Thursday, May 15, 2014

Live from FEI 2014: Michelle James on Creative Leadership from the Inside Out

Author's Intro: One of the best parts of attending Michelle James's presentations is that they are never the same twice. I had a blast at Michelle's sessions at FEI12 and FEI13, and was very excited to see what would come this year. Needless to say, this standing-room only crowd had a really good time!

One of the best parts about doing improv exercises is that they force us to relax and go with the flow, which is an essential component to the freewheeling discussion necessary in idea generation. Over time, the lessons and experiences from these exercises evolve into an integrated mindset in which we become capable of thinking on our feet, being prepared for odd contingencies, and feeling comfortable with ambiguity, all of which keep us open to the many exciting possibilities that can appear in the innovation process.

Thankfully, James had some excellent handholds that supported us through the process of opening our minds, eyes, and hearts to the potential right in front of us:

Experience first, make sense second

I guess in Brooklyn that would be, "Fugeddaboutit," but the bottom line is that not everything needs to make sense right away. As much as it can be uncomfortable to be involved in a process that is unclear and evolving in shape, people can handle that fear if they focus on experiencing whatever is happening in the moment. Just as this holds for the ideation that occurs in an improv game, so too does this hold for the ideation that occurs during innovation endeavors. When people are working together and aiming to maximize both their individual and synergistic potentials, it may take time for the Gestalt to appear as a whole greater than the combination of its components. To handle the frequent need for clarity and closure[1] without getting edgy, the trick is just to be mindful in the moment and appreciate the experience.

Sometimes the best ideas are several iterations out

One of the things that makes waiting so difficult is when it is unclear what we are waiting for! Even when we can experience first and make sense second, it still takes time and effort to go through the give-and-take process of idea generation. Consequently, we want to know that there will be results, and can get impatient with "merely" experiencing and not "arriving." To foster some patience, it is important to remember that the best ideas may require multiple rounds of back-and-forth. Consequently, it is critical to take a long-term strategy to developing any concept or product, and to go with the flow without expecting a fast resolution. Insofar as violated expectations are one of the biggest sources of discomfort, starting with the expectation of a lengthy iterative process will make it easier to go with the flow and just be mindful of the ideation experience.

By engaging with these two pieces of advice, we will be able not just to recognize the brilliance of our colleagues, but to build upon it to make something far greater than either of us could have constructed on our own. As Michelle James showed through the improv exercises, the results can be astounding and utterly delightful!


Orin's Asides
1) See research by Arie Kruglanski.

Orin C. Davis is a positive psychology researcher and organizational consultant who focuses on enabling people to do and be their best.  His consulting work focuses on maximizing human capital and making workplaces great places to work, and his research focuses on self-actualization, flow, creativity, hypnosis, and mentoring. Dr. Davis is the principal investigator of the Quality of Life Laboratory and the Chief Science Officer of Self Spark. (@DrOrinDavis)

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