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September 2006

Happy Fall! As the leaves start to turn color here in New England, marking another change of season, I am reminded that change is all about leadership and leadership is all about change. This issue provides ideas for being a more open, intuitive, and creative leader in the midst of all the changes and challenges you face!

in this issue
  • Lessons from Scotland
  • Your Questions Create Your World?
  • More Tips for Teams
  • The Many Flavors of Intuition
  • Strategic Planning and the Eight Creative Talents
  • Workshop at New York City APT
  • Meeting the Challenges of Corporate Entrepreneurship
  • Do Sweat the Small Stuff

  • Your Questions Create Your World?

    You probably recognize that the questions you ask drive the answers you receive. Think, for example, about the differences in answers received from questions like "How can we drive shareholder value" as compared to "How can be best serve our customers?" But do you also know that your questions can shape your interactions with others, your feelings, the meaning you make of life, and even your results? Consider the difference in outcomes, for example, from a question, such as "What's wrong?" as opposed to "What works?" Or "why bother" vs. "What's possible?"

    If questions are so important, how can we learn to ask better ones? Here are three important points to remember:

    1. Good questions challenge mental models or blinders that often keep us from seeing what's possible. (See April and June, 2006 for more information on mental models.) Novel questions open up new worlds of opportunity. For example, asking the question "How can we optimize our car rental business?" generates a different set of answers -- a fairly limited set, in fact. But asking "How can we optimize our transportation business?" opens up all sorts of possibilities around expanding into hourly contracts for other forms of transportation, such as Zip-cars, bikes, Segways, or scooters.

    2. Related to the need to switch mental models is the demand for more innovation -- in process, products or services. Most innovations represent an answer to a new question, or to an old question asked in a new way. To come up with some unexpected perspectives, try asking a different question. For example, "What haven't we thought of?" "What can we try?" or "What can we do with this?"

    3. Since the questions we ask ourselves are important in influencing our behavior and feelings, we need to look at these internal questions as well. What would happen to our openness to change and risk if we switched from asking "What could I lose" to "What can I learn?" Or, instead of asking "How could I do such a stupid thing?" what about asking "What benefit can I get from this?"

    Because questions are so critical, we need to design ones that challenge assumptions, generate more creative answers, and widen the lens of "our perceptions of what is possible." One of the first steps in developing good questioning skills is to learn to "question our questions!" We can do this by asking,

    • What do I want this question to accomplish?
    • Is this question expansive, inspiring, and bold?
    • Could this question lead to unforeseen, creative answers?
    • Does this question generate new learning?

    Why not start building a portfolio of questions to open up worlds and expand possibilities? Check out my website for some wise questions to use when facing the challenges of performance appraisal, coaching, and problem solving.

    More Tips for Teams

    Here are more tips for teams who want to come up with better, more creative solutions and results. While they may sound familiar, we can't be reminded of them enough!

    1. Keep going! Most great ideas come after many ideas have been generated. Leave time for the team to explore lots of ideas that can contain the kernel of the best solution.

    2. Defer judgement! One of the main reasons brainstorming "fails" is that it's so much easier to criticize ideas than to keep building on them or generating new ones. Hold off the critic until all possibilities have been explored.

    3. Solve the right problem. Too often our assumptions and current mental models unconsciously cause us to see a problem in the same old way so we end up solving the wrong problem. Take the problem apart and examine it from a variety of angles before proceeding to solve it. Make sure you are asking lots of tough questions! Remember that a problem correctly stated is half solved.

    4. Keep politics and personal issues out of the idea selection process. Be sure to have an objective analysis process, based on the project's objectives and client needs. An objective process keeps hierarchical, personality, or hidden conflict pressures from influencing your choices. Consider using automated tools or an anonymous, written voting method.

    The Many Flavors of Intuition

    My research and classroom conversations have convinced me that intuition comes in many flavors. Just as there is no one right way to be creative, it turns out there is no one right way to be intuitive!

    Some people see intuition as synonymous with insight, inspiration, imagination, a "sixth sense," or an "inner way of knowing." Others define it as the product of an unconscious reservoir of expertise that is based on years of experience.

    In its appearance, intuition can be subtle. It can come as a message from a dream or a "still, small voice." Or, it can be more obvious and come in the form of "a gut feeling," or "a warning experienced as a "tingle up the spine" or some other bodily sensation or feeling. One workshop participant received intuitive messages from her eyes. If her right eye twitched, she knew it was a positive idea or move. If the left one twitched, she did not act on the impulse!

    No matter what form your intuition takes, it is important to learn how it works for you and to practice accessing it. Facts are not always available nor do we always have time to examine them, even if they do exist, in our fast-paced, ever changing, and complex world. Intuition is thus becoming more and more critical as an aid to making creative decisions and finding innovative solutions.

