All Ideas Are Important Ideas

Are you looking for a new way to generate ideas to solve your problems? Do you have a culture in place that accepts that all ideas are important ideas? Do you think of yourself as a creative person? What about your team?

David Kelley, CEO of legendary design firm IDEO, spoke about the importance of building creative confidence. He relayed a classmate’s experience early on in elementary school, being ridiculed by a peer about the project he was trying to create. As a result, his classmate immediately shut down and quit the project, feeling discouraged about his peer’s opinion. Kelley went on to talk about how we can often “opt-out” of being creative due to this kind of experience – we tell ourselves that we’re not creative, so, therefore, it’s somehow true. He stressed how wrong this is and how important it is for us to understand and realize that we are all naturally creative – we’re not divided into “creatives” and “non-creatives.”

In creative workshops with accounting professionals, I always stress the need to think about more than just facts. Accountants are very facts-oriented people. The challenge is to get them to see more to their profession than just the facts and figures. Many of them feel just as Kelley described, that they somehow aren’t cut out to be creative or that they aren’t capable.

However, the important thing for all of us in technical professions and a few other professions that are generally considered “not creative” is to realize that – indeed, we are creative! Creativity is, simply put, your ability to generate ideas.  And we all certainly do that, and the more, the better!  So, remember, your involvement in the creative process is just as real and just as important as anyone else’s.

IMPROV BEYOND THE STAGE

Business schools across America have taken note of the importance of idea generation and creative thinking in the business world. For the past several years, programs have started offering courses that help students not only learn ways to promote freer thinking and brainstorming, but to adopt principles of improvisation in order to facilitate this creativity. One of the most powerful principles of improv is found in the practice of the “yes, and…” approach.

Bob Kulhan, an influential promoter of getting improvisation into business schools across America, summed up the idea of “yes, and…” in a Slate article, “When they’re collaborating onstage, improv performers never reject one another’s ideas—they say “yes, and” to accept and build upon each new contribution.” “It’s a total philosophy of creativity,” says Holly Mandel, founder of the performance school Improvolution and its corporate-targeted offshoot Imergence. “Yes, and” creates; while ‘no’ stops the flow.

It’s this “yes, and…” principle of improv that gets ideas churning up and out of people’s heads. This is not only applicable for others, but for ourselves as well. We are often our own harshest critic – a critic that is quick to dismiss our ideas as ‘stupid’.  We need to silence that critic in order for creativity to surface! In reality, there are no stupid ideas – every one of them leads somewhere, and it’s especially important in brainstorming to let all ideas rise. In creativity workshops, I stress the importance that no idea is a bad idea.  All ideas lead to a better idea. Therefore, ALL ideas are important. So, whatever is in your head, let it out!  Even if the inner critic is shouting at you – shout it down and let the idea out! Ideas (good or bad) lead to better ideas. No ideas lead to nothing.

GETTING THOSE IDEAS OUT

Remember, when we are brainstorming ideas, we are looking for quantity not quality. You can’t create and criticize in the same space.  Successful ideation requires divergent thinking, which is a process used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions. Once we have completed the generation of ideas, we then change to convergent thinking. Convergent thinking is where we take those ideas and organize them and take steps to see if we can arrive at the correct solution. In other words, you can now become the critic! 

There are many exercises that you can employ in your brainstorming process. One of my favorites is outrageous opposites.  If you have a problem to solve, step one is to brainstorm traditional approaches in solving the problem.  Step 2 is to brainstorm outrageous ideas in solving the problem.  When you are finished, look at the outrageous ideas and see if there is anything you can expand on.  For example:

Number of participants: 1 – 20

Problem: Recruiting seasoned staff for our company

Traditional approaches: Monster.com adds, Indeed.com ads, hire a headhunter, offer a referral bonus to current staff, etc…

Outrageous approaches: hire a blimp to fly over sporting event, place ads in restrooms, have an open house, create a fun YouTube video about your company, etc…

Review your outrageous approaches and see which ones might actually work for your organization.  There is a regional accounting firm, Withum Smith + Brown, that did fun YouTube videos to help increase the moral in the company.  These were actually so good that seasoned staffed from other accounting firms applied for positions with their firm.  Here is a link to one of those videos https://youtu.be/ZCs7O6cJgiQ.

Another favorite brainstorming exercise is called “Kill the business.” Instead of thinking of ways to grow your business, this is an exercise that focuses on ways to put your company out of business.  Your team is looking at the company’s weaknesses and listing them as a small, medium, or large threat.  Once these weaknesses have been identified and categorized, then answer a couple of questions: 

What did we not think about before that we can see now? 

What could attack us now and how can we quickly eliminate the threat?

Which one is the most important weaknesses that we must fix? 

This is an eye-opening exercise that will uncover opportunities that you may not have discovered using conventional thinking.  

There are a number of resources where you can find brainstorming exercises.  Here are a couple:

  • SmartStorming: The Game-Changing Process for Generating Bigger, Better Ideas. By Keith Harmeyer and Mitchell Rigie. 
  • Improvisation for the Theater, Third Edition, Viola Spolin (these exercises can be debriefed from a business perspective).

IMPLEMENTING A CREATIVE WORKPLACE

In the end, the workplace needs leaders that inspire and encourage the expression of creativity. John Dragoon, CMO of Novell was quoted in Forbes saying, “Truly creative leaders invite disruptive innovation, encourage others to drop outdated approaches and take balanced risks. They are openminded and inventive in expanding their management and communication styles, particularly to engage with a new generation of employees, partners and customers.”

