creativity

Give ‘Em Permission To Play

Atari Breakout

In the last post, we found that organisations with the most electric cultures deliberately cultivate three elements that unleash curiosity:

  1. Permission: people feel they’re able to be openly curious
  2. Progress: people can put their curiosity into action, and see the results
  3. Purpose: people have a good sense of why curiosity matters around here.

Just like a fire needs oxygen, heat, and fuel to burn, curiosity needs all three of permission, progress and purpose to really light up. When you mix those together, you get engaged, empowered people who are excited to be at work. Which makes for a mighty fine place to be, wouldn’t you say?

Three Ps of Curiosity Venn Model.001

Let’s have a look at Permission:

Permission is ‘the act of officially allowing someone to do a particular thing’. It’s when someone else tells us what we can or can’t do.

I reckon we can sometimes fall into a state of mind called ‘learned permission seeking’. That’s when we tell ourselves we need permission to act, when in fact we don’t. We get this from childhood where we learn ‘break the rules => negative consequences’. In an experiment, Robert Fritz, author of The Path of Least Resistance, recorded conversations between young children and their parents. He found that 85% of the time the kids were being told what they couldn’t do. No wonder we get  ‘learned permission seeking’ going on well into adulthood!

One of the biggest barriers to curiosity thriving is a sense that it’s not safe to be curious around here. How to break that little self-imposed rule?

The first thing: remind yourself and your people that all rules are invented. Someone, somewhere, sometime, made them all up. Often, when we look in the mirror, we find the culprit. We’re all bound by rules that we made up ourselves. What’s OK to do, and what’s not. What’s possible, and what’s not. A common self-made rule I hear is I’ve got to get it perfect every time. While that might be a worthy aspiration, it can also severely limit the willingness to make mistakes and apply curiosity to finding new ways.

The second thing: we have the power to choose whether to follow the rules (or not). We can also not choose to follow them. Or, at the very least, we can test them.

The third thing: A huge role of leadership is to help people to see their self-imposed limits and realise their power. People have more permission to play than they think they do.

Here are three ways to give people permission to be more curious: Release, Reframe, and Role Model.

Release

People often hold back on applying their curiosity because they believe they don’t have permission to experiment. You can unleash curiosity by simply releasing some of your peoples’ time to explore new ways of operating. Just as a fire needs space between the logs to burn, your people need space to explore new ideas. We’ve seen this before – think of Google’s famous 20% time.

It doesn’t have to be confined to just the sexy tech industries. One organisation I work with is a large, bureaucratic place that’s governed from top to bottom by rules and regulations. If you don’t follow the rules, people could literally die. It’s not a place where you’d expect curiosity to thrive, right? But every year they run a leadership programme that’s sponsored by the Chief Executive. He gives the participants explicit permission to look for, and experiment with, completely new ways of doing things that could solve some of the organisation’s most wicked challenges. This has resulted in a raft of innovations that have helped make their customers’ lives better. The opportunity to apply innate curiosity to a wicked problem ignites an infectious enthusiasm which carries on for people well beyond the programme.

It doesn’t need to be as big and formal as all that. Just give them some explicit permission and release a little space to try something new.

Reframe

When you hear a someone limiting themselves with a self-made rule (e.g. It’s not OK to try something new around here), you can help them test the assumptions behind that, and reframe their thinking.  Ask what would happen if they did try something new, and how likely that would be to happen? Ask them for ‘disconfirming evidence’ (evidence that goes against their statement) and what that might tell them about what they’re assuming.  When they see that some of their assumptions might be worth testing a little, you’re helping them to reframe what’s possible. (Check out Tim Ferriss’ Fear Setting for a cool exercise on this).

Listen for limits. When you help people reframe them, you to give them more room to play.

(For another way to experience how our self-made rules can limit us, try this little exercise: the nine-dot grid.).

Role Model

The most powerful and simplest way to give permission for people to be curious is to role model curiosity.  Wonder openly. Host question bursts.  Admit you don’t have all the answers. When leaders do this they set the tone for others to follow, like this leader did when she said “I don’t know”.

