date. september 20, 2022
loccation. the concrete jungle
inkling.06 | Copyright © Stefano Di Lollo
*Connect with artist/owner for magazine publishing and/or NFT options.
As a leader, are you creating a safe environment for people to bring their ideas to the forefront?
Generating ideas, problem-solving, innovating, and disruptive thinking is risky business. It requires courage and vulnerability for people to explore the edges of their creativity and put themselves out there. Throughout my career, I've witnessed more great ideas crushed than brought to life in workplace environments for the wrong reasons.
Even in environments with cultures where creativity was supposedly cherished, certain behaviors were suffocating peoples' ability to bring their ideas forward. Surprisingly, even creative group activities such as brainstorming (which has become common workplace jargon), lack the appropriate facilitation skills and leadership behaviors required to successfully explore collective brain power.
True Story No.1:
I vividly recall participating in a brainstorm early in my career where blue-sky thinking was encouraged. One participant (let's call him John) summoned up the courage to present his unconventional ideas as requested. Despite the call for disruptive thinking, it took mere moments for another participant to ridicule the ideas. The room was filled with a deafening silence. John took his place and the boardroom table and remained silent for the remainder of the meeting along with the other participants remained relatively guarded as well... after all, they'd just witnessed a (metaphorical) beheading. Only John's critic felt comfortable pushing his own personal agenda. The incident was never addressed. From that point on, John never actively engaged in subsequent brainstorming sessions and he left the company a few months later. Brainstorming sessions eventually transitioned to "status update meetings" but maintained the trendy brainstorming label.
True Story No.2:
Later in my career, during one of my first leadership roles, I was the one now organizing and leading brainstorming sessions. I valued keeping brainstorming sessions energetic, dynamic, optimistic, interactive, inclusive, and fun. Creativity was an extremely important part of my self-identity. What is more, my narrative, the story I unknowingly was telling myself, was that in order to be respected as the leader of talented creatives, I had to be the most creative of them all. If I couldn't maintain creativity as an unmatched super strength, then surely someone would attempt to take the throne (a flawed perception that kept me competing rather than developing others). Brainstorming sessions were my opportunity to shine and roar as the king of my jungle. I enjoyed these group activities thoroughly and I gave everyone a chance to share their ideas and participate. It was bliss!... For me.
During a discussion with a direct report, I eventually realized that while bringing plenty of my own creativity to the table, I was also suffocating it in others. She explained, "I've come to realize that for every good idea I bring to the table, you launch out three, and I get it; you have better ideas than I do. In the end, I know we'll proceed with one of yours. It's fine." Sometimes an extreme strength can become a liability, especially when coupled with self-talk that moves one away from the leader they want to be for others. Growing as a leader was critical for enhancing creativity in others and consequently within me.
Fortunately, these experiences have ALL contributed to a program I developed on effective brainstorming facilitation techniques for leaders that apply even in today's context of hybrid work realities. I won't attempt to use this brief post as an opportunity to offer some of those detailed strategies, nor do I want to resort to makeshift "quick tips" or "one-size-fits-all solutions" for a topic that requires a deeper dive. Rather, I create inklings as visual catalysts to spark real conversations whether it's in the public comments posted on social media or via direct messages. Share your thoughts and experiences.
*Every week I create & post a visual representation (an inkling) inspired by my work as an executive coach & leadership development facilitator.