Why change is difficult and what to do about it

Change is difficult, that’s what we often hear, and yet the pace of change is unrelenting.

 

Let’s start by looking at why change is difficult.

All change involves people and their habits . We build habits over time and these change our attitudes and behaviours. It is possible to change these and to develop new habits, however, it is not easy because habits become embedded. This is particularly strong when we look at cultures in organisations and the habits that have developed within them. Habits show up when we try and answer the question, ‘what is the way we do this in my organisation?’ For example, it could be a simple action taken on a daily basis such as how the leader addresses everyone first thing in a morning.

How often have we heard  the response, ‘we have done this before and it hasn’t worked’ when a change initiative is introduced. Yes, this could be due to a general reluctance to change. However, it can also be due to other factors.  Often people do not see the need to change and are therefore not engaged in the change process, or, the change may not have been addressing the ‘real’ problem.

So, what can help overcome resistance to change?

A way to address these concerns is to treat the change as a messy problem. That is a problem with many dimensions to it and which does not have one clear solution. This is particularly appropriate when change is required around people and their actions. I would suggest therefore that any change program start with a creative problem solving process. This ensures a thorough investigation into the reason why change is needed; that is, asking the question, what is the problem to be resolved by change?

By introducing a creative problem-solving process involving those affected by the change, there is more likely to be a higher rate of engagement in the change. When you engage people and they can understand the need for change, they are much more likely to work to make the change happen rather than resist it.

Engaging people in the change process

Engaging people requires a participative leadership model. To rely on deciding strategy at the top and disseminating it downwards does not engage them. Leaders need to involve people in the process of why the change is needed and what it will look like. It is a top down and bottom up approach.

An excellent example of engaging people in change can be seen in the change process facilitated by Marjorie Parker and detailed in her book ‘Creating Shared Vision‘. The leader created a vision for the culture change that was needed. This was shared throughout the organisation. Each department  interpreting the vision in order to make the changes needed.

A process I undertook when leading a culture change programme involved something similar. We started by involving everyone in identifying the problem, then creating a vision for what it would look like when the problem is resolved. The gap between the current situation and the future vison was identified by teams of people working together. Then behaviours were identified which were needed  to get from the present situation to future vision.

When individual behaviours are identified in the process of change, it breaks the process down into manageable parts. A great overview of change and the importance of behaviours in the change process can be seen here in the interview with Edgar Schein, one of the gurus of culture change.

Change is difficult, it is also a long process and can take years, particularly if it involves culture change. Therefore it is important to keep people energised and engaged throughout the whole process. In the example above, we had regular small collaborative meetings in the different areas where change was needed, and there was constant follow up on the actions required. It was important to keep the momentum and energy up.

Summarising the key points:

  • Change is hard, habits are enduring, and there will be resistance to change.
  • Engage people in order to overcome resistance to change; in the analysis of the problem, and the steps to change.
  • Provide or co-design a compelling vision of the new post-change situation to engage people.
  • A participative and collaborative leadership style is needed to engage people in change initiatives.
  • Working at the level of behaviours makes the change process more tangible.
  • Change takes time and energy and requires resilience of all involved.

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. 

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Facilitating creative techniques

I have written previously about the importance of different creative techniques to help with creative problem solving. One of the barriers to introducing these into the workplace may be the confidence of the leader in facilitating them. Here I want to simplify the process and offer some guidelines for facilitating creative techniques in the workplace.

The first point to make is that for many people at the moment, being at work no longer means being present in the workplace, so many of the techniques may need to be adapted for remote working.

To keep this relatively simple, I have divided the topic up into the main issues to consider,   and will address each one in turn.

 Purpose

If people are going to buy into a creative workshop, in whatever form, they need to believe that it has a useful purpose. So, clarify the purpose and consider justifying why this requires a creative workshop? For example, the need to resolve a wicked problem, or a space to create new ideas for the future generation of products.

 Space

The ideal space to hold creativity workshops, would be a flexible space, off-site with outdoor space available. Off site is always best as it signals a different way of working. It is hard to change to a creative mode when working in the same environment as your everyday work. If off-site is not an option try and find a space where a conducive atmosphere can be created – for example where there are no tables, nor computers, and plenty of wall space to exhibit outputs as you go along.

If working remotely, for example using Zoom, then ask that participants come with space around them to work, and with the possibility to move around a little. Ask them to have resources at hand, such as coloured pencils and paper.

