If you want to innovate in your work, you’ll have to do more than simply have bright ideas. At least, that’s according to research by Harvard Business School alum Clayton Christensen, Jeffrey Dyer of Brigham Young University, and Hal Gregersen of INSEAD. From their research, Bruce Upbin gives us the five traits of highly innovative leaders, defining characteristics of leaders like Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs.
- Questioning, which allows innovators to challenge the status quo and consider new possibilities.
- Observing, which helps innovators detect small behavioral details — in the activities of customers, suppliers, and other companies – that suggest new ways of doing things.
- Networking, which permits innovators to gain radically different perspectives from individuals with diverse backgrounds.
- Experimenting, which prompts innovators to relentlessly try out new experiences, take things apart, and test new ideas.
- Associational Thinking, drawing connections between questions, problems, or ideas from unrelated fields, which is triggered by questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting and is the catalyst for creativity.
Read all about the research behind these traits, and catch an exclusive video interview with researchers Dryer and Gregersen, over on Forbes.com.
Sooner or later you will have a difficult conversation with your team. Research shows that 80% of managers believe that difficult conversations are a part of their job. Yet 53% said that they avoid conversations due to a lack of training.
Don’t tell the other person what to do.You’re there to discover what it would take for the person to want the result you want…Once you discover what they want, you can help motivate them to move forward.Put the other person first.Enter the conversation with the purpose of helping the other person discover solutions…If they sense you’re there for yourself alone, they will not engage.Set an emotional intention for the conversation.If you’re angry or disappointed from the beginning, the other person will never open up. What do you want him or her to feel? Inspired? Hopeful? Use this word as an anchor during the conversation.Show authentic respect.Recall the person’s good work and remember that they’re doing their best with that they know how. Even if you disagree with their perspective, honor the human in front of you.
Everyone wants the next big idea, but creative writer Scott Berkun knows the power of small ideas. In his blog post Why Small Ideas Can Matter More Than Big Ideas, he explains you should be more concerned about the application of the idea:
Rather than worrying about the size of an idea, which most people do, it’s more productive to think about the possible leverage an idea has. To do this requires thinking not only about the idea itself, but how it will be used. An idea can have a different amount of leverage depending on where, when and how carefully it is applied.
For example, the McDonald brothers had the simple idea of making their food process repeatable to improve efficiency. Not a big idea in itself, but when applied consistently to their now 35,000 locations, it had a huge result. Alternatively, you can take a small idea from one industry and apply it to another, such as the safety checklist pilots use and apply it to hospital surgeons. So don’t throw out your small idea; it may just need to be utilized differently. Berkun reminds us, “the basic logic we use is the bigger the idea, the bigger the value, but often that’s not true.”
Kat Ascharya, over on 2machines, makes a case for retiring devices and apps when it comes to organizing your schedule and to-do lists. She decided to try out a temporary switch from technological tablet to real notebook, and never changed back:
Using paper brought a surprising amount of joy back to my life. The advantages were practical: having a limited amount of space to write forced me to ruthlessly prioritize tasks. The process of checking my planner every morning created a sense of ritual and structure to my day. And the physical act of writing engaged me more — I remember things better.
A paper planner was unexpectedly fun, too. I would paste or tape interesting articles, images and quotations into my paper planner, turning it into a portable Pinterest-like inspiration board…. That fun and pleasure had a more efficient, effective impact on my life than any multi-platform functionality ever did. Planning and organizing became creative acts in and of themselves.
There are upsides abound for using modern technology to organize your time: it’s faster, more efficient, and more environmentally friendly (although technically, jury’s still out on that one). Technology syncs you up to your colleagues and clients—Outlook calendar invites aren’t going away any time soon. It’s more portable, requires less neatness, and needs no external implement beyond your finger. But there’s something to be said for the simplicity and artistry engendered by a pen-to-paper approach to managing your time and tasks. Many creatives Ascharya spoke with agree, citing the cognitive left-brain static that devices can create.
