The Soldier and the Creativity Training
I knew I was in trouble the moment he smiled.
All I could see were four metal teeth -- the front ones -- the ones people use to bite things. Like an apple. Or the head of an outside consultant facilitating a creativity training for 24 managers at AT&T.
His nametag said "John Andrews," but when it was his turn to introduce himself, it was "Master Staff Sergeant John Andrews, Fourth Battalion."
Apparently, the man was still fighting the Vietnam war -- and, by the look in his eye, it was clear he couldn't quite tell what side I was on.
Unlike the other participants, John was wearing a suit and a tie -- a tie tied so tight it seemed as if the veins in his neck would explode.
With great respect, I invited John to remove his tie, explaining that relaxation was one of the pre-conditions for creativity.
The man was not the first tough cookie I'd encountered in my tour of corporate America. It came with the territory. Over the years, I'd learned to embrace this kind of moment. John was not the enemy. He was not a problem. He was simply someone I would need to be aware of as the session unfolded.
John was probably the same with me as he was with his wife, children, dog, and dry cleaner. He was, quite simply, a master at making people uncomfortable.
Mother Teresa could have entered the room and John would have found a way to get her walking on eggshells.
At no time during the two days of the creativity training did Master Sergeant John Andrews, Fourth Battalion, ever give me the slightest indication he was receiving any value. Not a smile. Nod a nod. Not a nothing.
When the session ended, the rest of the participants were out the door in a heartbeat. John stayed.
He was still wearing his tie.
"Do you... need any help cleaning up?" he asked.
"Yes, John, I do. Thanks."
We both got busy picking stuff up off the floor.
Two minutes later, John, now on his hands and knees, looked up at me.
"I... wonder if I can have a few minutes of your time?" he asked. "I need some help."
Seeing this proud man on his hands and knees, looking up at me with a mix of fear and sadness, was not a picture I'd imagined when he first bared his teeth just two days before.
According to John, his direct reports had just completed their 360 degree evaluations of him and the results were "not good." His job was on the line and he was frozen with fear.
I have absolutely no memory of what I said to John that day. All I know is whatever came out of my mouth rang true for him.
It had nothing to do with creativity. It had nothing to do with innovation. It had a lot to do with life. John's life. My life. All of our lives. Not the WHAT of life, but the HOW.
The difference between a life of business and the business of life.
Time stopped for the two of us. We just hung out in that space, saying nothing, doing nothing.
Then, with the barest of smiles, John stood and asked me if it would be alright if he took a second set of juggling balls home to his 14-year old son.
I found myself singing on the way home that day.
June 26, 2011
Excerpted from my forthcoming book, Wisdom at Work.
You Want Results? Immerse!
Recently, I polled 140 people to find out what they need "more of" in order to succeed with their various creative projects. The sixth highest rated item was IMMERSION.
And then, this morning, noted in Drive, the Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, I discovered a great example of how true this is:
Once a quarter, software developers at the Australian company, Atlassian -- for 24 hours -- are allowed to work on whatever they want, in any way they want, with whomever they want. All the company asks is that people show what they've created to the rest of the company at the end of those 24 hours. They call these experiences "FedEx Days," because people have to deliver something overnight.
It turns out that those one-day bursts of intense, undiluted autonomy have produced more innovation and creativity than just about anything else the company has done.
What can YOU do to create more immersion time for yourself and your team?June 11, 2011
Live Elevator Music
Take a few minutes now to think of a new way to deliver your services -- a platform most people have assumed was not worth the effort. I'm convinced that if a band actually started playing live elevator music, they'd be featured on CNN in no time (or at least have a few laughs.)June 08, 2011
The Hero Culture
The hero culture is alive and well in many organizations.
Riding in on a white horse to rescue the company from a downward spiral, occasioned by a history of poor decisions, will win you lots of recognition and rewards.
On the other hand, insisting on the importance of truly understanding customer needs prior to deciding on a product's features... or really thinking through the technical challenges associated with achieving a desired outcome... or taking the time to engage people before instituting a difficult reorganization, will likely gain you the reputation of being an obstacle, poor team player, or just plain indecisive.
Unfortunately, being the person who seems to know all the answers and can turn things around by telling everyone what to do is often what we are looking for these days.
Creating an organization that is agile and can run on its own -- where decisions are made close to the customer and higher level managers only need to provide strategic direction and uphold key values -- is not the fastest way to "the top" these days.
Making sure your thumbprint is on every critical decision and that you're the person who always has the last word with the CEO.
So by all means -- if you want to get to the top -- do not make your organization self-sufficient, do not develop your successor, and do not make yourself anything but "indispensable".
-- Barry Gruenberg