 Timing and structure

I have linked these two together because one will determine the other.

If timing is a constraint, that is you only have a couple of hours, then it is impossible to structure that time for a complete problem-solving process. It would be more realistic to introduce a couple of creative techniques such as brainstorming and a playful variation on it, like reversals.

If, on the other hand it is more important to address a serious wicked problem or plan for a future product, then structure the process and carve out the time required.

The level of experience in use of creative techniques will also influence the time required. The more experienced you and/or the team are, the less time you will need to get into the creative mode.

Choice of technique

  • If you are new to this, stay with a technique and structure you feel comfortable with. A facilitator needs to be able to guide participants and then let them free to work on the technique. If you are nervous about trying a new technique you may be tempted to intervene.
  • Choose  according to the purpose of each session.
  • The individual differences of participants may be a factor here. Introverts may take longer to think through their inputs. Build in techniques which they will feel more comfortable with, otherwise the extroverts will dominate.
  • In choosing the techniques and planning the sessions, reflect upon whether each technique will work best done individually, in pairs or as a whole group.
    • Working alone will work well if it’s an early input around perceptions of a problem.
    • Working in pairs for some of the exercises can offer a level of support and comfort.
    • Working as a whole group can produce more ideas, as with brainstorming, however there may be issues around everyone being involved. It will depend upon the group. My advice would be anything beyond six needs to be broken down into smaller groups.

Setting ground rules for the creativity session

 This is crucial and you will need to think this through in advance and present them for agreement at the beginning. Here are the rules I like to establish:

  • Brainstorming rules: defer judgement, go for quantity, the wilder the better, build upon others ideas.
  • Be constructive – no negativity
  • Be flexible and open to other ideas
  • Encourage active listening

You might want to add rules about keeping to time, confidentiality, mobiles off etc.

Resources

What resources will you want, or can have?

For example, I usually have lots of coloured pens, post-its and paper for writing and drawing as well as flip chart boards or walls to put paper on.

In general, for successful facilitation

  •  Have a structure and be flexible enough to change it if necessary. Not all techniques work with everyone. Sometimes you need to try something different to achieve the objective of the session.
  • When facilitating a group, start with some warm up exercise, and also have a couple of short energisers to use when energy is starting to flag.
  • Set out the instructions for the exercise and then stand back and let the participants work with the technique. It is important not to step in unless it is needed to clarify something. Do not try to influence what is happening.

For more ideas around techniques and how to use them, check out the book I co-wrote with Tracy Stanley.

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. 

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Six barriers to being more creative.

In July, I wrote about the benefits of creativity and offering ideas on how to be creative.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on UnsplashToday I will reflect upon the barriers that get in the way of us being creative.

1 Negative thinking –  prevents us from seeing opportunities because it changes our perception about the world around us. We see a glass half empty rather than half full. It is of course the same glass however it is how we perceive and frame it that makes the difference in terms of our attitude and our behaviour.

Negative thinking can be seen often in the answer of ‘yes but’ to new ideas.

If this is you, try a ‘yes, and’ next time and consider what merit there might be in the new idea before stepping in to offer the negativity. Positivity is about seeing opportunity and having hope, even when things do not look so good.

2 Imposter syndrome  – is a syndrome where people feel that they should not be there because they are not good enough. This is more typical of women, and can result in less confidence in ourselves to propose new ideas. This happens because we don’t believe we have the legitimacy to do so. It can lead to a heavy amount of self-judgement.

To overcome imposter syndrome, it is important to be able to recognise it, and then to work on self-confidence to overcome it. With self-judgement we live with the critic always sitting on our shoulders and looking on, influencing our thoughts.

3 Not being open to new ideas  this can be due to negative thinking, however, it may also be due to the assumptions we develop over time. I am reminded here of the ladder of inference developed by Chris Argyris, where assumptions form a step on the ladder to fixed attitudes.

We need to challenge our own assumptions when we start to review problems or evaluate new ideas.

One way to do this is to try a simple exercise. Draw three columns. In the fist write the heading facts, the second, feelings and the third assumptions.

Then take a situation where you may have felt that the outcome could have been different. Firstly draw out the facts as you saw them and in the timeline you lived it. Next to each fact, note the feelings you had at that stage, then the as a result of those feelings what assumptions did you make?

Look back over the this and check out whether any assumptions were made based on feelings and not fact and how this influenced your actions. What can you learn from this?