If it doesn’t work for your professional lifestyle to swap Google Calendar for a spiral-bound planner, consider turning to paper in other areas, like brainstorm sessions or note-taking. It’s better for your memory, leads to deeper thought, and offers less unproductive distraction.
According to a report from the American Psychological Association, 65% of employees report that work is a significant source of stress in their lives and 41% say that they typically feel tense or stressed out during the workday.
While we might be able to successfully recognize the symptoms of burnout, we’re often oblivious to the alternative: a more deeper, obscured type of fatigue that afflicts successful, high-performing creatives. Over time, we can lose our passion for work and our commitment to our organizations, despite appearing composed.
Brownout, a term also used to describe part of the life cycle of a star, is different from burnout because knowledge workers afflicted by it are not in obvious crisis. They seem to be performing fine: putting in massive hours in meetings and calls across time zones, grinding out work while leading or contributing to global teams, and saying all the right things in meetings (though not in side-bar conversations). However, these executives are often operating in a silent state of continual overwhelm, and the predictable consequence is disengagement.
Kibler notes that high performers experiencing burnout exhibit the following signs:
- Feeling drained from continuous, 24/7 obligations.
- Physical deterioration due to years of sub-optimal sleep and self-care.
- Tenuous relationships with immediate family members.
- Distant relationships with old friends.
- The atrophy of personal interests.
- A diminishing ability to concentrate in non-business conversations.
One effect the constant overstimulation of modern media has on our brains is what Leo Babauta calls “Fast Mode.” When you rev up your mind by churning through email, your Twitter stream, Facebook news feed, and back again, your brain is working on overdrive. That million-miles-a-minute pace leads to empty productivity. You’ll cross small tasks off your to do list, sure. But you won’t complete anything meaningful or truly substantive.
Why is that exactly? The limitations of your brain’s Fast Mode lie in the quick pace of thinking and decision making. Consider how quickly you flick through tweets, thumbing down each page, favoriting some, clicking on a link here and there, replying briefly to others. Or email: most of the time you probably plow through your inbox, filing and archiving certain messages, deleting others, dashing off a rapid response to those that require it. Any emails that require more deliberate thought undoubtedly languish longer in your inbox until you can find the spare time to address them. Fast Mode is harmful in its blockage of deeper thought:
Writing or otherwise creating when your brain is in Fast Mode is nearly impossible, until you switch to Slow Mode. You’ll just switch from the writing to some smaller, faster task, or go to distractions. Considering a tough decision long enough to weigh the various factors and make a good decision is also pretty near impossible while you’re in Fast Mode…. You can’t really exercise or meditate in Fast Mode, either, because those take longer than a minute.
Babauta encourages learning to recognize when you’re operating in mental Fast Mode, and pump the brakes to switch gears to Slow Mode:
Being in Fast Mode leads to constant switching, and constant busy-ness. It leads to overwork, because when do you switch it off? It leads to exhaustion, because we never give ourselves breathing room.
Learn to recognize when you’re in Fast Mode, and practice switching to Slow Mode now and then. It’s essential to doing all the things that are really important.
Think about the long-term goals that you’ve set for yourself this year. When you will know that you’ve achieved them? If your answer is “by next year,” you might want to rethink your approach. By waiting for December 31, 2016 to measure your success of your 2015 goals, you’re spreading yourself too thin and giving yourself a tiny margin for failure.
Laura Vanderkam, author of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, proposes breaking down your year-long goals into 90-day chunks:
You may have lots of goals, and that’s a good thing. Giving yourself 90 days means you can focus on a few at a time, knowing that there’s another 90-day period coming up soon. Maybe during the first quarter you focus on launching a new product. Then in the second quarter you focus on finding a new and bigger space. At the end of six months, you’ll have the new product and the bigger space, whereas if you aimed to do both at once, you might get overwhelmed and figure out neither.