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Spring 2005

It looks as if spring may finally have arrived here in the northeastern part of the United States and with it the inevitable sense of change. How do you feel about change?

Do you embrace change and accept that it is part of the essence of human experience? Or do you feel caught in a tug-of-war? You resent it and prefer equilibrium, and at the same time welcome novelty and the excitement of disequilibrium, because you recognize that absolute surrender to either of of these opposites invites disaster.

Another conflict in life! Read on for ways to cope with this and other conflicts!

in this issue
  • More about Collaboration and Conflict
  • Creating Collaborative Conflict
  • Creating Collaborative Conflict (continued)
  • Managing for More Creative Results
  • Malleefowl Update
  • Tips for Trainers using the Eight Creative Talents

  • Creating Collaborative Conflict

    Following up from the last newsletter, here are some additional tips on creatively managing conflict -- this time based on greater self-awareness. Such knowledge can help foster collaborative conflict in many ways. We will focus on two in this newsletter and save the third recommendation for the next newsletter:

    1. Through personal awareness of your personality preferences and their impact on your typical reactions to conflict.

    How do you typically react to conflict? Normal reactions to conflict may or may not be related to personality preferences although there is some research that indicates they may be.

    For example, individuals who tend to be more private may withdraw from conflict and try to distance themselves from the issue. Individuals who tend to value relationships may try to push for harmony and seek a compromise to keep everyone happy. Those individuals who tend to make decisions more objectively and analytically may be quite direct in trying to get to resolution. And those individuals who prefer a playful approach to life often try to make a joke out of the issue and hope it will go away.

    Personal awareness of your own style and typical reactions to conflict is a first step toward managing conflict more creatively.

    Creating Collaborative Conflict (continued)

    Okay, there are "typical" responses to conflict. But what about those behaviors we exhibit under the stress that conflict often causes? Again, these stressed-induced responses to conflict can vary by individual and that's why greater self-knowledge of personality preferences is so important.

    Typical reactions to conflict under stress fall into two categories:

    1) An exaggeration of your normal self.

    For example, if you normally enjoy life and take everything in stride, you may become fixated with living in the moment and refuse to address the problem. Or if you tend to focus more on tasks and details, you might start to obsess over every little thing. If you tend to normally enjoy brainstorming and exploring opportunities, you may become totally consumed by future possibilities. If you tend to love speculating about the far off future, you can begin imagining all sorts of dire visions of the future. Or, your normal leadership tendencies can turn into overcontrol and you may try to dominate the discussion and get your way. Or your typical focus on others can turn into an obsession with making sure everyone is happy.

    2) On the other hand, you can become totally the opposite of your normal self.

    In this response to the stress that conflict can cause, you may see your normal love of life reverse into a focus on all sorts of dire possibilities about your future. If you tend to normally be concerned about your roots and history, you might find yourself worrying about all sorts of dreadful predictions about the world, society and your family. If you generally love to explore possibilities, you can find yourself obsessing over every little detail. Normally objective and analytical individuals can become obsessed with the meaning of their existence or find themselves caught up in raw emotions. Or usually nurturing, people-oriented individuals can uncharacteristically become critical of everyone around them and try to control everyone and everything.

    After becoming more conscious of your reactions to conflict, whether you follow any of the above patterns or not, what can you do? Here are some ideas about managing your reactions more creatively:

    * Try to consciously do something positive that is outside of your normal behavior patterns. You may find yourself being surprisingly inspired with some alternative perspectives on the problem. For example, if you tend to keep your reactions to yourself, find someone to talk to. If you tend to let everyone know how you are feeling, try to find some alone time and write in a journal. If you tend to want to control every little detail, try letting go. If you are normally a "go with the flow" kind of person, try using some "if-then" analytical tools to move forward.

    * Take a deep breath and try to imagine how someone else with a totally different personality style would see the issue.

    * Or, take a bath, go for a walk, put on some soothing music, light a candle, pray, or practice some other form of relaxation.

    The key step is to be able to identify your own signs of stress when facing conflict -- and remember they can be different in different situations -- and then figure out how to address those reactions quickly so that you can focus your attention on creatively resolving the conflict.

    In the next issue of the Practical Innovator, we will explore how to use the eight talents in a creative problem solving process to resolve conflict.

    Managing for More Creative Results

    (Adapted from "BREAKTHROUGH CREATIVITY: Achieving Top Performance with the Eight Creative Talents")

    Question: My team has a member who enjoys life and loves to play around. She usually has very inventive solutions to the problems we are dealing with, but won't commit to deadlines. What can I do to help her be more effective, productive, and creative?

    Answer: You are lucky! It's not often for a team in an organization to have a member who prefers what I call the "Adventurer talent." Because of their love of freedom and variety, these individuals tend to find employment outside the corporate world.

    With their down to earth practicality, individuals who prefer the Adventurer talent don't often see themselves as creative. One not-for-profit executive director instead talked about her "resourcefulness," or the ability to think on her feet, assess the situation, and quickly respond. When she finds herself in a crisis situation, she'll come up with twenty different solutions that will immediately fix the problem.