4 No time to spend on creative pursuits – Often this is because we don’t put enough value on play in our lives. We have a need to play and with play a more creative side of us opens up. Take that time out and have a play – even if it’s a playful walk. Recapture that spirit of enquiry, observe closely what is happening around you. When we play, we bring our imagination to the fore and let all sorts of possibilities take place. Look at young children when they play with cardboard boxes and the range of ‘things’ that this can become; a train, a car, a house for example. Somehow as we grow older, we lose this ability and start to value a logical, rational way of thinking.  This can inhibit our creativity.

Take time out to just stand and stare, to look at things mindfully, and then see what thoughts arise.

5 Not taking risks  – The fear around risk is that we may fail. However, if we never take a risk, we may never live life at our best, and we may never know if we would have failed. In fact, failure can often lead to greater success if we can be positive around the learning from it.

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.

6 Rigid goal settingI am not a fan of setting SMART goals. I accept that there are times when it works well, however it can be too rigid to allow the flexibility and breathing space that creativity and innovation need.

Planning and goal setting are important activities that keep us moving forward. However, none of us can really predict the future, although some try, so whatever we plan cannot cover all possibilities. We cannot plan for every eventuality as Mintzberg stated.  What would be helpful and inspirational for creativity to flourish is to develop a vision  to guide us, and then to create intentions from this. This will allow us to be flexible and open to new opportunities as and when they happen. The vision is our guiding light here and the goals are intended and can be changed if the need arises, for example due to external change or new opportunities occurring. So, we craft our own strategy towards emerging goals and stay aware that life happens, and we may need to adapt these goals.

I hope that these ideas have helped you to reflect upon any barriers you may have to being more creative.

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. 

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On being creative

Being creative is good for the soul. This is, I know,  a sweeping statement. However, let me explain what I mean by this.

Creativity is about using all parts of our brain, both our logical, rational minds and our intuitive, more ‘open to possibility’ minds. This surely can’t do us any harm. In fact, I would argue that by doing this, we are more likely to be taking wiser decisions and living our lives in a fuller way.

So, what does it mean to be creative? 

Photo by Mike Petrucci on Unsplash

That depends upon each individual. Each of us has our own possibilities for becoming more creative. Some people will have an interest in the arts, some will be interested in developing creativity and innovation at work. Some will be developing their writing or photography, and others may express their creativity through activities such as cooking or sewing.  There are many ways in which we can develop our creativity. What is important is to search out and find your own path to being creative.  If nothing else it will offer you a richer experience which you can carry with you throughout your lives.

What are the benefits of creativity?

A blogpost I shared last year offered some benefits of creativity and they are summarised here:

Working creatively can be motivating. It energises and can build up a strong sense of self-confidence.

Creativity can re-ignite our passion. When we are lost in working creatively we are in what  Csikzentmihalyi  calls a state of flow. Being in a state of flow leads to a sense of happiness. It is a form of mindfulness in which we are in the present, absorbed by our creative pursuits,  and not focusing on the past or future.

Developing a creative pursuit can open ourselves up to new opportunities and possibilities. A sense of positivity can result from creative pursuits. It is great to see and reflect upon something tangible that we have achieved. Who knows where this may lead in terms of personal change and development?

Becoming more creative is about doing things differently. Enjoying doing things differently will impact on our whole life and generate more sense of fun in our lives.

Working creatively can reduce stress levels. There is some evidence that stress levels fall when we are absorbed in a creative task, whatever our level of ability.

By becoming more creative we can become more productive at work. We begin to challenge the existing way in which things are done. and search out new and better ways of doing them.

By introducing a creative approach in the problem-solving process, we find that our skill at solving problems develops immensely. Creative problem solving enables and encourages us to see the big picture and not to go down the same road each time we encounter a problem.

Finally, being more creative will be less boring and you will have fun!

Bene Brown had this to say about creativity:  

“I’m not very creative” doesn’t work. There’s no such thing as creative people and non-creative people. There are only people who use their creativity and people who don’t. Unused creativity isn’t benign. It lives within us until it’s expressed, neglected to death, or suffocated by resentment and fear.

 So, suppressing our creativity can be negative for us.

During the recent lock-downs due to the COVID pandemic many people have turned to creative pursuits, and there seems to have been an upsurge in interest in these.

So how can you become more creative?

