Risk and why it is important for Creativity

Risk is a part of life: something we all live with. Some people are more comfortable with risk, others have no choice. However. I propose that for change, development, creativity and innovation, a level of healthy risk is essential.

Risk and Fear

Risk, however, can bring with it feelings of fear. As I write this I remember reading the book by Susan Jeffers, Feel the fear and do it anyway . It had a very positive effect on me at a time in my life when I was about to leave a full-time job in one country for an uncertain freelance career in another. The fear around risk is that we may fail. However, if we never take a risk, we may never live life at our best.

This fear of failure is prevalent in organisations.  Failure is often punished and the consequences of this is a reluctance to start or try anything new or different. This is detrimental to creativity and innovation. As people and as organisations, without taking a risk, we cannot develop and change. To enable creativity and innovation risk is essential.

Risk and a Creative Culture

Goran Ekvall proposed that there are essential elements of a culture needed to support creativity. This quote from his paper –Organizational Conditions and Levels of Creativity highlights the value of risk-taking. ‘As risktaking and anxiety are ingredients of creative acts, culture elements that make risktaking and failure less threatening and dangerous are promoting of creative behavior, whereas in situations where creative initiatives are met with suspicion, defensiveness and aggression, the fear of failure becomes strong and holds creativity back.’

Charles Handy stated that ‘Experiments may fail, thus forgiveness is essential. Instead of failures, unsuccessful experiments must be viewed as part of the learning process–as lessons learned.’

We all have our own boundaries, or constraints when we consider the level of risk that is acceptable. One difference in level of risk acceptability could be due to the prevailing culture. If we can learn from the mistakes we make when taking risks, then we can change and develop. However, it is almost impossible to learn from mistakes in a blame culture in which people feel threatened and feel bad about mistakes. This undermines self-confidence and leads to a culture of low risk taking.

A learning culture, rather than a blame culture requires an active learning habit.  A leader needs to coach their staff so that they can reflect upon their actions, understand them, learn from them and then build upon them to try something different. In this way people can take responsibility for their actions, take risks, and develop their creativity.

Actions to Take

So, what do we need to put in place for risk to be acceptable?

People need to be competent to understand the level of risk that is acceptable and how to ensure that mistakes are made ‘safely’. Experiment in creativity and innovation is essential when developing ideas, provided that the experimentation is done in a safe way, and the culture is supportive. The risk is then a managed risk. If the experimentation fails, learning can result from it.

To summarise

  • Risk is needed to enable creativity and innovation.
  • To remove the fear of risk, a supporting culture needs to be in place.
  • In organisations this means that leaders must –
    • Develop trust, so that open discussions can be had around level of risk in any situation.
    • Train employees to be able to take risks safely
    • If mistakes are made, coaching and open discussion will enable lessons to be learned.
    • Turn these lessons into learning for the whole organisation.

Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached women and men in a variety of corporate settings, and has developed a unique approach to using creative techniques in her coaching and workshops to enable change at a group or individual level. She has recently co-authored a book on creativity for leaders, called Creativity Cycling , with Dr. Tracy Stanley. which covers the process of CPS and techniques that can help challenge assumptions.

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Assumptions and how to challenge them

What are Assumptions?

On a daily basis we all make assumptions. Some are conscious however many of them are unconscious. Those that are unconscious have become habitual ways of thinking.

Assumptions serve a useful purpose

They provide a short cut in our thinking. For example, I assume that health professionals care about my health when I go to see them. I don’t need to think this through, although with any new practitioner I may be wary and check out my assumptions in advance by seeking feedback from others. On the other hand if I am walking down a city street at night and I hear footsteps coming up behind me I assume that I could be in danger and start to react.

What happens when we make assumptions?

We often receive self-confirming feedback. Perhaps not always in the case of the danger at night, thank goodness. However, if we assume that someone is going to act towards us in a positive way then we show this in our attitude towards them and it normally gets reciprocated. Equally if we assume someone will be hostile, our actions show this and this is also often reciprocated.