Self-check

Rate yourself 1-4 (1 = never, 4 = always). How often do you:

  • Share with your people what you’re wondering about?
  • Explicitly give people permission to ‘poke holes’ in your thinking?
  • Host conversations where the focus is on the questions, not the answers?
  • Simply say ‘I don’t know’ when you truly don’t know the answer?

Whatever your score, there’s always an opportunity to grow. By it’s very nature, curiosity challenges the status quo. Be a leader who welcomes that.

 

When you deliberately reframe, release and role model, you begin to create the conditions for curiosity to thrive. When people feel that it’s OK to be curious, they’ll listen more intently to that voice inside that asks ‘what if I…?’ and act on it. That’s what you want, right? Right.

 

Pic: Atari Breakout (Google Easter Egg)

 

Like this post? You’re only getting half the story. Sign up to my ‘Fresh Thinking’ newsletter, delivered monthly to your inbox.

Are you a Change Maker? Learn more about my Change Makers programme, including next intake dates.

Unleashing Curiosity

In my last post, we looked at three levels of curious cultures, from ”anaemic’ to electric’. Now let’s begin to have a look at what it takes to move towards, and sustain, a truly electric culture of curiosity.

I reckon a key tension that people face at work is the tension between the need to deliver and the need to discover. The need to deliver on promises and obligations, and the need to discover new ways of doing things. Both are important, yet they can pull us in opposing directions.leading-curiosity-2x2-002.jpeg

Faced with this dilemma, most people will reduce the tension by choosing to operate at the ‘deliver’ end. That’s where tangible results live, and what you’ll be most recognised and rewarded for.  Meet your KPI’s, and you’ll be OK.  You’ll be safe. And you’ll probably be bored senseless after awhile.

Others like being right down at the ‘discover’ end, where it’s all about ideas and nothing about implementation. You might find these folks in the hallowed halls of academia, or perhaps they’re that frustrating ‘ideas person’ you work with that never seems to deliver on anything.

Usually, we find ourselves somewhere in between. Well, you can only walk a tightrope when there’s some tension in it. So you might as well learn to work with the tension. Let’s have a play with that idea:

First, what if we bent that line ninety degrees? And then threw a few labels in?

leading-curiosity-2x2-003.jpeg

 

And then, we mapped the essence of the barriers into those boxes?

Leading Curiosity 2x2.004

In other words:

  • If there’s too much emphasis on deliver, it makes it unsafe to discover
  • If there’s too much focus on discover, people can get unfocused, and less productive than they need to be.
  • If people aren’t delivering OR discovering, it’s a big ‘unknown‘, because we have no idea what they’re capable of.
  • And in the top right, let’s call that unleashed, because when you combine delivery and discovery directed towards productive curiosity, you’re unleashing something mighty powerful.

 

With a map like this, we’d be able to break the challenge down more easily, right? We’d be able to map our people across this matrix. We’d begin to have a better idea of how we could help our people unleash their curiosity.

 

“Fear is always triggered by creativity because creativity asks you to enter into the realms of uncertain outcome.”

Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

What does it take?

I’ve found that organisations with the most electric cultures, where curiosity is truly unleashed, deliberately focus on creating these three conditions:
  1. Permission: people feel they’re able to be openly curious
  2. Progress: people can put their curiosity into action, and see different results
  3. Purpose: people have a sense of why curiosity matters around here.

Just like a fire needs oxygen, heat, and fuel to burn, so too does curiosity need all three of these elements to light up.

If you mapped those three P’s to our matrix, it’d look something like this. Each P drives people towards unleashing their curiosity:

leading-curiosity-2x2-005-e1523570782138.jpeg

In essence:

  • When curiosity is unsafe, make it safer for people by giving them explicit permission.
  • When curiosity is unfocused, make it easier for people to apply their curiosity towards productive outcomes by helping them take action on it
  • And at all times with all people, give curiosity purpose by helping people to understand why it’s so important.