  1. Start by reflecting on what creative activities in your past have brought you joy.
  2. Start with small amounts of time and dedicate this on a regular basis to that activity. It need not be ambitious to start with, half an hour a day is good. Build up a habit of doing this.
  3. Find a buddy who has a similar creative interest and support one another. Arrange to meet/ chat regularly so you can make progress.
  4. Seek out workshops/training to follow to develop your creative pursuits. There are lots around that have free offerings. For example, social media, such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter have interest groups or people to follow in different creative fields.
  5. Seek out other more experienced people in your creative field to follow and to gain tips on your development.

Finally, just do it. Start small and take baby steps and you will start to reap the benefits.

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. 

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Create your vision with a storyboard

Many organisations talk about creating a vision for their future. However what many do is to create a vision statement. This just doesn’t work for me. Visions need to be inspirational and for this to happen they really need to soar above the limitations of words.

For this reason, I usually recommend creating a future vision through image work, at least in the first instance. To check out ideas for creating a vision using drawing, take a look here. In my next blogpost I will take a look at some other tools for creating vision, such as collage.

Ok, so you have an inspirational vision and you have shared or even better co-created it with your employees, colleagues, family. What next?

One process that you can try, is to create a storyboard to show both your future vision, where you are now, and the steps to get there.  This seems to be versatile enough to satisfy people who need a structured approach, and is also attractive to people who dislike a structured approach. For this latter category it can be fun to complete all the boxes using images.

To complete your storyboard

Take a large piece of paper and create 6 numbered  boxes as shown.

  • Put your vision image into box 6,  and in box 1 you put a picture to represent where you are now.
  • Brainstorm the gap between where you are now and your future vision. Find other people to work with on this.
  • Turn the ideas coming out if this brainstorm into actions.
  • Put all the actions down on a separate piece of paper and then work out where they fit on the journey from box 1 to box 6.
  • It  is often difficult to take those first steps from box 1 to box 2 . It’s a bit like stepping into treacle and you may get stuck. Working backwards from box 6 can help in this process. so ask yourself, what is the last action I need in place before I achieve my vision.

For people who are less structured, this can remain as a loose journey based upon some big action steps. Drawing them can be fun and inspiring.
If you are a more structured person then you can work with defining each step and adding targets etc to them.  Bullet proofing can be helpful at this stage to check out what can prevent and what can help achievement of the final vision.

This process can be used in many different ways. for example, I have coached people to use it to develop their strategy, or to map out their personal and professional development. It is also very useful as a process withing creative problem solving to pull together the different stages of the process.

I hope this has given you some ideas for working with putting vision into reality. The next step to take is to do exactly that – take some action!

 

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. The use of storyboarding and how it fits into creative problem solving is covered in this book.

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How to be creative – learning from creative writing

I hear many people make statements like, ‘I am not creative’. Well, I believe we are all capable of being creative. This blog offers a overview of how to be creative, tapping into my learning from creative writing.

To be creative, we need to allow our imagination to be free to roam wherever it will, and not be censured by our logical, rational mind. In this way our ideas can flourish and not be shut down prematurely.

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

This can be very difficult, however it is worth pursuing if we want to develop our creativity.  In creative problem-solving workshops we work on suspending this critical mind by introducing tools and techniques that allow the intuition in. Image based techniques  fall into this category.

When we work with word-based tools, we can often revert to a logical rational mode which censors ideas.  It’s only at the evaluative stage that we start to consider the appropriateness of our ideas and apply some logical thinking to them.

As someone who has always encouraged imagery to express ideas, it seems a contradiction in terms to talk about creative writing. However let me show you what I have learned from creative writing that can be applied more generally to creativity.

Some guidance on ways in which you can encourage ideas to flourish.

  1. Write daily, preferably at a fixed time, and for a similar amount of time. I have made this a ritual in my life, so I write in the morning for at least an hour when I have a coffee. What can you create as a ritual around your writing?
  2. Take a random word or phrase and use this as a starting place to write from, then free-write and see where it takes you. Allow yourself to move into a state of flow.
  3. Observe people  and notice details about them, note them down, then write about them, developing a story around them. Who are they, what were they doing at that place, where do they live etc? If you keep a notebook with you at all times this helps.
  4. Write longhand, and don’t edit as you go along. Editing allows the rational logical mind in.  Perfectionism is the enemy of achievement, so leave the editing as late as possible.
  5. Be happy to write badly, trust to write rubbish. Don’t judge. In time these ramblings will develop into words you can use and develop ideas and projects from.
  6. Incubation works well. When you have written something and have come to a point of closure or stuckness, put it aside and leave it for a day, a week, even a month before looking at it again. You will then see it in a fresh light and will know whether and how to move on. Insights will have occurred in the meantime which can be very helpful.
  7. Don’t be hard on yourself. We are our worst enemies when it comes to self-censure.
  8. Reward yourself for small achievements.

