Tag Archives: Creative

Is Originality Overrated? The Race for Second Place

In the quest for competitive advantages, we often strive to find the novel idea that will set us apart, thus propelling us to the top of the food chain. While this is a worthy endeavor, is success bequeathed upon innovators? Internality it may feel rewarding to create something new, but is originality actually rewarded?

Last week, Facebook announced a new function, Facebook Camera. This “innovative” feature will allow users to post photos and videos that disappear after 24 hours. Users will also have the ability to add filters and fun overlays to the pics. If this sounds familiar, it may be because Facebook introduced something similar on Facebook Messenger (Messenger Day), WhatsApp (Status), and Instagram (Stories), not to mention there’s another social networking site, Snapchat, which does exactly what these four Facebook-owned products do. In fact, Mike Murray, a reporter at Quartz, points out that Facebook’s five most recent product announcements are eerily similar to designs from other companies.

  • Facebook Camera = Snapchat
  • “Live location” in Messenger = “Sharing your location” in Apple’s Messages
  • Reactions and Mentions in Messenger = Reactions and @-mentions on Slack
  • Streaming videogames live = Twitch
  • Messenger Day = Snapchat

We can judge Facebook for repackaging past ideas, but considering they have two billion monthly users and generated $9 billion in revenue last quarter, maybe we need to judge ourselves for being so reliant on uniqueness. Just look at the movie industry.

Movie studios have grown resistant to new concepts that require a large investment. Instead, they are opting for sequels, remakes, and reboots that already have brand recognition. Why gamble with unknown actors playing unknown characters in an unknown story when you can develop a live action Beauty and the Beast, a re-imagined Spider-Man, or a continuation of Pitch Perfect (all of which I intend to see).

The plethora of movie sequels clogging the multiplex can make you feel as though your life were stuck on spin cycle. But if the movies don’t change, we do, and that’s a blessing.—Joshua David Stein

It’s a simple sales theory: Selling something original is much more difficult than selling something that’s familiar. Different, in itself, is not a selling point. People need to be able to relate what you are peddling to what they already know; otherwise you are in the defensive position of convincing, not promoting.

As much as we need new ideas, in Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christensen makes note that the “new and exciting” companies that disrupt their industry are founded by ex-employees of the “traditional” companies. These individuals did not attain success by creating something from scratch; their “originality” emerged from the idea that they could do it better, not brand new. They did the groundwork at the previous company—experiencing the necessary trial and error, thought experiments, and systems planning—and were able to implement in the new environment.

We all want to be innovators, and I’m not suggesting we abandon this endeavor. However, innovation does not require re-invention. There is something to be said for not consistently creating the wheel. It’s why we study best practices and scrutinize over our competition’s lessons learned. Plus, it lowers risk and is cheaper than paying for mistakes. Let others discover the potholes; we can follow their lead, enhance it, and make it our own.

In the end, there may be self-satisfaction in saying we thought of it first, but think of how self-satisfied you can feel by thinking of it second while enjoying the riches of victory? After all, you are trying to lead your team to long-term success, not win a first-place ribbon.

Are You Weird Enough? Three Ways to Stand Out

This article was originally published on lifehack.org.

On the infinite list of traits that make people successful leaders, there’s one that is too often overlooked—being weird. Why do we disregard the power that comes from being different? It is time to embrace what makes us weird and incorporate it into our lives.

To be labeled a weirdo should be synonymous with being an innovator, a thought leader, an entrepreneur. It is weird to see something and think, “I can make that better.” It is weird to contemplate a solution for a plan that seems to be working just fine. It is weird to speak out against popular opinion with a new, contradictory idea. These are not things “normal” people do.

To make weird a part of our company culture, it helps to specify what we’re talking about. Being weird is not about bucking the norm simply for the sake of being different or seeking attention. Anyone can wear unusual clothes or ironically play a kazoo. In fact, if you start any initiative with the thought, “Yeah, this is gonna be weird,” then you are missing the point.

I never set out to be weird. It was always other people who called me weird.—Frank Zappa

The intent of embracing your weirdness is to unleash the unconventional thoughts you are already having. We all have an inner drive to accomplish goals that are daring and innovative and progressive. However embracing your weirdness is more than feeling this inner drive; it involves putting action behind your thoughts. If you’re ready to take on this challenge, here are three practices to get you started:

#1 Acknowledge that you have issues

I had a mentor who started meetings with each person stating their “issues.” This lighthearted exercise was intended to break down social barriers and generate social cohesion. When I was asked this in my first week on the job, I said that I don’t have issues. The room laughed knowing that we all have issues.

