40 years later, he returned to …

 40 years later, he returned to ... learning leadership engagement creativity

What can I say? What follows is a very powerful observation about learning by my brilliant husband, Dave. Enjoy!

I remember when I was growing up, I had my fingers in everything. I couldn’t help myself. I always had to pick things up, and if I could, I’d take them apart. I remember my Mum pleading with me, “Look with your eyes and not with your fingers”. I was fortunate that I grew up with Lego, Meccano, the most amazing chemistry set, at least two soldering irons, etc. I built my own Scalextric cars, which were pretty good, but were never quite as fast as the best you could buy off the shelf, but that wasn’t the point.

I was also fortunate that I went to a “technical” school after passing the now infamous “11 plus” exam. The school had great labs and workshops, and I was further encouraged to think with my hands, but in a much less creative way. There was no crossover between the subjects. I even remember that “Art Metalwork” and “Engineering Metalwork” were taught by different staff in different workshops. At age 14 I wanted to study car maintenance (remember the Scalextric) … but it wasn’t an option for me as I was on the “academic track”. Slowly but surely I was encouraged to think less and less with my hands.

Now in my early 50s, I’m rediscovering how much fun it is to build stuff. There’s so much going on right now. I’m not sure who’s leading the charge, but the folks at IDEO have been enormously influential, as has Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk of 2006, which now has over 25 million views. Prototyping, playing and building are key concepts in the plethora of frameworks for innovation and creativity that are being published just now. It’s as if we’re coming out of the dark ages of creativity with a whole bunch of new tools to play with. It’s very exciting.

At a personal level, I have a Raspberry Pi that has opened up a whole new world of stuff to build. I once again own a soldering iron and I have more hand tools than will fit in their box. I’m making stuff again, and my brain is energized. At a professional level, I’m doing some really interesting work with IDEO’s Human Centered Design (HCD) toolkit, and I’m finding inspiration in the increasing interest in workplace innovation. As a society, I’m hoping that we’re entering a renaissance for thinking with your hands. Sorry Mum, I just can’t help myself.

Systems Blindness

As organizations grow more complex, the old parable of the blind men and the elephant remains amazingly relevant. How you make decisions and even communicate with others depends upon what part of the system you “see.” Do you have a hold of the tail or trunk but fail to acknowledge the ears? Once we recognize that we may be blind to other parts of the system, we are less likely to personalize actions from others and work harder to understand the whole system before we ourselves take action. Using this parable to guide problem solving meetings forces us to slow down and understand the system before we engage in the favourite activity for most people, coming up with solutions.

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What’s your Picasso?

I continue to be fascinated by the whole topic of creativity and excited to find more and more books popping up. A recent one is Erik Wahl’s unthink: rediscover your creative genius. His story of how he came to his current creative genius of doing quick live sketches to help people uncover their own potential is inspiring. I also love that he has used an acronym, picasso, to identify how we can fully live into (or rediscover) our creative potential – to be provocative, intuitive, convicted, accelerated, spontaneous, surrendered and original. His book is a nice blend of research, practical examples, and suggestions to rediscover and live your unique picasso. I highly recommend it!

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The power of stories

Another of my favourite sessions at the IABC Canada West Conference was Jennifer Wah’s engaging and interactive session on the power of using stories to engage people. I had a great time hearing the “make a difference” stories from the people in my small group, and was reminded of the many reasons to lead with stories that touch our hearts and minds. I was intrigued to learn more about Pecha Kucha and inspired to see how I might integrate them into my own work. Stay tuned as I would love to turn it into a video to share in this blog.

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Hell or High Water: Lessons from the 2013 Calgary Flood

One of the most powerful sessions at the IABC Canada West Conference was given by Kurt Kadatz, Director of Corporate Communications with the Calgary Stampede. I was especially moved by this presentation as I used to live in Calgary and return there a lot for both professional and personal reasons, AND flew over Calgary during the worst part of the flood.

Given the devastation I saw, I was truly amazed that the Stampede did in fact happen. The videos Kurt showed during his presentation documenting the clean up were moving and inspiring. Kudos to those folks who didn’t sleep for weeks to make it all happen.

The most fascinating part of Kurt’s talk was that it was the fans who started the hell or high water campaign, and how important it was to put their brand into the hands of fans. This is a great leadership lesson. How open are we as leaders to the initiatives started by others?

For more details of Kurt’s talk, check out Rob Cottingham’s sketch.

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How are you using games?

Dave and I were excited to be asked to present 2 sessions at the International Association of Business Communicators Canada West Conference this past weekend. Kudos to all of the organizers for their hard work in putting on a world class conference! My next few blogs will highlight some of my learning.

Fresh in my mind today is the closing keynote about gamification by Shel Holtz who gave an engaging and informative talk. I have been intrigued by the idea of using games for training for years and it was fascinating to learn how many organizations are using games externally to develop their brands and internally to increase engagement. I have highlighted a few companies and games in the black squares and some of Shel’s observations of why games are so important in the white squares.

Dave and I developed a teamwork deck of cards that we have used with our training participants, but this presentation has got me thinking about what our next iteration might be! How are you using games?

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On being right

One of the biggest “ah-has” I had as a young adult was what it cost me to be right. I remember someone asking me many years ago, “would you rather be right or at peace?” Seductive though it was to be right, in important matters I have chosen peace over the years. It seems to me that strategic leaders have learned a version of this. Strategy involves playing the long term game and that only happens when we can give up being right and actually be present for what is happening. If we are truly present, we pay attention to undercurrents, see patterns, and empower people. We don’t get the immediate hit of ego but we do build trust and goodwill. What’s your being right, being present ratio?

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How do you frame organizational challenges?

I learned about the importance of how we frame organizational situations early in my career. I had just started consulting and developed a great relationship with the training manager. A new CEO was hired and I assumed my strong relationship with the training manager would ensure continued consulting opportunities. Wrong. I had completely ignored the political realities of the situation.

Bolman and Deal’s framework is simple and powerful, but not easy to implement. We tend to frame situations according to our own biases; skillful leaders develop skill in all four areas and frame challenges and solutions accordingly:

Structural – leaders attune the structure to the task, technology, and the environment
Human resources – leaders align organizational and human needs
Political – leaders develop an agenda and power base
Symbolic – leaders create faith, beauty and meaning

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How do you engage your team?

While leaders need to pay attention to day to day tasks, engaging your team in visioning, big ideas, and possibilities ensures you continue to develop, inspire and motivate your team. Where’s your typical focus and do you need to shift it?

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