Finally, what are the main points to take from this and apply to creativity in a general sense?

  1. Allow your imagination the freedom to roam. In writing we can do this by using daily writing times, in creativity we can use techniques such as image work. don’t leave room for the censor to enter!
  2. Don’t be afraid to incubate your ideas. Leave them, put them to one side, do other things, then come back to them. This can be for any amount of time. Trust your intuition here.
  3. Allow yourself the freedom to make mistakes.

What would you add to this?

Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached people  in a variety of corporate settings, and 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 published a book on creativity for leaders with Dr. Tracy Stanley, entitled Creativity Cycling .

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The importance of raising energy in a meeting

In January I wrote about icebreakers and their value in setting the scene for an event. Today,  to follow on from this, I will focus on the importance of raising energy in a meeting and how to do it.

Photo by Cathy Mü on Unsplash

What are energisers?

These are exercises, or some form of activity that can be inserted into a workshop or meeting to raise the energy of the group. Coffee can of course serve that purpose, and it works for me in a morning! However, the use of group energisers increases the energy level of the whole group and can inject a sense of fun into any meeting.

When to use energisers?

  • Energisers can be used at the beginning of an activity, or during it when energy is dropping in the room. After lunch is a great time for an energiser.

  • At the beginning of an event an energiser can also work as an icebreaker to create a good environment for the work ahead. For example, if it is a training event encouraging creative thinking, the use an energiser to open up the group and start to develop a creative climate for the event.

  • Mid-way through a project an energiser can be used to re-invigorate the thinking and energy in the group. This can rekindle the enthusiasm and motivation of the group.

  • Longer term projects or programs may warrant more time spent on energizers. This can be at the beginning to create a working climate, and throughout the project when energy is starting to flag. For a lengthy program a longer time can be justified in setting the scene. Here, energisers may be of a different nature.  Outdoor exercises, dance workshops, cookery classes have been examples of energisers I have noted.

    To summarise:

  • Energisers raise energy when it is most needed.

  • Use them to develop a group climate for the success of the event/program.

  • Insert them anywhere into a program or event to reinvigorate it.

  • They may only need a short time to work.

Energising virtual groups

I have offered a couple of  examples of energisers hereHowever we are currently living in a time when group meetings are not encouraged. Therefore it is important to consider how to energise groups who are meeting virtually.

 Many people will be struggling with a loss of energy during these times. Using platforms such as Zoom are good for virtual  meetings however, there is a tendancy to sit rather passively when we are facing a screen. Raising energy at the start of such meetings can make a difference to the climate of the meeting and ensure it is more productive.

So how do you do this?

I hope that these simple guidelines may help.

  • To raise energy people need to be physically active. This is more difficult sitting in front of a screen but not impossible. Ask participants to stretch, to stand, do some gentle exercise before the meeting gets underway properly.

  • To enable everyone to participate, ensure that each person gets a chance to contribute early on. Prepare in advance and ask them to send in or have  something ready to share.

  • For example, ask each person  to send in a photo of themselves as a baby – put these up anonymously and ask participants to decide which one belongs to which participant. You could also use first car, a first pet or favourite song etc.

  • You could ask each person in turn  to state two truths and a lie and ask everyone else  to decide which is the lie.

Use your imagination here , prepare ahead, and then limit discussion  to two minutes per person.

Create an atmosphere of fun if the meeting warrants it. For training, or creative/innovation working groups then it would. However, for other more serious meetings  then use an exercise which is a little more serious. Remember the aim is to encourage sharing and for everyone to raise their energy early on in the meeting.

What  have you used to energise a virtual meeting?

 

Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached people  in a variety of corporate settings, and 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 published a book on creativity for leaders with Dr. Tracy Stanley, entitled Creativity Cycling .