A quick self-check:

  • Which parts of the matrix do your people fall into?
  • Which of the three P’s of Permission, Progress and Purpose do you think you’re strongest at as a leader?
  • Which one of the three P’s could you dial up a little more?

In the next post, we’ll dive into each of the three P’s and look at what you can do to bring them to life.

 

Like this post? You’re only getting half the story. Sign up to my ‘Fresh Thinking’ newsletter, delivered monthly to your inbox.

Are you a Change Maker? Learn more about my Change Makers programme, including next intake dates.

 

 

 

Cultivating Curiosity

 

Picture1

How do you cultivate more curiosity at work?

As curiosity trends toward becoming a highly valued commodity, I’ve been curious about what it takes to be more than a word on a wall in the organisational values chart. So, with my curious hat on, I set about seeking some answers:

  • A few weeks ago, I polled my brains trust (aka my LinkedIn network) and asked them “what do you think the main barriers are to curiosity at work?”
  • A couple of weeks ago, I ran a workshop on leading curiosity with about 50 leaders from a diverse range of organisations where we explored what it takes to create more curious cultures.
  • And of course, I read my brains out trying to get a sense of what it takes to make curiosity happen at work, and why it matters.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  1. Curiosity is the driving force behind creativity and innovation. If we want learning, and if we want to create change, we need to start by cultivating a sense of curiosity about a possible different and better future. That’s why it matters. The Merck Group has done some really useful research into what happens when you cultivate curiosity. In essence, the more curiosity, the more ideas, and the more chance of breakthroughs happening.
  2. Curiosity is what happens when there’s a perceived gap between what we think we know and what we think we could know. As humans, we naturally want to fill that gap. So to grow curiosity, we need to create that gap in the first place. In other words, pique interest, then encourage exploration.
  3. There are some big barriers to making curiosity happen.  Let’s have a look at what my crew on LinkedIn said. I’ve summarised the comments into four categories:

 

Barriers to Curiosity v2

 

Quite the list, right? Plenty of barriers to kill curiosity in its tracks.

Research by the Right Question Institute suggests that curiosity peaks in early childhood and then declines as we enter the formal school system. A young child asks 300 questions a day. By adulthood, the number is down to virtually none.

With this list, you can see why. If your organisation’s current culture has any of these elements in spades, you’ll be hard-pressed to cultivate a thriving culture of curiosity anytime soon.

So, how to cultivate curiosity? What does it take? I’ve dug up and shaped up a few ideas that will help answer those questions. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be exploring what it takes to cultivate a culture of curiosity, and sharing my thoughts here.

Interest piqued? Curious about what else people said? You can check out the LinkedIn conversation here. Feel free to add your thoughts!

 

Like this post? You’re only getting half the story. Sign up to my ‘Fresh Thinking’ newsletter, delivered monthly to your inbox.

Are you a Change Maker? Learn more about my Change Makers programme, including next intake dates.

 

Write It Down

 

Journal1 (1).jpg

One of my three notebooks.

 

Fresh ideas are powerful currency. New thinking can lead to renewed energy to tackle gnarly issues. Flashes of insight can spur new actions and new results. When you want to make change happen, your ideas are the starting point.

And, for most of us, life is super-busy. It flies by like your view from a rushing train. Ideas appear, and in the blink of an eye, they can quickly zoom out of view again, lost to us, as we fly ever onwards down the track.

The good thing is that we have this amazing technology available to us to help us capture those ideas as they emerge before they rush past and visit some other passenger further down the line. And that technology is cheap and easy to use. It’s called pen and paper.

If you write an idea down, the more likely you are able to do something with it.

There’s actually a bit of a debate about whether writing stuff down helps or not. Some research asserts that it helps us remember the important stuff. and it contributes strongly to our wellbeing. On the other hand, reaching as far back as Plato’s day, there’s a line of argument saying that note taking makes us lazy. I reckon it’s the wrong debate. Like all good practices, it’s about your intention behind the doing. Let’s look at that a bit more.

To my mind, there are two basic types of ‘writing down’. Taking notes, and creating ideas.

