I am always amazed at how quickly the seasons pass.
And, I am always inspired by the
message from Mother Nature: while things inevitably
there is still consistency in the change. It's
predictable. We always
know that spring will come -- eventually at least,
for those of us living where it just snowed last week!
All around us are signs of renewal as the forsythia
bloom and crocuses and tulips reappear. Spring
reminds us about re-creation and rekindles a sense of
our creative nature after a dormant winter.
Taking that creative nature and applying it to the
challenges of being a leader is what this newsletter
is all about. Therefore, this issue, and the next,
are devoted to ideas for managing
successfully through the critical process of
planning for the future -- one of a leader's key
|Creative Strategic Planning: Challenge #1 Mental Models
In the "Building the Strategic Leader" course that I
am currently teaching at Northeastern University, we
started off with sessions on
self-awareness and mental models.
Both play a critical role in recognizing the signs
of change and in deciding how to make the
First, a definition. Mental models, according to
Peter Senge, are "the images, assumptions, and
stories which we carry in our minds of ourselves,
other people, institutions, and every aspect of the
world." They are our internal pictures of the
world. Though invisible, they determine what we
they shape our actions and decisions. A good
example of a mental model is the way those of us in
the US looked at the prospect of flying before 9/11
We need our mental models to function, to filter
avalanche of information we receive. As beliefs
about ourselves and our
abilities, they help us become successful. They
behavior as values and deeply-held beliefs, and they
us safe as personal "standard operating procedures."
The problems come when these mental models
out of date. They can become very dangerous,
as leaders, we use them to make
decisions and plan in an increasingly uncertain
world. Because they can filter out certain data and
can cause us to rely on decision
making rules that are no longer appropriate, mental
models need to be constantly re-examined and
challenged if we are to look at the ever-changing
future in an unbiased way.
An example of a poorly-held set of
mental models is the
framework through which US carmaker General Motors
looked at the
in the 1950's through the 1970's. Despite changing
consumer preferences, governmental regulations, and
increasing competition from Japanese carmakers, GM's
managers -- because of years of success --
to believe in their mental model regarding consumer
behavior. Cars in their view of the world were
status symbols. They failed to see the shift in
consumer behavior to a concern for the environment
and mounting gas prices.
On a personal
level, the current focus on optimism and positive
thinking recalls another mental model: Do you see
the glass as half-full or is it half-empty? And how
does that "mental model" affect your assumptions
about the future?
So, before starting to plan for the future, first
ask yourself and your team, what are our mental
models? What do we believe about our competition,
customers, and the impact of emerging global
competitors? What possible blinders could those
beliefs and assumptions be
Stewart Black and Hal Gregersen, in their book,
"Leading Strategic Change," and Peter Senge and his
colleagues suggest several ways to
break these "brain barriers" (and in the next
article, I will
suggest one more approach). A quick summary of
two of Black's and Gregersen's recommendations:
* Create confrontation
Find visual or
experiential contrasts between existing mental
models and reality. Such
contrasts can come from international work
overcome the failure to see cultural changes in the
world, or visits to the competition to experience
their products and their appeal.
* Overcome fear of competency.
One of our
biggest barriers is a need to feel competent and not
make mistakes. "Most of us don't like to be bad at
something, especially if we are already good at
something else," the authors note. So we stay doing
what we are already doing well and avoid stepping
out of our competency to take on a new challenge.
To break out of a mental model, we have to be
willing to make mistakes and take small steps toward
a new future.
Peter Senge and his colleagues have other tools for
confronting our mental models. They include:
- Learning the techniques of appreciative
inquiry, an approach where we lay out our reasoning
and thinking and then encourage others to question
those assumptions and conclusions. For example,
"Here's what I think about our customers'
buying habits and why.... Now tell me what your
- Developing scenarios, or alternative views of
how the future might unfold. UPS has successfully
used this technique in its planning for the future.
According to CEO Mike Eskew, "Our goal for scenario
planning is not to
predict the future, but to start thinking about the
ramifications of the various scenarios, so that we
can align our planning behind them. The exercise
allows us to more effectively build in mid-course
corrections and back-up strategies as we create the
next three- to five-year strategic plan for the
organization. In our business we can't afford to be
caught flat footed by trends -- trends that we could
have anticipated -- but that sneak in under our radar
Because both of these techniques lead to more
creative organizations and decision-making, we will
examine them in more depth
in the next issue of the Practical Innovator.
|Strategic Planning and the Eight Creative Talents
Research has shown that our personality preferences
play a significant role in defining our mental
models, particularly around how we make sense of the
world around us and how we make decisions about
future. Therefore, in the class we spend time
identifying our eight creative talents as a tool
toward greater self-awareness.
While I am in the early stages of researching the
link between the eight creative talents and
strategic planning (see invitation below), there has
been a lot of research
using the MBTI(r) and strategy making. We can
use that research to take a preliminary look at how
our dominant talents impact our ability to plan for
the future. In this issue, we will address the data
collecting talents. In the next issue we will address
the decision-making talents.
Before describing the impact of the talents, it is
important to note that our favorite talents, like
our mental models, are a double edged sword. When
they are operating productively, they help
us. But, when we are under stress, they can cause
distortions about the data we see and about our view
of the future.
According to researchers, such as Paul Nutt,
Peter Strumpf, and Reg Lang, and others, individuals
dominant sensing talents to collect
data (the Navigator and Adventurer) focus on
collecting facts. While they may be challenged in
seeing beyond facts, they typically are extremely
team grounded and focused and in reminding the
what Jim Collins calls the company's core ideology.