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Creative Problem Solving when working alone

We are living in extraordinary times, and it is even more important not to shut down our minds to new ideas. When we do, we often leap into solutions for our problems. Creative problem solving (CPS) is an approach which encourages fresh and open thinking. However, with more of us living in a confined situation, due to COVID 19, how do we work on CPS techniques when we are working alone?

One approach is to use technology to set up virtual meetings and I am sure that many are doing this. However, we can work successfully alone in a creative mode. There are many possibilities in the technology field for working alone, such as this mind mapping software.

However, working with a screen all day can be counterproductive. Often, we have our best ideas when doing something away from our desks such as going for a walk, taking a break, even while we sleep. It helps to prepare our minds to allow ideas to incubate while we are doing other things.

So how do we prepare our minds?

I propse here to lead you through an approach to the three-stage process on creative problem solving whilst working alone. You can of course try any of these techniques on their own.

Stage 1: understanding the problem

In the same way as we prepare in group problem solving, we can use techniques to explore the problem. I favour using imagery for this and suggest you draw the problem as a rich picture or put together a collage to represent the problem. This is an activity you can do  alone. You can virtually share this with others if possible as it helps to get  reflections and  perspectives around the problem..

After working visually you can then pull all the elements of the problem together using mind mapping or a fishbone diagram.

Stage 2: Exploring solutions

When we understand what the problem is, then we can brainstorm ideas to resolve it. This is also something we can do on our own, even though input from others is so much better.

Other techniques you could try include using metaphor as a prompt for new ideas. Find a random image from magasines or photos you find online,  and ask yourself, in which way is this image like your problem. Note what comes up. don’t search for anything spexiific, it is imporatnt that the mage you choose is a random one.

At this stage you could select your best solution and move onto stage 3 or collect your ideas together into a storyboard.

Stage 3: implementing the solution

At this stage of the CPS you start with some bullet proofing to see if your ideas are viable. Some techniques you can do on your own might include drawing up a help/hinder diagram or a force field analysis. Both identify the forces that would work in favour of any ideas being implemented and those that would work against.

A fun approach to try on your own is the Disney strategy. Although this is normally done with others.  Place three chairs in a triangle ,  marking each one  to represent one of the three roles, Dreamer, Realist or Critic.  Then spend a short time in each position making the case for the idea you are bullet proofing. Note the arguments that would be made in each position, and on the next round adjust your ideas to take these into account.

When this is finished, after  three or four rounds, collect any insights or changes you have made to your ideas and start to build your action plan.

If you have used the storyboard then this becomes your action plan and you can add in more detail as the plan takes shape.

You can find all of these techniques and more in the book, Creativity cycling that I co-authored with Tracy Stanley.

Stay safe, stay creative.

 

Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached people  in a variety of corporate settings, and 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 published a book on creativity for leaders with Dr. Tracy Stanley, entitled Creativity Cycling .

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The Dangers of Groupthink

Groupthink is a collective mindset which can develop within cohesive groups.

So what are the dangers of groupthink?

Photo by Margarida CSilva on Unsplash

It results in a group view being established and decisions being taken without assumptions being checked. This can happen for many reasons; a lack of diversity in the group can result in a common mindset but also a conformity of thinking through fear or desire to fit in. This can lead to the group and individuals within it ignoring facts and opinions when these counter the groups’ views. The result is often poor and even disastrous decision making.

Irving Janis studied political decisions taken by cohesive committees in America and developed this framework for recognising the symptoms of groupthink.

The Symptoms of Groupthink

Janis (1982) identified eight different symptoms that indicate groupthink:

  1. Illusions of invulnerability – this can result in members of the group being over optimistic and can lead to higher risk-taking.
  2. Illusions of morality – this can lead members to believe that as moral people they are unlikely to make bad decisions.
  3. Collective Rationalization – prevents members from reconsidering their beliefs and causes them to ignore warning signs.
  4. Shared Stereotypes – lead members of the in-group to ignore or even demonize out-group members who may oppose or challenge the groups’ ideas.
  5. Self-censorship – causes people who might have doubts to hide their fears or misgivings.
  6. Direct Pressure – to others to conform ensures that those who question the group are seen as disloyal or traitorous.
  7. Illusions of unanimity – lead members to believe that everyone agrees and feels the same way.
  8. Mind-guards – leads to members screening out disconfirming information.