Taking notes (of a conversation, a lecture, or making a shopping list) is good for ‘storage’ purposes. It’s akin to taking a photo of an interesting slide you see at a conference, or grabbing an online article and adding it to Evernote. You’re grabbing the content, but you’re not really thinking too hard about it. You simply do it so you can retrieve it later. It gives your brain a break from having to remember everything and helps you stay organised.

The other purpose of writing down is to serve a creative process. Isaac Asimov said, “writing is simply thinking through my fingers.” The act of picking up a pen with the intention of “thinking through my fingers” forces your brain to work harder. You have to think about what you want to say or create. In that creative process, you bring into being something new.

My blogs are my creative ideas written down. I’ve had to think about what I want to say, and how I want to say it. The process of writing creates both the form and the substance of something new.

Leonardo Da Vinci is generally regarded as the epitome of what it means to be curious, and I suspect that was enhanced by his propensity to ‘write it down’. He carried a notebook with him everywhere and wrote down anything that moved him. For example, here’s one of one of his to-do lists that would put most of us to shame.

Here are a couple of ways I apply these ideas:

Notebooks: I carry three notebooks around with me: one for taking notes of client conversations, one for my daily to-do lists, and one for capturing and developing my own occasional flashes of brilliance and insight. I also have one in my car’s centre console, so when I’m listening to podcasts, I can write down ideas that grab me (when I’m stopped at the lights of course!) I’m always writing in some form or another.

Insights and Actions Log: In my workshops, I have participants use an ‘insights and actions’ log to capture relevant ideas as they arise. It’s simply an A4 piece of paper with a line drawn down the middle. The left-hand column is called ‘Insights’, and that’s for the ideas. The right-hand column is called ‘Actions’ and that’s for writing down what they are going to do with the ideas. Because an idea is more useful if you act on it in some way.

Ideas are everywhere. The trick is to capture them so you can use them.

Sound like a good idea? Great. Write it down.

 

Like this post? You’re only getting half the story. Sign up to my ‘Fresh Thinking’ newsletter, delivered monthly to your inbox.

Are you a Change Maker? Learn more about my Change Makers programme, including next intake dates.

Find Your Rhythm

Are your days ‘lurchy’ or ‘flowy’?

For many of us, it’s more often the former, when we’d love it to be more of the latter.

Let’s get some definitions down:

‘Lurchy’ = you’re moving from one thing to another, feeling fragmented, scattered and often ending feeling unproductive and shattered.

‘Flowy’ = stuff feels effortless, you’re in sync, you can get deep into your work and nail it, it’s fun and energising. You’re not trying too hard.

For most of my adult life, I’ve struggled with getting more into ‘flowy’ and staying there. More recently, I’ve learned a few tricks about how to do that. It’s all about finding your rhythm.

Finding your rhythm is like when you’re doing exercise, and you get that ‘click’ moment. When you’re walking, running, riding, in the gym, whatever. You hit a certain rhythm, a certain flow, where it feels ‘right’ for you, your performance lifts and it all becomes effortless. You know the feeling.

You can find your rhythm in how you structure your time, too.

Cal Newport wrote a powerful book called Deep Work, which argues that if you want to produce anything of value, you need to carve out uninterrupted time to do it. He builds on the ideas of Paul Graham, who wrote about two types of schedules: The Maker’s Schedule, and the Manager’s Schedule. They are both quite different: the first needs unstructured time to be effective, and the second is all about structuring your time. If you’re trying to do ‘Maker’ work (wrangling new ideas, writing, deep problem solving) you generally need big blocks of unstructured, focused time. And, we all need Manager time as well. That’s when you allocate your time into segments to hammer through your do-list, hold meetings etc.

I’ve learned:

  • I need to allow time for both types of activities if I’m going to be effective.
  • If I don’t deliberately carve out the Maker time, Manager time takes over. And I get into ‘lurchy’. And that’s frustrating.
  • It works for me to allow for Maker time across different time spans: daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually.

Here’s how I structure each of those time blocks with my Maker time:

Daily: first thing in the morning for at least an hour, I journal, scribble or listen to an interesting podcast.