These issues are the individual quirks that make us different. It can include something as simple as your predilection for starting every day singing a Neil Diamond song or your ability to quote every line from The Big Lebowski or that you’ve watched so much Walking Dead you create an emergency exit strategy whenever entering a room… or maybe that’s just me.

Where’s your will to be weird?—Jim Morrison

The point is that we must own our weirdness before we have leverage it. Admittedly, this can be an uncomfortable exercise—it’s engrained in us since childhood that weirdness is a bad thing. Just keep reminding yourself that people who blend it, do not stand out.

#2 Stop being boring

If this sounds too easy, that’s because it is. You can actively will yourself into being weirder simply by making the effort to be more interesting. A few suggestions:

  • watch less TV, or at least watch a greater variety of shows
  • do not list “checking your social media” as a hobby
  • try different restaurants
  • engage in substantive conversations, and do not talk about the weather… ever!
  • create a bucket list of things to do, new skills to learn, and places to go
  • stray from mainstream media
  • engage in one remarkable activity every weekend (or at least every month)
  • stop expecting to be entertained by others
  • and stop expecting others to do all talking

It’s good as an artist to always remember to see things in a new, weird way.—Tim Burton

#3 Be the CWO (Chief Weird Officer)

Once you’ve embraced your weirdness, it’s time to strengthen it throughout your organization. Leaders must make an exerted effort to structure their team in a way that nurtures the weird so people can more fully reveal and utilize their talents. This includes fostering a work environment that negates the social stigmas that stifle offbeat creativity. Where imperfection is not just allowed, but encouraged as a means of development and learning. Where sameness is not tolerated. Where speaking up is incentivized, even when they’re wrong.

To bring out the weirdness, leaders can also help those on their team find their niche. In her book Stand Out, esteemed strategy consultant Dorie Clark discussed the need to be recognized as an authority or expert through a strong professional reputation. This can happen by expanding your focus, but more often weirdness is tapped by “niching down” or narrowing focus on a topic. If the leader exposes team members to a plethora of opportunities to learn and grow, they can find their niche and “weird out” on it.

I always encourage young people who ask me for advice to be themselves. Whatever is weird about you, whatever weird thing you do to crack up your siblings, that other people at school maybe say, ‘Man, you’re weird,’ that’s the most valuable thing you have. Because if you try to homogenize yourself and act like other people on television or other people in the audition room, then you’re taking away your weirdness.—Nick Offerman

Being weird means putting yourself out there. This involves a degree of vulnerability and a willingness to take on risk. “Normal” people stifle these insecurities; that’s what makes them normal. But those who embrace their weirdness are eager to break through the “we’ve always done it that way” mindset. It may feel lonely at times, but it is ultimately more fulfilling and leads to bigger results. As they say, “Go weird or go home.”

James Corden and the Three Ways to Be a Larger-Than-Life Leader

james-cordenWhen people think about the “ultimate leader,” there is a tendency to consider the larger-than-life individuals who invigorate a room with their charisma, omnipotence, and swagger. While these people exist, they are extremely uncommon. Many managers try to emulate these characteristics only to find that they are unable to sustain the energy required to constantly be “on.” That’s why I like the distinction made by James Corden.

In a recent interview with James Corden, the Tony award winning host of The Late Late Show, he discussed his theory that there are two categories of actors. As he describes it:

There are two types of actors—aliens and humans. And neither is better. Genuinely, there is no better. We just watch them in different ways. So your aliens are Daniel Day Lewis, Mark Rylance, Ray Fiennes where you look and say, ‘I don’t know how they are doing that, that’s amazing.’ You look at them on a pedestal and go, ‘this is astonishing to me. I don’t know how they are doing that.’ And then there are actors where whoever they are playing and whatever they’re doing, are representing us, the audience. Philip Seymour Hoffman is a great example of someone who is astonishing and amazing and yet finds a humanity which is always representing you.

You can watch Mark Rylance or Benedict Cumberbatch playing Hamlet and then you can watch one of my favorite actors in the world, Simon Russell Beale, with the text and one you are watching saying, ‘I don’t know how this is happening’ and the other you’re going, ‘whoa, that’s me up there.’

