The most powerful animating force of art and creativity

The most significant animating force of great art, Dillard argues1, is the artist’s willingness to hold nothing back and to create, always, with an unflappable generosity of spirit:

One of the few things I know about writing is this: Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Don’t hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now.

The very impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water.

Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful; it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.

I say the same goes for knowledge workers.


 

 

  1. https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/03/28/annie-dillard-writing-the-abundance/ []

The strength of weak ties

Perhaps you do this already with your team: you take the first few minutes of a meeting to check in, sometimes as a group and sometimes in random pairs or trios in breakout rooms. Just a few minutes to chitchat – about anything but work, like what would happen randomly at the office.

Well, Zapier, a company that helps its clients create automation workflows, is doing something similar but company-wide. They

try to make serendipitous, face-to-face interaction happen on a routine basis. We use a Slack app called Donut, which pairs everyone who signs up with a random coworker and helps schedule a video call. There are no rules to these conversations—people talk about where they live, their hobbies, or (if they want) work. These interactions don’t replace the serendipity of an office, but they can go a long way.

The topic of work is going to come up when you’re talking with random coworkers, because it’s the one thing you for sure have in common.

And there are benefits: these random conversations can lead to solutions, they connect people who might otherwise never talk, and it allows for what Mark Granovetter calls “the strength of weak ties”.

 


The content of this post was originally posted in the September 2020 issue of my newsletter. “On management and strategy” is a free, monthly newsletter in which I share my own writing as well as links to articles and research on management, leadership, and strategy. It’s easy to subscribe… and unsubscribe.

 

 

 

 

 

Creativity: it’s about exploration v. exploitation

Meta-analysis of the research on creativity by Francesca Gino in the Harvard Business Review. The whole three-article series is good. Here’s a sample: Five ways in which managers can bolster creativity:

  1.  Hire for curiosity;
  2. Model inquisitiveness;
  3. Emphasize learning goals;
  4. Let employees explore and broaden their interests; and
  5. Have “Why?” “What if…?” and “How might we…?” days.

Not convinced?

She identifies two tendencies that restrain managers from encouraging curiosity:

  1. They have the wrong mindset about exploration, often thinking that letting employees follow their curiosity will lead to a costly mess; and
  2. They seek efficiency to the detriment of exploration.

It’s the old exploitation-exploration dilemma. James March’s paper is a classic on this. Knut Haanaes provides great examples in this TEDtalk.

 


From the September 2020 issue of my newsletter. “On management and strategy” is a free, monthly newsletter in which I share my own writing as well as links to articles and research on management, leadership, and strategy. It’s easy to subscribe… and unsubscribe.

 

 

 

 

 

A lesson from jazz legend Miles Davis

Loose improvisation is integral to jazz, but we all know Miles Davis as a very exacting character. He could be mean, demanding, abrasive, cranky, hypercritical, and we might conclude, given these personal qualities, and the consistent excellence of his playing, that he was a perfectionist who couldn’t tolerate screw ups. [Herbie] Hancock gives us a very different impression, telling the tale of a “hot night” in Stuttgart, when the music was “tight, it was powerful, it was innovative, and fun.”

Making what anyone would reasonably call a mistake in the middle of one of Davis’ solos—hitting a noticeably wrong chord—Hancock reacted as most of us would, with dismay. “Miles paused for a second,” he says, “and then he played some notes that made my chord right… Miles was able to turn something that was wrong into something that was right.” Still, Hancock was so upset, he couldn’t play for about a minute, paralyzed by his own ideas about “right” and “wrong” notes.

[Says Hancock:] What I realize now is that Miles didn’t hear it as a mistake. He heard it as something that happened. As an event. And so that was part of the reality of what was happening at that moment. And he dealt with it…. Since he didn’t hear it as a mistake, he thought it was his responsibility to find something that fit.

Hancock drew a musical lesson from the moment, yes, and he also drew a larger life lesson about growth, which requires, he says, “a mind that’s open enough… to be able to experience situations as they are and turn them into medicine… take whatever situation you have and make something constructive happen with it.”

(…)

What matters, Davis is quoted as saying, is how we respond to what’s happening around us: “When you hit a wrong note, it’s the next note that you play that determines if it’s good or bad.” Or, as he put it more simply and non-dualistically, “Do not fear mistakes. There are none.”