Weekly: every Friday is a ‘client free day’ where I write, think, and create (including my blogs).

Monthly: I build in three to four concurrent days for ‘Making’ work every month, which is often when I design a new workshop or programme.

Quarterly: I take a week off from any sort of client work to decompress.

Annually: I take all of January off (holidays, yes, and also it’s also a great time for reflection, deep thinking and writing). And, of course, my annual two-week windsurfing trip in October, which keeps my edges sharp. You can learn more about my annual approach in my post Your Year By Design.

Does it always work perfectly? Rarely. Life gets in the way all the time! However, without a structure like this, I reckon I’d always be in Manager time, and I’d feel like I’d not be doing my best work, or producing anything of value. I stick to my structure about 80% of the time. As a result, I get into plenty of ‘flowy’ experiences, create good work, and feel good about how I’ve spent my time.

We all need to experience more ‘flowy’ times. Especially when we need to create new ways for our teams and organisations to be more agile, more innovative, and more bold. More lurchy meetings aren’t the answer.

Of course, I’m not suggesting you or your people follow my exact schedule. I am suggesting you think about what works for you across each of these time spans, and what’s possible for you given your current situation. And then take the first step, however small, to make it happen.

Go well.

Like this post? You’re only getting half the story. Sign up to my ‘Fresh Thinking’ newsletter, delivered monthly to your inbox.

Are you a Change Maker? Learn more about my Change Makers programme, including next intake dates.

 

Your Year By Design

beach-1867285_960_720.jpg

Photo: Pixabay

People often say to me “you’re so lucky, you’re always on holidays!” Well, it’s probably true that I do take more time out than most people. But it has nothing to do with luck. It’s by design.

If you’re like a lot of people, you can get to the end of the year and wonder, “where did the time go?” Perhaps with some regret for the things you’d intended to do but didn’t quite get around to. Perhaps you suffer from ‘one-day’ syndrome. You know: “one day, I’ll [fill in the blank]. Robert Fritz, in his book The Path of Least Resistance, says that the hardest thing in the world for many people is to honestly answer “what do I really want?” and then stay true to that.

The way I see it, it’s smart to take charge and design your life in a way that works for you. Otherwise, everything can be just a jumble of things that happen to you in between being born and dying.

Here’s how I design my year so I can have the greatest chance of making sure I am living ‘on purpose’. Every January, I sit down and do the following:

First, I do a ‘year in review’. I go through the things I did from the previous year, reviewing my calendar, journals and also my Facebook page. Any place where I’ve recorded my events and activities. I’m looking for two things:

  • The most positive experiences I’ve had during the year
  • The most negative experiences I’ve had during the year

These might be things I’ve done, places I’ve been, things I’ve bought, or people I’ve spent time with.

I’ll have two columns (one for positive, one for negative), and as I review, I’ll write things down.

Next, I look for patterns. What seems to be the common theme? For example, one theme I noticed for my 2016 was that the ‘positive’ people seem to all be very generous with their time and ideas, while the people I had more ‘negative’ experiences with tended to be time-poor and/or somewhat selfish. Interesting. I find that the most positive experiences speak to and reflect my deepest values, and it’s worth you reflecting on this too. The Schwartz Values Model is a useful tool here.

Then I ask myself: “What do I want to have happen this year?” I’ll take the themes and values, and build from them. Useful sub-questions for me include “who do I want to hang out with?” “What work will be really interesting and engaging for me?” “What adventures do I want to have?” “What do I want to achieve?” “What could I do that would cause me to grow?” and, crucially, “what do I want to drop, or dial down?” Ya gotta make room for the good stuff. Tim Ferris also suggests asking people close to you “what should I do more of this year?” and “what should I do less of?”

Next, I schedule the good stuff. Steven Covey calls this putting the ‘big rocks in the jar first’. I’m a big picture kind of guy, so I’ll make a big calendar and put it up on my whiteboard in my office. Here’s what that looks like:

my-year-by-design-pic

It’s colour-coded as follows:

Blue = creative pursuits, adventures and time out. These are based on my values of adventure, learning and creativity. These are all really important to me, so they go in first. The ‘blue time’ includes adventures like my annual surfing and windsurfing trip, family snowboarding trips etc. as well as less intense activities where I’ll take some time out to read, write and think.