Aliens and humans. That is how we classify ourselves. In the leadership realm, aliens include such luminary favorites as tech maven Elon Musk, sports legend Phil Jackson, media icon Oprah Winfrey, and entrepreneur extraordinaire Mark Cuban. The rest of us are humans.

There is nothing wrong with being a human. As Corden said, these are the people who we can see in ourselves. There may not be much hero worship, but their draw is in their relatability. “Human” leaders inspire because they can connect on a personal level. They are less intimidating, more approachable, and more replicable.

There are plenty of humans who would like to become aliens. Unfortunately, the ways aliens practice leadership are aspirational, yet ultimately unattainable. There’s no harm in trying (depending on your level of authenticity), however a more realistic goal is to incorporate their habits in a seamless, natural manner that matches your style and the culture of your organization. Try a few of these tips:

Aliens are vision-oriented. An alien leader is renowned for their focus in a particular area. They have a clear, uncompromising vision and use it to set expectations for their team. With this understanding, employees are largely empowered to complete initiatives on their own. The leader remains involved to the degree needed and, so long as the vision remains intact, they can cede control knowing that the direction of the organization is in good hands.

Aliens innovate. Those who have risen to the alien-level of leadership did so by transcending the status quo. They are obsessed with finding new, inventive solutions and surround themselves with self-motivated people who are also willing to take bold risks.

To be more alien, you must increase your team’s threshold for taking chances. While your inner monologue may be conservative, to build a culture of creativity, others need to feel free to take calculated risks without fear of reprisal. To demonstrate how to fail, admit your failed attempts, including what you learned and how you will avoid making the mistakes next time. When someone else fails, use it as an opportunity to laud their risk taking. And, if you are feeling especially generous, incentivize failed attempts to motivate others to make their own ambitious attempts.

Aliens are involved. Whether they are interacting with employees, investors, or vendors, alien leaders are engaged and hands-on. They seek chances to network and are committed to learn as much as they can from others. Aliens also prioritize development opportunities where they can coach, mentor, and provide feedback. They handpick protégés and remain acutely aware of their responsibilities, challenges, and progress.

Attaining an alien’s level of involvement is a practice that all leaders (humans included) can easily grasp. Carve out time in each day to remain connected. Regular contact with employees positions you to be in-tune with the culture, the personalities, and the quality of work. You will also be more aware of the decisions being made and you’ll be able to enforce accountability in real time.

If you are torn between whether you’re an alien or human, just assume you fall in the later camp. After all, an alien is probably too removed to even consider this question. Once this reality sets in, it’s time to elevate the leadership of your mere humanness through alien-approved best practices. Set your vision, embrace innovation, and get involved. This may feel foreign at first, but by creating these preconditions for trust (a great term from HBR’s Sydney Finkelstein), you never know who will look to you as an alien.

“What About Bob” Wiley on Taking Calculated Risks

what about bob boatThe following is from guest writer Ed Russo.

My 11 year old son has been begging me to rent a paddleboard, so earlier this summer we decided to rent one for 24 hours on Lake Winnipesaukee. After being on the paddleboard for about 6 hours on day one, my son started planning how he was going to use it the following day before the 11:30am return time.

Somehow he convinced me to set an alarm, never considered during vacation, and be on the lake by 8:00am. The alarm sounded. He popped up looking for his swim trunks.

I through squinty eyes asked, “is it raining out?”

Son: “No.”

Me: “My phone app says chance of storms is 50%.”

Son: “No.”

Me: “Its only 64 degrees. We’re going to freeze.”

Son: “No.”

Jake PaddleboardHe kept shaking me off like a major league baseball pitcher who only wants to throw fastballs. At 8:03am we were successfully on the placid lake. We paddleboarded for nearly 3 hours and had a blast. We would have missed out if he listened to me.

In addition to being my family’s summer vacation spot, Lake Winnipesaukee is the scene of the 1991 comedy classic What About Bob? where Bob Wiley (played by Bill Murray) is paralyzed by his fears, including a fear of elevators, germs, heights, his bladder exploding, and the possibility of contracting Tourette’s syndrome. Being a good leader includes mitigating risk, but by channeling our inner Bob Wiley, have we implemented too many safeguards?

As leaders and project managers our approach to risk can have a negative affect on our performance. The spectrum of risk ranges from: 1) likely to avoid taking risks when possible, to 2) open to taking calculated risks, to 3) being excited by taking high levels of risk. Where along the scale would you describe yourself? What is best for successful management?

