thinking isn’t ‘practical’ it isn’t safe, it isn’t known. And that can be scary. Especially as we stand at the edge and know that things might not work out. But that is very often where the ‘magic’ happens (as they say).
We have never created new without taking a chance on a big idea or a wild thought. But again, that would not be ‘practical.’ So we teach and preach the practical, the safe, the easy. That way we don’t have to think, stretch, or push ourselves out of our safety zones.
In the end, it is much easier to just use a template, a model, a proven strategy, than for us to deal with the fear and anxiety of thinking and implementing the possible or the imagined.
Or is it?
Today’s creative and innovative organizations are looking for leaders who can serve as white water rafting guides, not just cruise ship hosts.