Making Values Have More Value

May 25, 2013

square dealA vital function of leadership is to instill a coherent set of values in the organization. Notice I did not say the function is to “articulate” good values. Too many leaders believe the job is done when there is a set of values hanging on the wall. Unfortunately, that attitude does more harm than good because any hypocrisy in living the values ends up undermining the whole concept.

Leaders need to exemplify the values and talk about them at every opportunity for them to become firmly planted into the hearts of the organization’s people. Here are some tips that can make your values shine and create a foundational bedrock for the work of your business.

Create the values together

Values do not come from one person. They are aggregated into being through a process of creation and selection. There are literally thousands of values one could choose. Words like integrity, loyalty, respect, trust, and flexibility are frequent choices. Less often used, but equally effective are words like honor, dependability, family, innovation, and transparency. It is important for people in the organization to participate in the crafting of a master brainstorm list and the voting on how to winnow the list to a vital few.

Don’t have too many values

To be most helpful, values must reside in the hearts of the population and be simple enough to remember. It is a mistake to have a dozen or more values for an organization. Few people will be able to remember the entire set. I recommend five values, or six at the most. These will form the core of why we do what we do. Then it is a simple matter of doing a pareto vote to cull out the less important candidates from the longer list.

Talk about the values

Make sure everyone knows the values by communicating them at every possible opportunity. Say things like, “We have decided to admit our mistake because one of our core values is transparency.” As people hear a value reinforced every time it is modeled by leaders in the organization, it becomes stronger and more useful to the business.

Reinforce people who point out inconsistencies

If an action or decision does not appear to be consistent with a stated value, it is important to encourage and reinforce employees who point out the apparent contradiction. If employees are stifled or punished when they voice concern over a possible lapse, then they will clam up, and the values will quickly lose their potency for the organization. If people are rewarded for bringing up concerns, then the values will spring to life and remain vibrant.

Allow infrequent changes

Values form a bedrock for the actions of a community. It is important that these statements of intent have stability, and yet it is a mistake to be totally rigid. If an additional value to the current list would help clarify some common activities, feel free to add a new value with great ceremony. Beyond some number, it is wise to retire a less relevant value when adding a new one. This can be tricky because no value is totally useless. If you retire a value, make sure to state it is still important, just less frequently called upon in the current environment.

Reinforce actions consistent with the values

The easiest way to perpetuate actions consistent with the values is to reinforce people when the follow them. A simple thank you is not sufficient reinforcement here. The conversation should sound more like this, “That was a great point Martha. When you recognized Ed for not backing down in the face of pressure from the angry employee, you demonstrated consistency, which is one of our key values.”

The magic in having values is teaching all people to model them every day, but that is only half of the job. You must make the connection between actions and values highly visible at every opportunity to ensure the values drive the right behaviors far into the future.


Creative Shinking

January 13, 2013

Brainstorm 2There is no need to clean your glasses; the title is correct. Something magic happens when we lose the bonds of rules and become free to explore beyond our habitual boundaries. Sure, we need some conventions in our world to have order and proper communication, but I shink there should also be a time for play and experimentation where some of the rules are suspended, at least temporarily.

I am sure there are few English teachers reading this (actually I probably stopped most of them with my title – bye bye now!). When we create a twist on convention, we invent uncomfortable mutations that jar our shinking process. We become like amoebas floating in some new concoction somebody spilled into the Petri dish. God knows what will become of us. Ah, but there is the genius!

The creative process is best when we upset the applecart and venture into an unsustainable place to push on the boundaries. The expectation is that we will eventually step back to a world of reality and stop shinking in dimensions that cannot be tolerated in the “real world,” (whatever that is) but, and this is a heavy but, we can bring back with us some new vision of the possible. We may be able to morph some of the limiting boundaries. What we need is the freedom to suspend rules and shink about things from an imaginary, unconventional place.

One technique I find that really helps is called “Morphological Analysis.” The method was invented by Fritz Zwicky in 1967. The idea is to put different concepts on a grid structure with one type of concept on one axis and the other type on the other axis.

The easiest way to explain the method is with a simplified example. I will use a basic three by three format to explain the concept. Typically, you would use at least a four by four grid. On the figure below we have the concept of different materials on the vertical axis (water, wood, and sand). Then, on the horizontal axis, we have a set of actions, (move bricks, compress air, and remove paint).