Recently I came across a quote from a former head of the UK civil service, Sir Jeremy Heywood, when he was giving evidence into the Iraq war to UK members of parliament. He asked them ‘do you have a culture in which senior officials, ministers and external experts feel it is possible to offer an alternative view to the prevailing wisdom so to avoid groupthink?’

This seems to me to be the crucial question to ask of any organisation or team. However, it rarely is, and it seems that groupthink is often encouraged at the highest levels. Who dare question the emperor’s new clothes?

So, how do groups become so cohesive that they develop groupthink?

  • Groups develop shared norms as they become cohesive and from this a group mindset can develop.
  • A lack of diversity within group membership results in a lack of challenge to assumptions. Often members of an organisation are chosen because they are similar to those already there. We can see this for example in the dominance of white males in positions of power in the western world.
  • Socialisation of new members of a group ensures that a new person to the group conforms to the prevailing mindset.
  • Powerful leadership can result in groupthink when followers become fearful to challenge.

There are numerous examples of groupthink leading to organisations taking bad decisions, particularly in the area of strategy development. One example frequently quoted is when Marks and Spencer expanded into Europe, then had to withdraw some years later having suffered losses. Very many political decisions have resulted from groupthink. This can be seen today in actions currently being taken around the world.

Who amomgst us has not, at some stage in our careers, sat in a meeting listening to a discussion and agreement on a topic while thinking that this is not good, but failed to challenge the decision?

What can you do to avoid groupthink?

  1. Ensure there is diversity in the group. Stereotyping develops when the group is from the same background. Recruit for a diversity in thinking. Invite outsiders in if the group is too similar in nature.
  2. Allow space for individual thinking and encourage all to share their ideas.
  3. Establish ground rules of openness and challenge within groups. Build in processes such as regular action reviews where lessons can be learned from actions taken.
  4. Encourage the use of creative techniques which encourage seeing something from a different perspective.

What other actions would you recommend?

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 published a book on creativity for leaders with Dr. Tracy Stanley, entitled Creativity Cycling .

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What are icebreakers and why are they important?

 

What are Icebreakers?

I am sure that many of you, like me, will have had that sinking feeling as we enter a new meeting. Especially when we don’t know anyone. However confident we are, it’s a difficult time.

 a goup sharing information
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This is  when facilitators can really help to ensure their meetings get off to a good start by using appropriate icebreakers. These are exercises that enable people to get to know one another and feel more comfortable.  They help to break down the natural barriers we put up between ourselves and others.

How do Icebreakers help?

  1. At a basic level they enable people to start to get to know one another and learn other participants  names.
  1. To learn more about the other participants – this may be appropriate when names are already known but little else.
  1. To enable everyone to speak and therefore make an early contribution. It has been shown that when participants have contributed verbally to a meeting or workshop early, they become more comfortable in later contributions. The opposite is also true.
  1. To start to feel a bit more comfortable in the room – this follows on from the last point. Who amongst us has never had the feeling of discomfort first time they enter a new group? A positive icebreaker can really help this feeling to disappear.
  1. To build trust; the more we share with others about ourselves, and others share with us, the more trust we build up.
  1. To establish a climate for the meeting/workshop etc. This goes beyond the simpler introductions. An icebreaker can be introduced which starts to create a positive atmosphere and in the case of creativity facilitation, a playful fun climate.

In choosing an icebreaker you will need to consider the above points and determine which is the most appropriate purpose for your icebreaker.

Examples of Icebreakers

There are a range of icebreakers that can be used and here I will offer a few examples to suit different purposes.

At a basic level, Self-Introductions, that is that each person in turn introduces themselves, may be enough. However,  these are often uncomfortable for the first few participants. How much do we say, what do we say? We are often rehearsing this while we should be listening to others.

An alternative approach which I favour, is to ask people to Interview one another. Working in pairs, or threes depending upon numbers, each person interviews another and then introduces that other person to the whole group.  Give a small number of questions that could be used, for example, name, occupation, hobbies, and keep the timing tight.

A more energising and fun icebreaker focusing on names only would be a name game. For example:

Ask participants to stand or sit in a circle and introduce themselves using only their name and an adjective to describe themselves using the first letter of their name. For example, I would say my name, Barbara and use an adjective beginning with B to describe me. So, I might start with bubbly Barbara. The next person, say Tom, then says something like trusting Tom, however he also has to say bubbly Barbara first. Then it goes on – the third person may say I am super Sarah, after saying bubbly Barbara, trusting Tom….