Green = ‘delivery’ work. This is the time where I’m earning money, but more importantly, it’s also time spent where I have a chance to make a difference using my talents. Scheduling the green time serves two purposes: it shows me my cash flow (am I earning enough?) and it also gives me a sense that I’m spending enough of my time doing worthwhile work.

Orange = professional development. This is structured time for me to reflect on my work and practice, and plan ahead. I happen to be doing a programme that forces me to build in these days, which really helps.

The three categories reflect the types of activities that are both a) important to me and b) able to be scheduled in advance.

When I step back, I can see that I’ve got ‘enough’ happening in the blue space, I’ll need some more green going on in the latter half of the year, and there’s lots of ‘white space’ that I can use how I want (which might include spending time with good people, booking in quality work, or finishing my book!)

I’ll book all of these activities into my Google Calendar, which my Business Manager and family can see, and I can access easily from anywhere.

Finally, I’ll make a list of the people I enjoyed hanging out with last year, as well as new people I would love to connect with. I’ll make the list visible. It’s currently posted up on my wall next to my computer. Every week or so, I’ll have a look at it and make contact with someone on it. That ensures I’m getting the people connection that is important to me.

A few important things to note about this process:

  • My year by design is just that: mine. It’s based on what’s important to me. You don’t need to replicate the colour-coded categories that I have. Go do your own 🙂
  • This process applies to anyone, not just those who are self-employed like me. The fundamental idea is about deciding on, and committing to, the stuff that you want to have happen.
  • When you book in the ‘good stuff’ first, you make less room for the crappy stuff. If your time is spent doing good stuff with good people, it’s hard for the other stuff to find a way in.
  • 90% of the value of scheduling something in is in the anticipation of it happening.

That’s it. As you can see, it’s not really about luck. There’s quite a bit of work in it. Although I wouldn’t call it ‘work’ – it’s a fun, energising process that helps to ensure I am making the most of my time on the planet. Go do it.

(Here’s my-year-by-design-template for you to use).

 

Like this post? You’re only getting half the story. Sign up to my ‘Fresh Thinking’ newsletter, delivered monthly to your inbox.

Are you a Change Maker? Learn more about my Change Makers programme, including next intake dates.

 

 

Evolution of A Blog Post

Here’s how I take an idea and turn it into a useful post.

Let’s take my recent post Opportunity and Agency

This one started as a random idea in a lecture I was giving for my Auckland MBA cohort. During the class discussion, the idea came to me, so I drew it up on the whiteboard, and explained it to the class:

opportunity-and-agency-whiteboard-1

The next day, I transferred it to my little black book that I capture all of my ‘interesting’ ideas in. Some of those ideas might sit there for a day or two,before I act on them. Some for a year or more. Some, never. But they’re all there, in one place:

opportunity-and-agency-journal

I’ll flick through my little black book once a week or so. When one of those ideas jumps off the page at me (sometimes it’s when I write it in there), I know it’s time to flesh it out. The question I always ask is “what will help make this idea more useful to people (including me)?” I’ll often scribble more notes on my whiteboard at home for this:

opportunity-and-agency-ideas

Once I feel I’ve got enough to work with, I’ll start writing. By the way, in my home office, I have separate spaces to create, and to produce. Create = couch + coffee table, or whiteboard. No computer. Produce = standing desk with computer:

opportunity-and-agency-writing

My structure varies, however it usually includes a lead-in story to set the context, then the key point, then a model (usually schmicked up in a simple PowerPoint, converted to a jpeg), then some tips to make it useful, followed by a leading question or a call to action. Just like in the finished post.

Hope that’s useful!

Like this post? You’re only getting half the story. Sign up to my ‘Fresh Thinking’ newsletter, delivered monthly to your inbox.

Are you a Change Maker? Learn more about my Change Makers programme, including next intake dates.