Tag Archive for development

Want to be More Creative? Just Say No.


There are so many fantastic posts on creativity out there, and what follows will certainly not be added to that group; but I think it’s an important footnote to the ongoing conversation in the business world about creativity.

Many of the posts I alluded to above provide great tips to help you be more creative, think more creatively, or something along those lines; but fewer address what I think may be one of the biggest obstacles that stops many would-be creators before they’re able to start. That obstacle?

The inability to say No.

If you look past the smoke and mirrors, the glitz and glamor, the bells and whistles — if you look past all that’s typically associated with the mystery that is creativity, there’s something that absolutely has to be there in order for someone to create anything. What is that thing, you ask? Time.

Without time, none of the rest of it matters. You can have memorized all the steps to being more creative that you gleaned from a recent blog post on creativity, but unless you actually have time to walk through those steps, the creative process — and by that I mean the process whereby you actually exert creative energy and create something — will not happen. It can’t. Because it takes time.

Which brings us back to saying No. If you can’t say No, you’ll also not be able to do some other things that are prerequisites to the creative process.

You won’t be able to gain the knowledge of your field you need to be able to create something meaningful within it.

You won’t have time to find problems to solve, find solutions to those problems, and then find problems with those solutions.

You won’t be able to engage in trial and error. No trials. No errors. (Actually, you’ll still make errors. Bummer, eh?)

No is what guards our time so that we can create. No understands that time is this odd commodity that we need more of than we think and have less of than we realize.

But No has gotten a bad rap. We’ve been taught not to say it, how to say it without actually saying it, how to make people not feel like we’re saying it, and how to turn it into yes. Weird, right?

In fact, we’ve gone so far as to reserve No for only the most extreme scenarios. It is a thing to be said to drugs. And to strangers with candy. And to folks standing on your front porch asking if they can come inside and explain to you how a guy looked into a hat and translated Egyptian hieroglyphics into readable English from these golden plates he happened to find.

But we’re wrong. No is a tool. Better yet, No is the fuel of creativity, for it is what actually creates the context within which people can create.


4 Potentially Awkward Things Leaders Do

AwkwardFamilyPet3There are certain things that make sense to us. Other things? Not so much. Some stuff is just a little awkward, right? Some people’s working styles seem reasonable. Other folks? Not really. Other times maybe it’s apparel decisions. We see those skinny jeans, and wonder silently how they can possibly be comfortable. Or even healthy for a fella. But whatever.

I’d opine that sometimes doing things that feel awkward isn’t just OK, it’s necessary for individuals and teams to grow. Sometimes you need to do things that others might consider counter-intuitive.

Now it’s important to note here that I’m not saying you do all of these all the time, or that each of these will work for every person. All I’m saying is that these things, while helpful, will often feel weird to folks, and there’s not a thing wrong with that.

Additionally, I really can’t be held responsible for any awkward moments that ensue. Well, awkward_Awkward-s500x352-2987-580actually, it depends. If it’s a hilarious awkward moment, then yes, I’ll take credit. If it’s one of those awkward moments where you’re packing your stuff into a cardboard box because you’ve just recently been made “available to the industry,” then I’d prefer not to carry that burden. Or that cardboard box, for that matter.

So here are a few awkward things you can do to help yourself and your team grow:

1. Ask that person who hates every idea of yours what they think of your most recent one.

Why? Because in order for your idea to evolve into its best possible form, it needs to be poked at, prodded at, kicked, punched, judo-thrown, and otherwise assaulted. There are folks who love nothing more than to pick at everyone’s ideas. Yes, sometimes it’s too freaking much and they need to chill. But at the same time, it really can be an asset to you because if anyone’s going to find the problem with your idea that you’re missing, it’s them.

2. Say no.

Now listen (or read, as it were) carefully. I’m not advocating for insubordination. I wouldn’t suggest simply refusing to do something and then blaming it on that bald Workplace Mojo bloggerspeakerconsultant guy.
At the same time, maybe you should review the sixty-three-and-a-half meetings you attend in a week. Perhaps you don’t need to go to every blessed meeting to which you’re invited. Perhaps you do need some alone time. Some well-meaning folks will tell you that life, and especially corporate life, is one big networking event (You know, never eat alone and all that jazz). They’re wrong. Sometimes you just need to stop (collaborate and listen – Matt is back with a brand new invention). Work on that whole self-awareness thing. Breathe. Listen. Learn. Feel. Be.