You can probably imagine that this soon descends into laughter and relaxes participants who invariably forget the earlier names!

If  more sharing is needed to build trust, you need to use an icebreaker that will enable each person to share more information about themselves.  A fun icebreaker for doing this would be what I call Two Truths and a lie.

For this exercise, ask everyone to think of three things to say about themselves, two of which are the truth and one is a lie. After a short while, each participant in turn states the three things, and after each contribution other participants try to identify the lie. This serves the purpose of sharing and can raise the energy in the group creating a playful climate.

A simpler alternative icebreaker where people already know each other would be for each member of the team to share in turn one thing that no-one else knows about them.

I have also experienced and facilitated more elaborate icebreakers which can take up to a couple of hours and can be justified when the program the group will be following is a long one. Examples have included tango dancing lessons, cookery lessons, and outdoor training exercises.

Finally, it is important to keep the timing tight with icebreakers, particularly with short training sessions or meetings. Make it an appropriate amount of time and manage this well.

What are your favourite icebreakers? It would be great to share on this topic.

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 published a book on creativity for leaders with Dr. Tracy Stanley, entitled Creativity Cycling .

 

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Habits and how to change them

What are habits?

Habits are behaviours we perform almost automatically. They are not  usually something we have to spend any time thinking about, we just do them, for example cleaning our teeth regularly.  Bad habits can become destructive, and these kinds of habits require our attention if we are to live healthy and fulfilling lives. An example of a bad habit could be the way we automatically open the fridge when we return home, looking for comfort food or drink to ease the stress of the day.

This applies equally in our working lives as much as our personal lives. I have written before about the habit of responding ‘yes, but’ to new suggestions and this is an example of an habitual response we can get into.

It is important to reflect upon the habits we have developed, the consequences of these  and review those we want to change.

Continue reading “Habits and how to change them”

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Creativity and age- the evidence

The myths of creativity and age

There are a lot of myths around concerning creativity and age. Not least the myth that older people are stuck in their ways and that this is a barrier to creativity.age and creativity

Creativity is a wide-ranging word and can be defined in many ways. We often use it to refer to the arts. However, creative behaviour at work can enhance the performance of individuals, teams and organisations. Creativity can mean different things to different people. Csikszentmihalyi says the recognition that something is creative is often reliant on the field in which this creativity is displayed. Whether or not the idea or product is accepted. Generally, creativity is defined by a range of characteristics, which normally include newness and appropriateness.

Continue reading “Creativity and age- the evidence”

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Testing Ideas with the Disney Strategy

When working with the three stage creative problem solving (CPS) process, the third stage is to test possible solutions before they are put into practice.

As with the previous stages, this stage requires both a divergent and convergent phase. In the divergent phase, one of my favourite tools to use is the Disney Strategy  to do the testing.

This can be a fun way of looking at the factors that can help or hinder the implementation of a solution. It’s based upon Walt Disney’s way of working, and developed into a tool by Robert Dilts, one of the founders of Neuro-Linguistic Programming.

It simulates the kind of feedback that could be encountered when a solution is put into practice. So, it unearths the barriers there may be to implementation. It then offers a process for reflecting on how these can be overcome.  This process can be a very valuable way of testing any ideas before presenting them to wider audience. It’s a kind of bullet-proofing.

Continue reading “Testing Ideas with the Disney Strategy”

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Better Brainstorming and how to achieve it

Last month I wrote about stage 1 of the creative problem solving process (CPS). Today’s post is about the second stage, exploring options to resolve the problem.

The first part of this stage 2 is to open up to all possible approaches to resolving the problem. There are many techniques which you can use to do this, and a lot of them are based upon brainstorming.

Brainstorming is something that is much abused and  I want to share with you ways in which you can improve it.

Brainstorming

Let’s start with your experience. I am certain that you will have experienced that time when someone has suggested that you all brainstorm a topic. It might be, for example, ideas for the next marketing campaign, or ways of handling customer feedback.

So, it goes something like this –‘lets brainstorm’ -then you all get together and throw a few ideas out. One of the ideas gets picked up and a discussion follows. During this process you may not have noticed that one of the more introverted members of the team is very quiet. At the end of the 15 minutes allocated, you have a direction to move on, however is it the best? and have all members of the team felt that they have been heard? I would bet that the answer is no these questions.

Continue reading “Better Brainstorming and how to achieve it”

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