Leaders as Thought-shifters
– Bill Treasurer
One challenge most leaders face is how to inspire more workplace creativity. There are plenty of clock punchers out there, folks who are physically working but mentally retired. Elevating people to higher standards of performance and inspiring useful ideas requires igniting their imaginations. Leaders spend a lot of time preventing complacency and lethargy. They know that mental grooves of habit eventually form ruts of routine. When people see things the way they’ve always seen them, everything stays the same, dulling work to the point of drudgery. Conversely, real opportunities can be found in helping people to be more imaginative by freeing them from narrow, negative, or habitual thinking.
It’s hard to inspire people to be creative by being boring. Yet so many leaders do just that. They try to jumpstart fresh ideas by using stale approaches. They gathered people in the same old meeting room that are usually reserved for droning over monthly accounting reports. They hold the meeting at 2:00 p.m., exactly when everyone’s after-lunch coma is setting in. They stand next to a white piece of flipchart with a black pen that doesn’t work and gleefully exclaim, “Okay everyone, let’s get creative!”
As a leader, you’ll get better results in shifting their thinking by getting them outside of the four-walled environment. Consider the approach used by the chief marketing officer of a large manufacture of paper plates, cups, and napkins. For too long his team defaulted to one idea for increasing sales of their commodity product: discounting. Any time the company wanted to increase market share or drive up sales, they would just pump out more Sunday coupons.
The CMO needed better and more imaginative ideas from his team. He wanted people to remember that they weren’t just selling plates, cups, and napkins. They were working for a brand that was deeply connected to the family experience. So instead of gathering them for another boring brainstorming session, he arranged a lavish picnic! It was set up just like you’d set it up a barbeque in your own backyard. There were picnic tables with red-and-white checkered tablecloths, an outdoor grill sizzling with hotdogs and hamburgers, even outdoor games like horseshoes and tetherball. Of course there was something else too: lots of the company’s plates, cups, and napkins. They weren’t just commodities; they were an essential part of the experience.
It didn’t take long for people to shift their thinking away from commodities and toward values and traditions. They started seeing that on any summer day, their products were smack-dab in the middle of people’s backyard barbeques, picnics, and family birthday parties. The company’s products were important because they helped make people’s family time more fun, enjoyable, and worry-free. Without the picnic table, grill, and their products, a backyard would just be a sorry patch of land behind the house.
When people started percolating on new marketing and product ideas, the word “discounting” never came up. Instead, they started talking about creative marketing campaigns designed to inspire the feelings of a warm summer afternoon. They talked about partnering with an outdoor grill company. They talked about new “summer flower” design borders for their plates and napkins. They talked about creating an interactive website where customers could swap their favorite picnic recipes. By shifting people’s thinking and getting them away from the ordinary work environment, the open-door leader opened up a space for people to think in a more inspired way.
Shifting people’s thinking is an important part of a leader’s job. But thought-shifts don’t happen with tired and outdated approaches. The best way to jumpstart new ideas, and prevent habitual or lazy thinking, is to mix things up. Changing the venue and letting people experience their own products firsthand is a great place to start.
Bill Treasurer is the Chief Encouragement Officer of Giant Leap Consulting. His latest book is Leaders Open Doors, and focuses on how leaders create growth through opportunity. Bill is also the author of Courage Goes to Work, an international bestselling book that introduces the concept of courage-building. He is also the author of Courageous Leadership: A Program for Using Courage to Transform the Workplace, an off-the-shelf training toolkit that organizations can use to build workplace courage. Bill has led courage-building workshops for, among others, NASA, Accenture, CNN, PNC Bank, SPANX, Hugo Boss, Saks Fifth Avenue, and the US Department of Veterans Affairs. To inquire about having Bill work with your organization, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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