The idea prison

IdeaI was sitting in a marketing class the other night listening to the professor go on and on about innovation and creativity.  It’s a pretty popular topic in most of these classes and, while interesting, it can get a little old to hear about “the next big idea” or the “innovation cycle” for the hundredth time. Then, just as I was about to pull up my ESPN app so I could watch the Cyclone basketball game, he said something that caught my attention and kept it the rest of the night. 

He was sharing a story about the loss of innovation, about those ideas that never see the light of day, the ideas that get hidden, lost, or simply die.

“One of the biggest threats to innovation,” he explained, “is the average person’s fear to share his or her ideas.”  

The lecture continued with the professor introducing the concept of the idea prison. The average person may have a great, world changing, idea but fear keeps those ideas locked inside their head.  We don’t want to share our thoughts because we don’t want our ideas to be critiqued, to be judged, or to be torn apart. Instead of facing criticism we keep them locked up, safe and secure, inside our mind. 

This is why having a network of trusted friends, colleagues, and mentors is an important part to the innovation cycle.  We need that trusted circle so we can share ideas, get outside perspective, and help make our ideas better. Networking is a crucial part of innovation because no idea has ever been good enough to stand on its own. Every major innovation or creative moment takes a team of individuals to analyze, change, and see it through to completion.

The world is a different place than it was yesterday because of people taking the leap and sharing their ideas. Imagine what this world would look like if Henry Ford had kept the idea of the assembly line to himself or if Steve Jobs had decided that the iPhone was just another dumb idea. Don’t keep your ideas in prison. Find a trusted friend to share your thoughts, your dreams, and your world changing ideas with.  Take the criticism and help to make those ideas better.  Who knows, you may have the next ground breaking idea locked in your head right now.  Let it out!

B&W HeadshotDanny Beyer is the Director of Sales and Marketing for Kabel Business Services and author of The Ties that Bind:  Networking with Style. He is also a professional speaker on networking.

The Pygmalion Effect

SculptureWhy does someone who has been transformed through training and on-the-job experiences provided by an organization, choose to leave that organization?  

What can leaders do to help ensure that the individuals they invest in will stay with the organization?  Consider this enchanting and timeless story.

The stakes: The training program expenses.

The characters: Professor Henry Higgins, Colonel Pickering and Eliza Doolittle.

The wager:  A language expert, Professor Henry Higgins, bets Colonel Pickering that he can take a lowly flower girl from the streets of London and pass her off as an elegant young lady of society after an intensive six-month training program.

The tale:  George Bernard Shaw wrote the classic play, Pygmalion, which was the basis for the hit musical, My Fair Lady and the films, Pygmalion and My Fair Lady.

The Pygmalion Effect:  Pygmalion was a sculptor. According to Greek mythology, he fashioned a statue of a beautiful woman. Pygmalion prayed to the gods that the statue be transformed into a real woman. His wish was granted. From this mythical story came what is commonly known as the Pygmalion Effect which states: People can be shaped by others according to how they are treated.

The training program:  Professor Higgins teaches Eliza Doolittle etiquette and protocol, shows her how to make an entrance, dresses her as a fine lady and transforms her cockney accent into cultured English sentences.

The outcome:  Eliza Doolittle, following her extensive training, at a party held at Buckingham Palace, is assumed by all in attendance to be of royal heritage and is the talk of the event. Professor Higgins wins the bet.

The rest of the story:  Although Professor Higgins succeeded in transforming the flower girl, he went right on treating her like a street urchin. Eliza, speaking to Colonel Pickering, said “You know I will always be a flower girl to Professor Higgins because he always treats me as a flower girl. But I will always be a lady to you, because you always treat me like a lady.” 

Eliza’s remarkable insight is something for all leaders to ponder. In our varied roles as leaders, parents, coaches, teachers, mentors and friends, most of us are aware of the power of the Pygmalion Effect and realize that people do indeed respond to how they are treated. To this end, we champion and provide growth opportunities for others. What we frequently forget, however, is that it is also important for us to respond to the growth individuals make and encourage others to do the same. 

If we remind ourselves to change our treatment of others to match the changes they have made, then perhaps, employees will not feel the need to take their new skills to a new environment that is unencumbered by old expectations. Perhaps, they will keep their skills and talents in the place that they grew them. And perhaps, the investments leaders make in employee development will result in even greater returns.