3. Give enough of a $#!* about your team and organization that you’re willing to have tough conversations.

One of the most important assets any leader and teammate can have is someone who cares enough to tell them the hard truth that they may not see. You’re not trying to embarrass them. You’re not trying to prove how smart you are.
But if you feel like your teammate/colleague/friend might be missing something, talk with them about it. Care more about the organization’s good than the temporary interpersonal discomfort you’re going to feel while having the conversation. I can’t even begin to explain how valuable folks like that are. When you’ve built that level of trust and you can be that vulnerable, it can be a beautiful, albeit sometimes awkward, thing.

What’s also really cool is when leaders actually…

4. Ask for feedback.
captain-obviousI know. What a brain buster, Matt. You should see me right now. I have this whole Captain Obvious get-up on. I’m not sure the spandex is all that flattering but whatever. It’s bedazzled, so that has to count for something.

One thing I appreciate about my current and previous boss is that they both ask and asked for feedback all the time. If they were out there au naturel, they wanted to know. Is it always easy? No, it’s not. Sometimes it’s awkward because you’ll have to say something that you’d rather not have to say. But because you care about your boss or colleague, you tell the kind, often hard, truth.

By the same token, we each need to ask for feedback ourselves. But do you know how potentially awkward it can be to do? Thankfully, I have a boss who’s pretty direct so he’ll give the feedback I need. My previous boss wasn’t as direct, but was so kind-hearted that it was easy to take criticism and coaching from him because you could clearly see it came from a place of caring. But it can still, even then, be a little awkward at times. Same with this guy. Nicest guy on the planet, but cares enough about me as a friend and leader and human that he’ll point out stuff that I could do differently.

Why does it matter? Because as leaders, not only do we have to be willing to do things that make us uncomfortable if it’s for the good of the team and/or organization; but also we have to provide an environment within which it’s safe for others to do the same.

5 Things We Can Learn about Leadership from Siri

siriApple’s virtual assistant Siri was designed to learn and get more sophisticated over time. The evolution in Siri’s capability and the increase in value she brings happen as users build a history with her. Learning through experience…what a great concept!

As I used Siri over the past year, I found myself getting frustrated and losing patience when she didn’t understand my request. I would ask her to call someone in my address book – she would tell me there are no Vietnamese restaurants close by. I would ask her to search the web for “succession management” and she would search “efficiency in algorithms”. Not very helpful. In the end, I would often just do the work myself.

Over time, I had an unsettled feeling though. Apple made a big investment to purchase the technology and integrate Siri into their products, so she is clearly talented and has great potential.  A few questions emerged in my mind: What if I was Siri’s leader? What if it was my obligation to develop her for the future?  This got me thinking about how many organizations are struggling to build leadership, build succession processes that really work, and create a culture of learning.

Yes, it’s often easier to just do the work ourselves, especially when someone misses the mark on a task or project. But this is the crux of the problem. As leaders it’s up to us to build capacity for the future. This means we must strive to provide meaningful challenges, show empathy, provide coaching & feedback and we must be patient as individuals learn from their experiences. How often do we bring bright, passionate, talented individuals on board – only to miss every opportunity to help them grow and develop?

Here are a few questions to think about to help you flex your talent development muscles:

1. How am I making a valuable contribution to this person’s development? Take some time for honest self-reflection about where you have made an impact. Dig deep on this one.

2. Am I doing work I shouldn’t be doing? Delegating and empowering others allows you to lead at a higher level. Think about the value you should be bringing.

3. What am I doing to bring out the best in this individual? Understanding someone’s strengths, sweet spot, and passion has simply too many benefits to mention here. Seek to understand.

4. Am I giving important feedback that will truly help this individual? Give the feedback that no one has had the courage to give before. It can be life changing.

5. What is holding me back from helping others develop? Ask yourself if you’re taking enough risks that provide unique opportunities for the individual to not only grow – but to thrive.

Without a doubt, Siri has great potential. She is also a great reminder that really effective talent development and succession management is often hard work and requires discipline, investment, and a deliberate contribution from leaders.  When we do the important work of developing talent, we might even be surprised at the outcomes. In fact, you might be surprised to know that Siri researched, organized, and created most of this blog.

Now that’s some serious talent.


Audra August is a Principal, Succession & Talent Planning with Knightsbridge Leadership Solutions.  Audra works with organizations to build strong leadership capacity. Her areas of focus include succession management, team effectiveness, and organizational development. Audra can be reached at aaugust@knightsbridge.ca and @AudraAugust on Twitter.