Creative Writing On Demand

By Tony Vengrove

Boisterous Children

I recently had the pleasure of visiting downtown Lancaster, Pennsylvania during the holiday break. This small city is worth getting to know. There is a great group of citizens, brimming with creative energy and passion, working hard to create a more vibrant community and economy.

During my walk, I rounded a corner and discovered the city’s creative energy on full display: I met Abigail Mott, a poet. She sat quietly by the edge of the street on a small chair in front of a folding table with a beautiful antique typewriter resting upon it. A paper sign, secured only by the weight of the typewriter, hung over the front edge of the table. It read, “Pick a Subject, Get a Poem.”

I was intrigued. I made a beeline and inquired about her story.

Abigail grew up in Lancaster and currently lives in Colorado. She was back home visiting for the holidays and set up shop just outside the busy Lancaster Market to engage the community with her poetry on-demand project.

I love stuff like this and immediately requested a poem. My topic: boisterous children. (I have three kids, two of which are 3-year-old twin toddlers.) She told me it takes about ten minutes to compose a poem.

Abigail inserted a small piece of typewriter paper into her machine. The paper itself was special–a beautiful cream color with a delicate quilt texture. She immediately began to type. There was no moment of deep contemplative thought or writer’s block; she dove right in. Click, click, click.Abigail Typing

I stepped away to give her some space. When she reached for her camera phone to snap a picture of her work I knew it was time to return. As I approached the table, the rest of my family, including my three kids, had caught up to me, just in time to hear Abigail read the poem herself.

I love it all. I love the poem. I love the simplicity of what she is doing. It’s brilliant.

It’s also a great reminder on this first Monday of 2016 that we’re all empowered to utilize our creative gifts and that we possess everything we need to start now. There’s no excuse to stall or complain about a lack of resources. Grab a simple pencil and paper (or an old typewriter), let go of that inner judge, and dive right in!

If you’re intrigued with Abigail’s work, be sure to check out her Tumblr and follow her on Twitter.

Wishing you all a very creative and innovative 2016. Happy New Year!

Founder, Miles Finch Innovation LLC

Miles Finch Innovation helps companies navigate the messy territory of corporate innovation. We’re strategic thinking partners who can help you get unstuck and identify creative solutions to your toughest challenges. We also love to train and speak on the subject of Creative Leadership. Email us or call us at 860-799-7505 to learn how we can help you you unlock the creative potential of your employees.

How To Stifle Innovation

By Tony Vengrove
HiRes

This post is an adaption of an article that originally appeared on Intrepid Now.

I recently reacquainted myself with a great book, The Change Masters: Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the American Corporation, written by Rosabeth Moss Kanter in 1983. Given the prodigious rise of innovation, entrepreneurship, and intrapreneurship in the past decade or so, it’s safe to say this book was ahead of its time.

I say this because as I reread it, I came upon a list I had completely forgotten: Kanter’s 10 Rules for Stifling Innovation. While written in a tongue-in-cheek manner, she clearly nails how executive leaders so easily squash the creative spirit out of organizations. As you read the list, ask yourself if these insights are still relevant today:

1. Regard any new idea with suspicion – because it’s new, and because it’s from below.

2. Insist that people who need your approval to act first go through several other layers or management to get their signatures.

3. Ask departments or individuals to challenge or criticize each other’s proposals. (That saves you the trouble of deciding – you just pick the survivor.)

4. Express your criticisms freely, and withhold your praise. (That keeps people on their toes.) Let them know they can be fired at any time.

5. Treat identification of problems as signs of failure, to discourage people from letting you know when something in their area isn’t working.

6. Control everything, carefully. Make sure that people count everything that can be counted, frequently.

7. Make decisions to reorganize or change policies in secret, and spring them on people unexpectedly. (That also keeps people of their toes.)

8. Make sure that requests for information are fully justified, and make sure that it is not given out to managers freely. (You don’t want data to fall into the wrong hands.)

9. Assign to lower-level managers, in the name of delegation and participation, responsibility for figuring out how to cut back, layoff, move people around, or otherwise implement threatening decisions that you have made. And get them to do it quickly.