Dismantling the distractions in your work day

Rita Perea is President and CEO of Rita Perea Leadership Consulting Associates, specializing in working with senior leaders to successfully engage employees, lead teams, manage change and balance work and life.

Has this ever happened to you...you get to the end of your work day and wonder if you've achieved anything? Where did the time go?  Maybe you start to think about the projects you didn’t get accomplished and ask yourself why?

Life hacker photo- labeled for reuseChances are that you are being distracted at work. 

It happens to us all in small ways: the bell on your personal cell phone signaling a text message; the little banner which flashes across your computer screen to announce the arrival of a new email; the co-worker who stops by your office to commiserate at length about his inability to work on the new project because he doesn't have enough time.

Taken separately these are all just tiny incidents. We can handle one item and then get back to the task at hand. Together, however, they become a raging river of distractions which take us careening off course and leave us feeling depleted and exhausted. An overload of continuous distractions can cause us to become low performers, which can potentially impact our job negatively.

Let’s look at the story of Sally (of course, not her real name). Sally was an exceptional supervisor managing an award-winning marketing team. She had an open door policy with her team members and would invite anyone to discuss anything with her at anytime.   Sally’s office was like a revolving door- people coming in and going out all day long. 

During the holidays Sally’s children got their own cell phones. Everyday after school the kids would send oodles of text messages to her seeking her attention as a referee in their disputes. Sally began to avoid marketing calls with clients during that “magical” after school time to be available if the children sent a text. This cut Sally’s productivity down substantially. She started to work later and later, which eroded what little work-life balance she had. 

To make matters worse, Sally’s husband also got a new iPhone 6 and began sending emails and text messages to her throughout the day about meaningless dribble such as, “Let’s remember to pick up cat food on Saturday!” The dings, the dongs, the bells and the whistles were distracting not only to Sally but to her team as well. Sally’s unfinished projects were stacking up and she was at the breaking point. Her distractions were insidious. She did not really know why she was being so unproductive, only that she was not the high-performer she once was. 

Fearing that she was going to receive a terrible performance review, Sally wisely sought some advice for this complicated problem. 

Sally’s mentor suggested that she begin to take control of the situation by completing a daily time log. Sally agreed to document which project she was working on every 30 minutes. If she was interrupted, she would log it by noting who interrupted her and what the interruption was about.

Sally kept track of her time and was shocked after reviewing just the first three days. She clearly saw some patterns that needed to be changed. She knew that she had to take action to dismantle her daily distractions and to get her work life back on track again. 

Sally focused on changing several behaviors that made all of the difference in the world: 

  1. Start the day with uninterrupted time.  Sally arrived at work, went into her office, closed the door and started her day by working on one high-priority project for 30 minutes. She did not check her email. She did not check voice messages. Instead she immediately dug into her most pressing project. After 30 minutes of uninterrupted and focused time, she opened her door and emerged, feeling as though she had already accomplished something important for the day.
  2. Build time into the schedule to check and respond to email, voice and text messages. Sally decided that she would check her devices and respond only during three windows of time each day: After her uninterrupted 30 minutes of morning work time; after lunch; and for an hour before she left the office for the day. She also instructed her family to not send text messages or call her during the work day unless it was an emergency. Sally had to remind herself over and over again that she did not have to quickly react to each message she was receiving. She felt comfortable responding within 24 hours. She gave herself permission to take her time and to be purposeful about her responses to other people’s inquiries.
  3. Scheduling team time and one-on-one time with her employees. Sally subtly changed her open door policy to the proactive model of scheduling time each week to speak with people. Of course, Sally will help with problem solving in emergency situations, but if she thinks that a problem can wait she will ask the employee to put it on their “Meeting with Sally” list.
  4. Use Friday afternoons for unfinished business and planning the week ahead.   Sally deliberately schedules time in the office and at her desk on Fridays to finish those projects which can be wrapped up before the weekend. She also finds it useful to review upcoming projects for the week ahead. When Sally leaves the office on Fridays, she knows that she can enjoy her time with her family during the weekend because she left things in a good place at work.  

We all need to be ever-vigilant in minimizing our own work distractions and interruptions to maximize the balance between our personal and our professional lives.

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