Being able to take calculated risks enables project managers to respond quickly to the changing business environment, and this improves the chances of project success. – Managing Projects within Organizations (PMBOK® Guide Fifth Edition)

Being innovative and willing to take calculated risks allows leaders to manage changes as projects develop. Finding creative solutions is critical to a successful outcome. Managers need to create flexible responses to unexpected changes, even when it involves some amount of risk.

Who was the real leader in the paddleboard scenario? As the parent, I was in the leadership role with the leadership title but I kept trying to sabotage my son’s project plan. It never felt cold. It didn’t rain. None of my imaginary fake roadblocks transpired.

At the turning point of the movie, Bob Wiley is invited by his therapist’s daughter to take a ride on a sailboat. He immediately says no and his lips numb with fear because he has never been on a boat before. He triumphantly overcomes his fear and, after being tied to the mast of the boat, declares himself a sailor. So the challenge this week is to tie yourself to something you have bristled at and take a calculated risk. What do you have to lose?

________

Ed Russo is the Program Manager for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Mr. Russo works with educators, law enforcement, community leaders, and government officials to implement child safety resources into schools and communities across the country. Through presentations and trainings, Mr. Russo provides participants with information about how safety resources can help prevent the victimization of children. Prior to joining the Center he was a Human Resources Manager in a Florida County Clerk’s Office and has over 18 years of teaching experience. Mr. Russo is a graduate of the University of Rhode Island with a BS degree in Education.

Mr. Russo can be contacted through Twitter and LinkedIn.

Kimmy Schmidt on the Ten Ways to Foster a Culture of Flow

kimmy-schmidt bannerDo you have any of those annoying colleagues who dare to be consistent beacons of optimism? Whether it is a pre-coffee Monday morning or a post-lunch Friday afternoon, these individuals persistently seek new challenges and strive for self-development. I call them annoying because they push me to be better, even when I’m content with my current state of mediocrity. They are, what comedy fans may consider to be, a Kimmy Schmidt.

Kimmy Schmidt is the lead character in the Netflix series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. The premise of the show is that Kimmy is saved from an underground bunker where she’d been held for 15 years by a cult leader who convinced her that the world had come to a nuclear end. We follow Kimmy as she re-acclimates to society with Pollyannaish positivity and a fierce determination to succeed.

Life beats you up, Titus. It doesn’t matter if you got tooken by a cult or you’ve been rejected over and over again at auditions. You can either curl up in a ball and die, or you can stand up and say we’re different. We’re the strong ones, and you can’t break us.—Kimmy Schmidt

People with Kimmy’s personality are internally driven by their sense of purpose and curiosity. They focus on tasks (versus rewards), finding the opportunity to build skills as the ultimate goal. In psychological terms, the “Kimmys” are considered to have autotelic traits; in the workplace, a team full of Kimmys is considered to be the perfect culture.

An advantage of autotelics/Kimmys is their ability to get into a state of flow, that feeling of being completely involved in what you are doing. As described in a TEDTalk by Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, when you are fully captivated in an activity you don’t have enough attention left over to be distracted by gratuitous chatter. It is as if you are entering a state of euphoria where nothing else exists. There is a feeling of inner clarity, confidence that the task is attainable, and a loss of worries and concerns.

Not surprisingly, Csikszentmihalyi’s research has found that those who frequently experience flow are happier, more innovative, participate in more employee development, and have higher productivity. So for leaders, the question becomes how to generate workplace conditions where autotelics can flow. Here are ten things you can do:

  • Set well-defined goals
  • Provide clear and immediate feedback
  • Minimize distractions and overscheduling
  • Group teams according to shared interests, rather than ability
  • Introduce creative spatial arrangements—chairs, but no tables—to encourage standing and moving
  • Discourage competition
  • Emphasis the goal, while deemphasizing external rewards
  • Encourage the development of individual interests
  • Diligently battle against apathy and boredom
  • Institute a playground design: Charts for flow graphs, project summaries, brainstorming, results, open topics, etc.

If you are looking for a competitive advantage, it would be beneficial to find ways to increase the number of flow experiences within your organization. More flow will increase the effectiveness of your workplace, enhance team dynamics, and result in a better work product. It is also more constructive than isolating yourself in an underground bunker.