10. Above all, never forget that you, the higher-ups, already know everything important about this business.

Brilliant, yes?

While much has changed in the corporate world since 1983, the command-and-control leadership style was still in full force back in those days and accepted by many as a successful, if not important, leadership style. Perhaps that’s why the concept of fear isn’t articulated in Kanter’s list, although you might opine it’s implied between the lines. Fear, after all, is central to the command and control style: If you don’t do as I say and deliver, there will be consequences—severe consequences.

In Art of the Idea, John Hunt states, “Fear might be a strong catalyst for entrenching obedience, but it’s a lousy motivator for fresh thinking.”

How true!

Creativity and innovation can’t be bullied into being. Like a turtle, conditions need to be safe and secure before employees will stick their necks out and engage with the creative process.

Kanter’s list also infers that innovation isn’t a process-driven system that can be managed like other business systems. It’s a unique beast. Innovation requires a different style of leadership—creative leadership. Kanter isn’t finding fault with process, she’s indicting poor leadership and poor culture.

If it’s so easy to stifle innovation as Kanter demonstrates, shouldn’t it be just as easy to un-stifle it? Here’s how her list reads if you simply embrace the opposite behavior. I shall call them Vengrove’s 10 Rules for Un-Stifling Innovation:

1. Evaluate any new idea with possibility – look for reasons why it might work, why it’s on strategy, why it’s aligned with consumer insight.

2. Embrace a flatter organizational structure that makes decision making more efficient and productive. Don’t make the process of sharing and advancing ideas burdensome—your employees already have full plates.

3. Don’t allow people to criticize other people’s ideas or proposals without first articulating something positive.

4. Praise and reward people for having the courage to share their ideas. Offer criticism in context of objectives; explain criticism in terms of why something is off strategy. (That keeps people focused on finding solutions to your concerns.) Let them know you embrace and accept failure—that failure is part of the innovation process.

5. Embrace problems as a way to catalyze creative thinking and creative problem solving.

6. If you’re going to control anything, control the objectives and strategy. Then empower people to figure out how to best achieve your goals. Align them on what’s important, and then get out of the way.

7. Communicate about changes early and often—involve the whole organization. Embrace the spirit that people won’t always agree with your decisions, but they’ll know why you made your decisions.

8. Make it easy for anyone to gain access to information they need to advance their work. Data is not the entitlement of the market research department.

9. Embrace diversity and invite a wide-ranging group of people to the innovation table.

10. Above all, never forget that you, the higher-ups, don’t have all the answers or the best ideas.

That’s a pretty good checklist for leaders seeking to develop their creative leadership abilities. If you’re struggling to get your innovation agenda unstuck, perhaps the first step to take is self-evaluation. Are you promoting any of Kanter’s stifling behaviors? If so, what are you going to do about it?

Most employees are begging for change and the opportunity to work for a company that embraces rather than stifles innovation. If the actions of leaders set the tone and culture of the organization, then it’s up to leadership to demonstrate the desired behaviors they want to see in others. That means you can make a huge difference. That means you can help un-stifle innovation. That means you can start now!

Founder, Miles Finch Innovation LLC

Miles Finch Innovation helps companies navigate the messy territory of corporate innovation. We’re strategic thinking partners who can help you get unstuck and identify creative solutions to your toughest challenges. We also love to train and speak on the subject of Creative Leadership. Email us or call us at 860-799-7505 to learn how we can help you you unlock the creative potential of your employees.

Unleash Your Creativity

The Back Story of my Chapter from Energize Your Leadership: Discover, Ignite, Break Through

By Tony Vengrove

-A sprinkle of creativity is a miracle (1)

As a self-proclaimed innovation omnivore, I’m inclined to follow my heart and permit my curiosity to trail-blaze a path into unchartered territory. That spirit led me to a wonderful group of global leaders who came together to publish Energize Your Leadership: Discover, Ignite, Break Through.