Source: Open Culture

 

 

Discovered in translation

A translator, being obliged by the nature of his task to attend to every single successive phrase of his author, however plain the meaning may seem, and to consider the intelligibility of what he renders to the uninitiated, sometimes discovers points of real difficulty which have escaped even the most thorough commentators, or arrives at fresh solutions of old problems. (source)

Not only in formal translation but also when living in multiple languages. It sometimes helps to think of a situation in a different language.

 

See also: Discovery is not finding new lands, it’s something else

Want to Be a Leader? Keep a Journal.

 

Research has documented that outstanding leaders take time to reflect. Their success depends on the ability to access their unique perspective and bring it to their decisions and sense-making every day.

Extraordinary leadership is rooted in several capabilities: seeing before others see, understanding before others understand, and acting before others act. A leader’s unique perspective is an important source of creativity and competitive advantage. But the reality is that most of us live such fast-paced, frenzied lives that we fail to leave time to actually listen to ourselves.

Gaining access to your own insight isn’t difficult; you simply need to commit to reflecting on a daily basis. Based on research (my own and others’) and many years of work with global business leaders as a consultant and international management professor, I recommend the simple act of regularly writing in a journal.

 

 

The medium is the massage: on doing the same expecting a different result

James Shelley on his blog:

Put a group of people in a room. Give them a whiteboard, pens, and markers. Ask them to develop an idea.

Put the same group of people in another room. Give them pipe cleaners, Play-Doh, a stage, a guitar, and LEGO. Ask them to develop an idea.

How different will the ideas be that emerge from the two different rooms?

In other words: How do the tools we use determine what we come up with?… or whether we engage at all.

It’s a question worth asking – in addition to location, time and venue.

Perhaps our people fail to come up with new solutions or ideas because we always ask them for those novel ideas in the same meeting, in the same place, in the same manner, and using the same tools.

More here.

p.s. The tile of the post is not a typo 🙂

Discovery is not finding new lands, it’s something else

“The real act of discovery,” wrote Marcel Proust, “consists not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes.” The trick is to cultivate what George Carlin called “vuja dé”: a strange sense of unfamiliarity in the familiar, thereby revealing opportunities or solutions you hadn’t previously noticed.

But the question is: How? Manipulating the world we see through our mental lenses comes naturally to us. Seeing and manipulating the lenses themselves, on the other hand, feels much tougher: It’s like trying to explain the concept of water to fish. But Colum McCann’s eight-point-font trick points the way: Frequently, the way out of stuckness is to defamiliarize yourself with what you’re working on by shifting your perspective.

One simple technique is to put physical distance between yourself and the problem. Research suggests that people rate an idea as more creative when it’s described as having originated in some far-away country, perhaps because they picture it, in their mind’s eye, as “off in the distance,” so that only its most important features stand out. By contrast, when it’s pictured as being close at hand, they’re more likely to get bogged down in irrelevant details, or nitpicking objections. Maybe that’s why it always seems like you get your best ideas on airplanes, or hiking in Glacier National Park: Your challenges seem far off, so the basic contours of a solution to your problem, or the next step for your project, stand out.

If hopping on a plane isn’t an option right now, try simulating temporal distance instead: That’s the message of the timeworn advice to imagine the eulogy at your own funeral. Looking back at your life from this imagined future perspective, it’s suddenly far easier to see what really matters, which battles are worth fighting, and how you’ll be proud (or ashamed) to say you spent your time.

Alternatively, externalize your thoughts by writing them down in a journal. The point isn’t necessarily that you’ll have an instant breakthrough, but that by relating to your thinking in this “third-person” way, you’ll loosen the grip of the old assumptions, seeing your thoughts afresh, and creating potential for new insights.Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter exactly how you choose to deliver a jolt to your unseen assumptions and fixed perspectives. What really counts, when you’re faced with a challenge, is remembering that it’s even an option.

Read more at 99u

Whither the proverbial box out of which we think?

I am back from facilitating a workshop with a group of managers. One of the topics we discussed and worked on is out-of-the-box thinking; in other words, thinking differently about the work we do, about managing, and about the way we think.

In a side conversation one of the participants shared the following: “I’ll be more enthusiastic about encouraging thinking outside the box when there’s evidence of any thinking going on inside it”.

Hard to disagree.