    Individuals who have a preference for this talent often prefer to postpone action to the last minute and sometimes their creative contributions may not be recognized or appreciated. Yet, the team needs the benefit of their creativity, which comes in the form of:

    * Clever solutions to customer and operational problems

    * Prompt, practical and ingenious responses to crises and emergencies

    * Inventive programs that incorporate a fine sense of shape, line, sound, color, and texture

    * Adding fun, a sense of curiosity and flexibility and encouraging the team to experiment and play

    To heighten their creative contributions, as team leader you can:

    * Provide challenge, fun, and variety in their work

    * Rein in their love of good time only when truly necessary, while still providing clear boundaries to limit irrelevant and unnecessary exploration of ideas

    * Suggest they slow down to listen to others, explore differences, look at the consequences of their actions and try to develop focus and discipline

    With only a bit of effort, the team can reap the benefits of the positive energy they bring and their clever, playful creative results.

    Malleefowl Update

    Although I haven't been back to Australia since 1998, I stay in touch with and continue to help fund the Malleefowl Preservation Group. I wanted to provide you with an update of what's happening "down under."

    For those of you unfamiliar with the Malleefowl, it's a large bird unique to Australia that is threatened with extinction because of animal predators like the non-native fox and the clearing, grazing, and frequent burning of their habitats by humans.

    My initial interest in the Malleefowl was as a metaphor for the creative leader and the creative process (for more on this perspective, see www.breakthroughcreativity.com/malleefowl.html). As I have learned more about this amazing bird and the work of the Malleefowl Preservation Group, I have become inspired by their efforts to not only save this special bird, but also the total biodiversity of our planet.

    The MPG is located in Ongerup, Western Australia, a farming township of 120 residents situated approximately 400 km south east of Perth. Employing volunteer efforts and some quite innovative practices, it has achieved significant growth in its 13 years of existence. With plenty of ingenuity and passion, members have been able to develop partnerships with similar groups in Australia, create imaginative "Malleefowl Magic" programs for school children, and rally public attention to the plight of this amazing bird through other projects and awareness campaigns. MPG members have proven that, quoting from the MPG Newsletter "Malleefowl Matter," "ordinary people can make a difference. There is no limit to what can be achieved when committed volunteers work together to turn the vision of conservation into a living reality."

    Tips for Trainers using the Eight Creative Talents

    Recently several articles about the abuse of personality tests have caused some controversy, at least back here in Boston. The issues that have been raised are often valid concerns in general, and around the use of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator(r) in particular.

    Too often participants in a session based on the MBTI(r) do indeed walk away with little more than a four-letter label and an overly-simplified explanation of the results. Instead of serving as a tool for personal growth and development, the results are frequently used to stereotype, to justify bad behavior, as excuses for shortcomings, or to screen employees. This is particularly disturbing to those of us who study Carl Jung's theory and appreciate its richness and complexity.

    None of these abuses of the instrument is appropriate. The instrument was never intended to predict job performance. It was designed to help people better understand themselves on their journey, as Jung put it, toward individuation, or self-actualization.

    Jung (and subsequently Myers and Briggs) developed this framework not to label people, or as Jung said, "not to put them in drawers," but to help them be more effective! In fact, Jung believed that his model was not cast in stone:

    "The four functions are somewhat like the four points of the compass; they are just as arbitrary and just as indispensable.... But one thing I must confess: I would not for anything dispense with this compass on my psychological voyages of discovery."

    In addition, as an indicator of differences in the way individuals take in and process data, the Jungian framework also helps individuals recognize varieties in communication, decision-making and problem solving styles. It is thus extremely useful in promoting improved working relationships, better teamwork, and -- of course -- more creative decision-making.

    Use of the eight creative talents to help individuals find and further develop their creative potential should also follow these principles that Jung espoused. That's why I believe the goal of Breakthrough Creativity training is NOT to exactly pinpoint one's favorite talents. Instead it is to help determine whether an individual's favorite talents are working for them and to define steps to grow their creativity even more.

    Thoughts? Reactions? Please feel free to send comments or questions to me at Lynne@breakthroughtcreativity.com.

    More about Collaboration and Conflict

    In the last issue I asked readers for additional ideas on how to handle conflict. That request was answered via a very timely article in the March 2005 issue of "Harvard Business Review." The authors stress the value of collaborative conflict and provide some further suggestions for managing conflict more productively. A brief summary:

    1. Develop a common approach to decision making and conflict resolution.

    Encourage your organization to provide training in a standard process for working through differences. Such a process reduces the time wasted in figuring out the best way to handle a diagreement. Instead team members can focus on exploring and evaluating a variety of options for achieving the project's objectives.

    2. Provide people with criteria for making trade-offs.

    Even a common approach to resolving conflict can be troublesome without criteria for addressing competing goals and priorities. One organization developed a tool for assessing trade-offs between making sales targets and the need to integrate the solution into the rest of the organization, for example. (See the article for more detail.)

    3. Use the resolution of the conflict as an opportunity for coaching.

    Managers up the organizational chain must refuse to solve the problem themselves. Instead they should take the opportunity to coach the team through the steps they would use to help team members develop their decision making and problem solving skills.

    4. Establish and enforce a transparent escalation process.

    In addition, management needs to implement processes for joint resolution of issues across the organization. Sometimes forcing the parties to document the issue and the ways they have tried to resolve it can lead to new perspectives and possible new solutions.

    While implementing the team and management processes described above can take time, the effort is well worth the trouble in terms of faster decision making and the creation of more innovative products.

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