I find the story of the how the book came to be just as inspiring as the book itself. Most of us met online in various Twitter chats, Google hangouts and such. A smaller group first recognized a lack of energy, excitement and sense of purpose in the leaders they interact with each day. After examining that insight for some time the idea for the book emerged and they began to recruit a larger group to participate.

I’m forever grateful to Alli Pollin who thought it wise to ask me to get involved. I “met” Alli digitally after hearing her interviewed on a podcast and thereafter began to converse and share ideas on social media. When the content team determined they needed to find someone to write a chapter about creativity, Alli generously extended an invitation to me to join the cause; I jumped at the chance.

The 16 authors involved are scattered across the globe. I’m still amazed we were able to incorporate as an LLC, agree to a budget and contribute our own capital, create a master plan for the book, stick to a schedule, communicate only via conference calls and email, and pull it all off. Personally, I think it’s a bit of a miracle—collaboration at its finest!

Our book is about energy. As Chris Edmunds states in our forward, “Energy is a vital quality…that is present when people are engaged, enthused, aligned, and valued.” Sometimes energy is abundant and easily accessible, sometimes it’s like a flickering pilot light struggling to ignite into a flame.

“Unleash Your Creativity,” the chapter I wrote for the book, features a story about how my creative energy was sapped and in desperate need of being reignited.

Something almost divine attracted me to an event a few years ago: a local artist was giving a talk on the tremendous success he enjoyed after taking creative action on a serendipitous idea. The timing couldn’t have been better. I had been stuck in a rut and was in need of something to re-energize me and put me back on track. Creative inspiration might be just the thing. I signed up immediately.

On the day of the talk, I’d come down with a nasty head cold and the thought of curling up in bed under the covers sounded far more appealing than trudging outside to then sit in a room full of people for a presentation. But I felt obliged to show up for at least part of the event, so I bundled up and made my way to the venue.

My head cold threw me a curve ball that night. After feeling so excited to attend the event, I suddenly didn’t want to be there. When the talk turned into a hands-on group exercise, I felt dread and thought about leaving. Thankfully, I didn’t get the chance to sneak out and in staying and participating in that hands-on exercise I ultimately found the inspiration I so desperately needed. (You’ll have to read the book to get the full story!)

Creativity can be fickle that way. Sometimes we know exactly where to go to find inspiration, other times we need to quiet our mind and our inner judge to allow inspiration to find us. Quite often it’s in unexpected places, at unexpected moments. When we’ve lost our leadership mojo, what’s often most needed is a clear mind that creates space for our creative spirit to get up and dance. That’s why I love to say creativity is a miracle cure for the leadership blues.

In Energize Your Leadership, we share 16 personal stories intended to reach versus preach. Through our storytelling we hope you’ll find inspiration and the message you were meant to hear. Everything we do creates either positive or negative energy and we wish for you to become a positive energy force for uplifting leaders around you. In doing so, you’ll not only energize yourself, but those around you—and that’s how you can inspire and change the world.

I invite you to learn more about our book at www.EnergizeYourLeadership.net. It’s available on Amazon and Kindle along with other online retailers. I’d love to hear your stories about how and where you found inspiration to energize your leadership—please share with us using the hashtag #EnergizedLeaders.

Founder, Miles Finch Innovation LLC

Miles Finch Innovation helps companies navigate the messy territory of corporate innovation. We’re strategic thinking partners who can help you get unstuck and identify creative solutions to your toughest challenges. We also love to train and speak on the subject of Creative Leadership. Email us or call us at 860-799-7505 to learn how we can help you you unlock the creative potential of your employees.

 

Jeff Shore Interviews Tony Vengrove on Profiles in Boldness

By Tony Vengrove

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Jeff Shore on his Profiles in Boldness series. We discussed several matters related to Creative Leadership including: the Idea Climate Equation®, what people can do to foster creative thinking, how to use objectives to empower employees, and the difference between culture and climate–plus more! We covered a lot of territory in 16 minutes.

If you’re not familiar with Jeff’s work, he’s a powerhouse in the sales world. Be sure to check out what he does and peruse his fantastic content on his website.