Leaders Play! Spark Creativity & Innovation

by Alli Polin on November 6, 2012

leadership play creativity innovationI saw a short post from a colleague today about how having a low point is “never always” a bad thing.  Got me thinking about those two words and when, if ever, they should be used together.  After sitting with it for a while here’s what struck me: Leaders should “never” say “always.  Things change.  There are always more ideas.  There is usually more than one path to get to the final destination.

“Always” keeps leaders firmly planted in the past and it limits possibilities for future.  I’ve watched enough Ted talks about remarkable technology, like Pranav Mistry’s Sixth Sense Technology, to know that “always” thinking slows down innovation.

I’d like to suggest throwing out “never” and “always” and add two new playful phrases to the leadership lexicon:

  1. Let’s paint with that idea
  2. Take out the KerPlunk

Now let’s unpack each one and see how they play in the world at work:

Let’s Paint With That Idea

Do you remember when you were a kid and playing with finger paints?  Frequently, once the picture started to take shape, paints would meet and mix in a gathering of colors and something new would emerge.  Out of the blob of intention, an unintended element came to life.  Sometimes it was a house or a dog but the beauty was that by playing with the focus of the picture, new, unexpected, but welcome additions emerged.

Leaders that “paint with an idea” explore through insightful questions and, along the way, add depth and new colors to concepts.  Ideas start to take new form and have an energy of their own.  Leaders: Instead of quickly judging and green or red lighting an idea, paint with your teams and colleagues! When you’re painting, intention merges with accidental strokes of color, and creates an entirely new picture of what’s possible.

Where can painting take you and your team?  Creativity and innovation invite us to identify and explore new ideas that were previously unseen and bring them to life with energy, passion, and purpose.

Take Out the KerPlunk

The game of KerPlunk is a simple one: Remove sticks from a tube and avoid having all of the marbles fall out of the bottom.

Leaders can “take out the KerPlunk” at work by making each virtual stick a “what if” question.  The truth is that leaders can’t see all aspects of an idea or approach while sitting alone in their office.  Luckily, KerPlunk is not something that you play alone.  Engage the team in “what if” thinking and see together where the marbles fall.  Instead of losing when the marbles flow your way, everyone wins by creatively sharing accountability and responsibility for identifying holes in plans, opportunities and innovation.

Leadership is serious business but by bringing in play and fresh ways of engaging it helps leaders to let go of “always” thinking.  For your teams, an invitation to play at work gives people the space to think and envision without fear of failure or reprimand.  Bottom line? Leaders: Engage with people.  You’ll find that with your team you “always” can accomplish great things together because you’re “never” in it alone.

How do you bring play into your leadership style to spark creativity?

 

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