Moving toward the completion of 2011, I am reflecting on the commitment and hard work I witnessed throughout the year. The past few years have been a struggle and challenge which produced a sense of hyper-alertness. With so many of us in a constant state of alertness, we have worked hard to sustain the health of our organizations.
The external environment is calling us to encourage and promote creativity and innovation−which is problematic, yet necessary for long-term sustainability−in a tough economic environment. Moving into the 2011 4th Quarter, I noticed an increase in the number of organizations that, in building their 2012 budgets and capital resources, shifted awareness and attention to reframe problems as productive challenges. This shift of attention is a good thing. Actively challenging our assumptions is much more sustainable than being constantly in a hyper-alert and reactive state.
Organizations that start to peel back the covers and look under the surface have so many more resources readily available. I believe the most precious resource in an organization is the individual who comes to work every day. Understanding what motivates the individual and creating an environment where each person makes a difference automatically encourages creativity and innovation−a must for us as an industry, as a country, as a global economy.
Commitment and hard work is evident in individuals, teams, and organizations that challenge established methods and protocols and actively sought ways in 2011 to modify existing models and designs. Why is this so important? It is time to shift from hyper-alertness to embodied creativity and innovation. This, I believe, is a practice we can all give more attention as we move into 2012. This practice does not need a line item in our budget; it happens in conversations involving individuals and teams.
Michael Michalko, in Tinker Toys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques, writes than anyone can learn to pay attention. Richard Strozzi-Heckler, in The Leadership Dojo: Building Your Foundation as an Exemplary Leader writes that learning starts with awareness. An awakening that invites awareness to what is and what matters is the start of learning. I borrowed from Michalko, Strozzi-Heckler, and our custom leadership programs to provide the following simple, no cost practices you and your leadership team can activate over the next couple of weeks as preparation for moving into 2012 with a commitment to encourage creativity and innovation.
Practice # 1: Learning to Pay Attention, a Team Practice
Each member of your leadership team picks a single color to be aware of for one day. You may pick yellow, another selects blue, and so on. Assume you pick yellow and you commit to noticing yellow throughout your day. By the end of the day, you will notice yellow everywhere: books, clothing, flowers, furniture, advertisements, cars, art work, and so on. You might notice different shades of yellow: subtle, rich, some more vivid. Journal your reflections on how the attention to yellow developed throughout the day. Meet with your team members and reflect on what the Learning to Pay Attention practice means. Ask these questions:
- How do we pay attention now?
- What does our current attention practice produce in our team relationships?
- What does our current attention practice produce in our organization?
- How does this practice serve us moving into 2012?
- What and how do we want to practice to increase creativity and innovation so all employees feel they make a difference?
- How will we know we are practicing what we want to practice?
Practice # 2: Paying Attention to Challenges that Need Resolve, Individual Practice
Start a journal of problems, challenges, and opportunities that are of personal interest. Some are right at the surface of your consciousness; others will awaken throughout the practice. Keep your journal for a week and add to it several times throughout the day. For this practice, keep your attention focused on the question you have and not on fixing the problem or taking action on an opportunity. There is time for that later. Here are some sample questions to start the practice:
- How do I want to make a difference?
- What do I wish would happen in my job?
- What do I wish there was more time to do?
- What conversation do I want to have?
- What conversations want to happen naturally?
- Where is most of my focus and time?
- What takes too much time?
- Where am I inefficient?
- What would I like to organize better?
- About what do I most complain?
- What is my energy level walking into work?
- What is my energy level walking out of work?
- How could I be more efficient with less paperwork?
- How could I be more efficient with fewer meetings?
- How am I accountable to myself?
- How do I keep my promises?
- What offers can I make to others?
- How can I become indispensable to my organization?
- What am I aware of as a result of this practice?
Practice # 3: Paying Attention to Challenges that Need Resolve, Team Practice
This practice is similar to Practice 2 with an emphasis on the team. Schedule an hour for open dialogue on questions. All that is needed is for individuals to ask questions and not discuss ideas or solve problems. This attention practice is challenging for most teams because the automatic reaction is to look for solutions. The purpose is to ask the questions, and over the next few days, increase awareness and attention to creative and innovative ways to resolve the questions. This practice is ideal for all teams in the organization in the first weeks of 2012−functional teams, groups, and project teams, for example. A consolidation process provides meaningful information. Here are sample questions to start the practice:
- How can we better differentiate our products from others?
- What is our competitive advantage?
- How can we better serve our members and customers?
- How can we use external resources as strategic thought partners?
- How does the community speak of us?
- How do we want the community to speak of us?
- Is it possible to encourage each individual to look for ways to be innovative?
- What is the quality of conversation in our team meetings?
- What would be different if each individual in the organization had 40 hours a year of personal development?
- How often do I smile at others in the workplace?
- How often do we offer assistance to other employees?
- How can our advertising better communicate the advantages of products and services?
We are what we practice. As we increase attention to what we practice, we will have more choices about how we want to be and how we want others to notice us. There is a direct correlation between noticing what we practice and creativity and innovation, challenging unchallenged assumptions and better leveraging current resources in our organization.
At the start of each year, all individuals in our company speak about their practices to the team. Verbalizing our commitment provides an environment of self-accountability and support from others who witness our practice throughout the year. What is your practice for 2012?