    Look for a discussion of "Intuition: Pros and Cons" in the next newsletter!

    Strategic Planning and the Eight Creative Talents

    In the April 2006 newsletter we looked at strategic planning from the perspective of how we see the world, whether in terms of specifics and details (sensing) that can lead to a more operational view, or from a broader, more conceptual perspective (intuiting).

    In this issue, we look at strategic planning from a decision-making perspective: whether we make decisions based on objective, quantitative criteria (thinking) or more subjective, people-oriented, or circumstantial basis (feeling).

    When using our thinking preferences (the Pilot and Inventor talents), we will tend to look at strategic planning as a direction setting exercise, in terms of defining goals, objectives, and strategies. When we use our feeling preferences (the Harmonizer and Poet talents), we may see the process as an exercise for setting a vision to energize the organization and defining organizational values.

    Leaders using their Pilot and Harmonizer talents will tend to want to see the plan in writing, with clear action steps. Those using their Poet and Inventor talents may be more comfortable with seeing "strategy" as an emergent, less structured process, with little need for a written plan.

    When preferring the Pilot talent, a leader may drive a more traditional SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis. Using the other talents may cause leaders to see the major value of strategic planning as coming from the important conversations about the future that it engenders.

    Which talent is best? That's a trick question, of course! When charting the future course of an organization, leaders need to draw on all eight creative talents to be sure they are balancing planning with flexibility, quantitative goals with plans to engage the hearts of employees, and broad visions with practical steps to ensure action.

    Workshop at New York City APT

    Do you want to learn more about creativity, different creative talents or styles, and the multiple forms of creative results and contributions? Or do you want to gain a deeper appreciation of the role that the different creative talents play in decision-making, problem solving and change management? On Tuesday, October 17, 2006, I will be leading a "Breakthrough Creativity" workshop at the New York Association of Psychological Type. Come learn more about the "breakthrough creativity" approach and gain hands-on experience with a tool to identify creative strengths and areas of development for yourself and others.

    Meeting the Challenges of Corporate Entrepreneurship

    Are you or your organization facing the challenges of using your creativity to grow new business from within? The October issue of "Harvard Business Review" includes an article, based on the research that Harvard Business School professor David Garvin and I conducted at several organizations, with many recommendations for helping you succeed! It provides several important suggestions for dealing with the often conflicting challenges of creating new businesses.

    Do Sweat the Small Stuff

    Read about Professor Teresa Amabile's research on the team leader's role in driving creativity. "Seemingly ordinary, trivial, mundane, day-by-day things that leaders do and say can have an enormous impact. My guess is that a lot of leaders have very little sense of the impact that they have."

    Lessons from Scotland

    While visiting the outer islands of Scotland in July, I was struck by several examples of teamwork and creativity. Two lessons stand out for dealing with the challenges of being a leader:

    The first was a lesson from watching a parade of Pipe Bands in Portree, on the Isle of Skye. The President of the Skye Band organization had several comments that relate to leading creative teams. In his words, it's the harmony that makes the bands unique. To achieve this harmony, there is constant feedback and open discussion with all members commenting about issues that impact performance. There are tools used to measure the sound from each bagpipe. And lots of practice, practice, practice.

    What are you doing as a leader to follow these good practices on your team?

    The second lesson came from the sheep that populate the islands. Their wool grows, they give it away (well, it gets taken away when they are sheared!), and then it serves practical purposes by providing for warm clothing or is woven into works of art. The sheep don't hold on to this wonderful possession; they let it go and then continue to produce more.

    Too often we try to hold on to ideas to claim them as our own. Instead we need to learn from those Scottish sheep and let go, with full knowledge that there are a lot more ideas where the first ones came from!

    "Curiosity and asking penetrating questions are enduring qualities in the best leaders."

    --- Meg Armstrong, executive coach.

    "Ideas won't keep. Something must be done about them."

    -- Alfred North Whitehead

    "The pull of creativity never ceases."

    -- Polly Thayer Starr

    "Intuition comes in many forms. It communicates in different ways to each of us."

    -- -Lynn Robinson, Intuition Coach

    Breakthrough Creativity Products, 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 material in an interactive environment, focused on practical application are also available. Sessions include:

    * Becoming a More Creative Leader

    * Developing the Strategic leader

    * Building Team Talents with the Eight Creative Talents

    Because of their modular design, workshops can be easily customized to meet each group's particular needs.

    Curious about the symbols in the newsletter?

    They are based on Australian aboriginal symbols depicting travel and change. The Breakthrough Creativity logo represents the new perspectives a traveler brings to the problems of others.

    If you need new insights and perspectives, let me know!

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    Copyright (c) Lynne C. Levesque. All rights in all media reserved.