Creative Shinking illustration

The technique asks us to brainstorm ways we can use water to move bricks, or compress air, or remove paint. Then we do a separate brainstorm of ways to use wood to move bricks or compress air or remove paint, etc. We continue the brainstorm process until we have several ideas in each of the boxes. The shinking process is guided by the intersection of concepts we normally do not combine, and unusual ideas are generated.

Zwicky and others have discovered that the best way to get a good idea is to shink up a multitude of ideas (many stupid ones) and then combine or “morph” the shinking into something that has some practical use.

It is important to not shink about looking stupid in the process. Just go along for the ride and have some fun creating new ideas that have never been shought of before. You will be amazed at how liberating it can be to allow your magic brain to perform at this level. When you finally come back to reality, the world will look a bit different, and perhaps some helpful idea will be the result. If not, at least you had some fun along the way.

For those who say “You cannot allow rules to be broken or you will create chaos,” I agree whole heartedly. The creative process relies on a type of chaos where we are not confined by conventional shinking. We can dwell in La-La Land while we envision the possibilities.

Wouldn’t it be fun to spend a few hours shinking up all the ways we could find to get the US Congress to make decisions? Ouch, that one really does strain the bounds of sanity. Now there is a bunch of world class shinkers!


Creativity: 7 Pathways

September 16, 2012

I read a quotation in a student paper a while ago that was interesting, “Demanding creativity is like yanking on a seed to pull out the flower” (by the famous author “unknown”). The optics in this quote really work for me. I have been referred to as a creative person at times, and I even won an award for it once, yet if you stand over me with a scowl on your face, my creativity will dry up faster than a drop of water in a red hot frying pan. Most people have a creative side that can be brought out if properly nurtured.

The benefits of creativity and innovation are well documented. Unfortunately, while all leaders yearn for higher creativity, their behaviors often squash it. This analysis provides some pathways to encourage more creativity that are simple and powerful. Here is a list of seven ways this can be accomplished:

1. Let people play – Natural creativity is closely linked to the concept of play. Just observe children who are about 3 years old, and you will see some of the most creative people on the planet. Reason: The world has not yet taught them that certain things are impossible. They see clearly with their imagination.

2. Give them the tools – We typically use “Brainstorming” to get creative at work, yet the technique has been so watered down over the decades since it was invented, it has lost most of its potency. Put Brainstorming on steroids using Morphological Analysis, which is a technique where you put dissimilar concepts on two axes and then brainstorm ideas at the intersections of the resulting matrix. This forces the mind to conjure up connections that we habitually ignore.

3. Do not legislate – You cannot force creativity. By trying to nag people into getting creative, you can actually reduce the chances for novel ideas. Most people are more creative at specific times of the day. Allow people to pick the times when they experiment with new ideas.

4. Create an environment of innovation – This is done by encouraging people to tinker and rewarding them when they come up with unusual approaches. If leaders in the organization overtly promote creative behavior, then it will spread.

5. Measure it – The old adage of “what gets measured gets done” is true for innovation. The measure can take the form of documented new procedures, patents, new product announcements, and many other forms. I once knew a manager who found a creative way to measure creativity. He placed a cork bulletin board in the hall with a fence around it. The sign on the board read “Sacred Cow Pasture.” Then there was an envelope full of silhouette cows made of different colored construction paper. Workers were encouraged to uncover a sacred cow, write it on the cut out and pin it in the pasture. The management team would then set about eliminating the sacred cow.

6. Reward good tries – Not all ideas are a smashing success from the start. Leaders need to encourage people to try, even if there are failures along the way. The failures are really successes, because they uncover other ways it will not work. This points the direction to what eventually does work. Thomas Edison had to find nearly 10,000 things that did not work before he figured out how to make the incandescent lamp a reality. That kind of deep curiosity and dogged determination needs to be rewarded. Impatience and a short term mindset are the enemies of innovation.

7. Brag about your innovative culture in public – When leaders point out the great creative work going on in all areas of the organization, not just in the lab, people tend to get more excited about it. This leads a dramatic increase in innovation similar to spontaneous combustion in a pile of tinder.

The secret to innovation and growth is to develop a culture where creativity is nurtured rather than forced. Follow the seven tips above, and soon your organization will be known as one of the most innovative ones around.