However, these talents can also cause blinders. For
Navigator talent, with its focus on the past, can
get stuck and ignore or misinterpret data that is
not consistent with what they already know. The
Adventurer talent, with its emphasis on the present,
can fail to see the need to plan for the future and
instead prefer to continue responding to present
challenges, fighting fires, and dealing with daily
On the other hand, individuals using their dominant
intuiting talents to collect data (the Explorer and
Visionary) will tend to relish the forward thinking
generation of new opportunities and "what might be."
talent enjoys confronting sacred cows and leaping
into a longer range view of the future, but can also
get caught up in the process, fail to remain
sufficiently focused on pragmatic alternatives, and
miss subtle cues about changes in the environment.
Over-reliance on the Explorer talent can also cause
problems. While terrific at generating endless
possibilities and full of inspiring energy, this
talent can cause the team to lose focus, fall in
love with change for change sake, and overlook the
need for an implementation action plan.
Given these possible blinders, leaders must be
careful to examine their favorite talents and be
sure they are using the best the talents have to
offer in planning for the future and not letting
them become blinders. They can do this through
self-awareness, through the process of appreciative
inquiry, and through conscious
use of the other creative talents.
In the next issue we will look at the decision
making talents and see how they can impact our
strategic planning efforts.
|Finding your Creative Talents
For those readers interested in learning more about
the eight creative talents, there are several
resources. The first is the book
"Breakthrough Creativity: Achieving Top Performance
Using the Eight Creative Talents" which devotes a
to each one of the talents. Each chapter also
provides tips for
enhancing the use of that talent for more creativity
and for managing
individuals with preferences for that talent to
See "about the Book" to the right!
In addition, the
"Breakthrough Creativity Profile Participant Workbook"
"Breakthrough Creativity Profile Facilitator's
Guide," both available through HRDQ.com,
provide invaluable material for identifying and
working with the eight creative talents.
Finally, a strategic leadership workshop based on
the eight creative talents and
planning for the future can also be beneficial for
initiating a strategic planning effort. Contact me
(firstname.lastname@example.org) for further
|Strategic Leadership Research Study
Working with colleagues, I am in the initial stages
of researching the impact of the eight
creative talents on the challenges of strategic
leadership. The focus will specifically be on
strategic planning and change management. At this
point, we envision an online questionnaire to
supplement classroom and field research. If you
would like to
participate, please email me
Something Old, Something New
You might wonder why a newsletter dedicated to
fostering innovation and creativity in organizations
and in individuals would highlight a picture
of the 5,000-year-old Poulnabrone Portal Tomb in
County Clare, Ireland. It's here because I
believe that plotting the future not only involves
ahead, but also making sure you are grounded in the
past, to stay in
touch with your roots -- maybe not 5,000-year-old
roots, but certainly those that make up your own
foundation and that of your organization.
Some scholars recommend treating strategy as
"revolution," demanding a radical break from the
past -- which they view as a burden. I don't agree
neither does Jim Collins, author of "Built to Last"
and "Good to
Collins has found that leaders in successful companies
start out thinking about the future with a vision,
consisting of both a core ideology and envisioned
According to Collins, "core ideology defines the
enduring character of an organization -- a
consistent identity that transcends changes in the
market place and individual leaders." He goes on to
say, "It is more
important to know who you are than where you are
going, for where you are going will change as the
world around you changes." Core ideology is a
source of guidance and inspiration. It's the glue
that holds an organization together as it grows,
decentralizes, expands and diversifies. It's about
self-evident truths, enduring principles that bond
employees, almost religious tenets, such as P&G's
commitment to product excellence and Nordstrom's
insistence on customer service.
Therefore, before you start thinking about the future
-- for yourself and your organization, make sure you
are absolutely clear about your past and what you
stand for. What are
your core values that are so fundamental that you
would hold them regardless of whether or not they
are rewarded? Can you envision them being as valid
for you 100 years from now as they are today?
A few years ago, I worked as part of a consulting
team with a speciality materials company to build
what they called at the time their "Vision 2010."
The final stage of the project involved working with
the leadership team, to
revisit the core values that had driven the
company for its many years of success. While
initially the leadership team had assumed they would
need to take time to redefine their core purpose, they
reconsidered after realizing it held true today as it
did 100 years ago.
"If creativity is going to be thought of as either
something frivolous performed by a bunch of kooks or
as something mysterious so that the process won't be
discerned by outsiders, it makes it much harder to
get corporate America involved."
(August 1, 2005)
According to photographer Alex McLean, when
describing his techniques for turning aerial shots
of ordinary landscapes into intriguing works of
the flight path may be premeditated, I can't
anticipate all the variations and surprises. Part
of exploration is that moment of discovery,
recognizing the unexpected picture and then taking
"The past does not repeat itself, but it rhymes."
-- Mark Twain.
Breakthrough Creativity Services and Workshops
Consulting and facilitation services support
organizations in strategic planning, new business
creation, teambuilding, and leadership development.
Services include organizational, team and individual
assessments, through the use of proven diagnostics,
and ongoing support for leaders and teams.
Workshops that provide substantive content in an
interactive environment, focused on practical
application, are also available. Sessions include
Becoming a More Creative Leader, Developing the
Strategic Leader, and Building Team Talents using
the Breakthrough Creativity Profile. Because of their
modular design, they can be easily customized to
meet each group's particular needs.
Curious about the logos in the newsletter?
based on Australian aboriginal symbols depicting
change. The Breakthrough Creativity logo represents
the new perspectives a traveler brings to the
problems of others.