The Ladder of Inference

I have written previously about assumptions and referred to a framework called a Ladder of Inference first proposed by  Chris Argyris.  Continue reading “Assumptions and how to challenge them”

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The Importance of Mindsets

Have you ever wondered why some people always respond in the same way in certain situations? In the workplace, when faced with change, one response often heard is ‘well we have already tried this, and it didn’t work’.

Another is ‘yes that’s a good idea but…

What is a Mindset?

These responses are signs of a mindset. The mindset in this example is that of a having a negative response to the world around us. Although an overworked cliche, it’s the way of seeing the world as a glass half empty rather than a glass half full. Continue reading “The Importance of Mindsets”

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Habits that inhibit success for women

It seems that every day I receive an email offering advice on habits. The popularity of neuroscience has spurned an interest in how our brains work and what we can do about it. Habits are such simple things. Developed over time, they become enduring and quite resistant to change. They serve a purpose for us, in that they short-cut the need to think about how we behave in certain situations, and they reap rewards when that purpose is served. Continue reading “Habits that inhibit success for women”

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Going with the Flow v. Setting Goals

Going with the FlowThe start of a New Year always brings out a lot of advice on setting goals and making New Year resolutions, so in this post I am going to discuss some of the issues I see with setting goals and compare the rational, logical approach of setting SMART goals to the more intuitive approach of ‘going with the flow’.

On  a personal note I have always been a bit averse to the setting of goals, especially the setting of SMART  goals. However I confess to spending some time at the start of every year reflecting on my future path. As a strong P in MBTI terms, setting actual goals seems to be a constraint too far and I feel much more in tune with the concept of going with the flow! Continue reading “Going with the Flow v. Setting Goals”

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Why image based creative tools are better than words

Recently I have facilitated  three creative workshops, 2 which were focused on creative problem solving and one which was a process of personal development. The common denominator in each was not just that they were creative but that I used drawing, images and collage as tools in the process. The results underline the value in using image based work in problem solving and change. Continue reading “Why image based creative tools are better than words”

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The Imposter Syndrome and how to overcome it

What is the Imposter Syndrome?

Do you recognize this feeling? You are about to step into a networking meeting or planning a meeting with a potential client and you have this message popping into your head – ‘these people will realize I am not that good’ or ‘I can’t handle this, I am a fraud.’ Then you are not alone. For example, Liz Bingham, managing partner Ernst & Young , once thought to herself: “What are you doing here? What do you think you’re doing? You’re going to be found out.” Maya Angelou has been reported as saying “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh-oh, they’re going to find [me] out now.”
Continue reading “The Imposter Syndrome and how to overcome it”

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Working to our Strengths is Energising

Focussing on improving or eliminating our weaknesses is the most important aspect of personal development, right? No wrong! When we focus on our weaknesses the messages we take on unconsciously is that we are not good at things.

This  tendency to focus on our weaknesses  is not helped by the constant corporate insistence on measurement against targets. I have worked with many leaders giving feedback on a 360 degree process and in the main the first focus is  what are their weaknesses and how does this effect their performance? Continue reading “Working to our Strengths is Energising”

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‘It’s where he is now but it wasn’t what he planned.’ A personal experience of change

‘It’s where he is now but it wasn’t what he planned.’IMG_0916

These words had been going around my head for weeks since I heard the Damon Albarn song ‘Mr Tembo’.

Somehow it has particularly resonated as I was facing a not unexpected but nevertheless unsettling change in my career. Continue reading “‘It’s where he is now but it wasn’t what he planned.’ A personal experience of change”

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What is really important in a change programme?

I recently came across a very interesting article about Kaizen methods
of change which led to me revisiting the concept of Kaizen and change. I have always understood Kaizen to be about facilitating change through small steps. In fact the original Kaizen approach, as declared by the Kaizen Institute , emphasizes that it is not just about small steps, rather it is about everyone being involved in change. Continue reading “What is really important in a change programme?”

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