If I have to conform, how can I create? How can I innovate, if I have to play it safe? How can I discover new ideas in what I am doing?
Many frustrated people are seeking more meaningful work. They are bright and motivated to high achievement. Executives must rescue these talented people by finding ways to amplify their intelligence and motivation. Many high performance rewards await executives wise enough to capitalize on the yearning to create and innovate.
Innovative ideas are often found in paths we have yet to explore, and these paths are often revealed to us by people who ask us questions or give us directions. Questions and directions can be given in the form of what should be done or what should not be done. The form can either catalyze or kill creativity and innovation in people.
Consider questions and directions framed with the intent of advocating what should be. They are markers to assure safety—usually financial or physical—conformity to protocols and rules, and pursuit of wants and desires. Directives or questions emanating from this intent come as “this is what should be done or be happening;” or “what is the correct procedure—what should be done here?”
While “safety” and “security” are crucial to organizational well-being, these words are bipolar to words like creativity and innovation. If you have to conform, how can you create? If you are preoccupied with safety, how can you set sail in uncharted waters to innovate? Many executives confound their people by demanding creativity and innovation through questions and directions aimed at what should be. Executives need not abandon the “should be” form of questioning or directing in order to pursue paths to innovation and creativity. Such an action would excise critical markers needed for survival. The advocacy of an executive should be how to balance safety and security with innovation and creativity. This balance is achieved by using an alternate form of giving directions and asking questions.
Now consider questions and directions originating from what should not be. These directives or questions usually assume the form: “This is what should not be done” or “This is what should not happen.” When executives ask me: “Are you suggesting that I use negative questioning or direction giving as a management style?” I respond: “What could be more positive than avoiding that which should not be, and how can you avoid that which should not be if you don’t know what to avoid?”
Making visible what should not be can demand calling into action our own talents for innovation and creativity. For example, suppose I discover that you have a background in natural science when you and I are in Queensland, Australia, on a walkabout. All of a sudden you say to me: “About 15 feet ahead on the side of our path is a Taipan. If you continue walking in your current direction, you will encounter something that should not be.”
By issuing this warning, you gain my deep appreciation, as I am not interested in sustaining the painful bite of a poisonous reptile. You may also see how fast I can run or how high I can jump. If I try to catch and sell it, you may see what kind of an entrepreneur I am. By telling me with truth and fact what should not be, you cause my creative talents to emerge.
By managing your situation with truth and fact in terms of what should not be as opposed to managing on the basis of what should you be, you catalyze the attributes of innovation and creativity. People are then free to find their own best wave, knowing that are guarded from consequences of operating on the basis of what should not be. They also become confident in your role as one who would forewarn them about things that should not be.
Why are many executive directives I (even commandments of Deity) given in the form of “thou shalt not?” I believe the wisdom of the ages is rooted in a preference for freedom of action and an incentive for innovation and creativity.
As I have tested this belief in managing projects and people, it has strengthened my resolve to illuminate, with truth and fact, that which should not be as the way to unleash latent creativity and innovation in people.
Any parent of teenagers knows that making visible hazards, obstacles, and things that should not be, will produce an astonishing array of creative ways around these restrictions. The creativity catalyzed by fear of parental consequences, from traveling restricted roads, somehow adds to their “thrill of the chase” and fuels competitive drive. These reactions are what executives seek.
There are other benefits to this approach. We can more readily agree on what we are about. Specificity in what should be is rarely obvious. Most admonitions are closely akin to “motherhood” statements leaving too many “hard to interpret” generalizations or mysteries for implementation.
When the boss specifies what should not be, we will find it easier to correctly interpret the intent. Things that executives should not do are more specifically set than those things that should be.
You must state what should be in order to promote safety and conformity in your pursuits. But, hopefully, you will add admonitions for behaving on the basis of what should not be. If these are entrenched in truth and fact regarding what should not be, you will foster creativity and innovation in your people.