This doesn’t happen overnight, but if the leadership encourages the generation of ideas, some of them are bound to produce impressive results. Not all the ideas are going to work, no matter how much product testing and field work a company conducts. Some ideas will go nowhere, but if you have no ideas, you certainly will go nowhere.

When it comes to creativity and generating ideas, all are needed, and all are wanted. While what comes out might be a bit rough, with a little polishing and fine tuning, the result can be quite extraordinary.

If you would like to discuss having me facilitate a brainstorming session for your organization, contact me at peter@petermargaritis.com and in the subject line put “ALL IDEAS ARE IMPORTANT IDEAS.”

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Improvisation is the Fulcrum to Leveraging Your Greatest Asset

Do you know what your greatest asset is as a CEO, CFO, or partner in an accounting firm? If you answered your employees, you would be correct. Leveraging your greatest asset means multiplying the productivity of that resource without a significant input. Each one of your employees can be leveraged by incorporating improvisation to create positive results in a business economy that favors innovation.

Creativity is the Foundation of Innovation

When I hold creativity workshops, the common theme I run into is that people think they have bad ideas. I say, bad ideas lead to good ideas and that having no ideas leads to nothing. In order for creativity to flow, the inner critic inside of all of us has to be silenced. The inner critic is that voice that says you will fail. It is the voice that says they will think your idea is stupid or that, if your suggestion is not used, you are a failure.

When you get a whole office being dictated by a collective force of inner critics, you end up dead in the water because today’s market is based on the current innovation running all around the world.  You get stuck doing the same thing as last year and the year before. It has become a race to see who will meet the shifting needs of the rising generations in both your external and internal customers.

Many times, when we leverage sales, we will upsell or upgrade, throw in a bonus right before the sale. It yields a greater profit. To, leverage the profitability of your employees you are looking for a way to silence their inner critics and release a collective flow of creativity so innovation can lead the way.

Improv Silences the Inner Critic

There are unlimited team building workshops and activities we send our employees on. But most people will attend because they are required and as soon as Monday rolls back around, it is back to counting beans and pushing papers. There was no real connection made between the employees and the events have become more of an excuse to have fun, as a type of paid for bonus rather than applying real team building principles. The inner critics remain alive and creativity dead.

What if you brought in a completely new approach? What if the organizational status is left out of the room when brainstorming ways to innovate the processes and what if everyone’s ideas are respected? What if you began to approach employees using the skills of improv?

The concept of improv is more popular now off stage. Business schools are rapidly adding improvisational acting classes to their curriculum. Kip Kelly is the Director of Marketing and Business Development at UNC Executive Development. He wrote a paper on leadership agility and how to use improvisation to build the critical skills needed in our rapidly evolving business climate. In response to how to develop agile business leaders, he hit the nail on the head. “While knowledge and experience remain critical, it is becoming increasingly important to develop leaders with the ability to deal with ambiguity and change, to lead and foster innovation and creativity, and to make and implement decisions quickly.

The Principle of “Yes, And…” Promotes Creativity

Focus on creating a culture that encourages bad ideas! Better yet, throw out a bad idea on purpose to see what your team does with it. Lead by example. Bad ideas lead to good ideas and though it may be intimidating for a first-year analyst to be tossing ideas around with the CFO, try to start incorporating regular brainstorming sessions.

Their inner critic will probably go crazy. But when that one person speaks up and throws an idea in the hat that doesn’t fit in the budget right now, how you respond will make or break the climate you are trying to cultivate. “Yes, that is a good idea, but… that won’t work right now. Anyone else?” Saying “yes… but…” shuts things down. Listen to the difference when you use the “yes, and…” approach.

Yes, that is a good idea, and I think that is worth looking into more. How can we make this something we can jump on even quicker?” Maybe the event can be scaled down. Maybe it can be planned for in the future. “Yes, and…” is about being agreeable and continuing the conversation. When the conversation is continued, you are promoting an atmosphere of acceptance and possibilities, not one of rejection and defeat.

Every effective leader knows how to leverage their greatest asset. It may be by implementing regular brainstorming sessions, mind mapping, and even bringing in improv educators to improve communication within the workplace. When employees communicate better, get along better, and have a more open line of communication all the way up the chain, productivity goes up because innovation is flowing through a strong current of acceptance. 

Focus on creating a culture that encourages bad ideas. Bad ideas lead to good ideas. No ideas lead to nothing. 

Never a Bad Idea

peter-margaritis_blog_neverbadideaYears ago, a friend and I started a business called The Group Mind. We had some large cards printed with the words “Yes, and” on the outside (you can read more about that improv principle here). When you opened the card, it read:

“There are gems in every idea. Embrace and build. Treat every idea as though it has the potential to change the world and at some point, one will!”

I’ve previously addressed the notion that we need to “dump SALY” which is essentially abandoning the “same as last year” approach to business. With busy season in the not-so-distant future, perhaps it’s time to cultivate creativity in not only yourself, but your team in order to make things more efficient, productive and happier.

How? It all starts with ideas. Ideas indeed have the potential to shake the world. If you want to change things, you have to flex that creative muscle.

But how do you encourage this idea-sharing environment? Especially in a traditionally left-brained profession – how can you make sure the right brain is present? Improv. You need to employ the improv principles I’ve presented until it becomes second nature. The elements of improvisation—trust, support, respect, listen, focus, and adapt, along with “yes, and…”—when working together, will go far to enhance your ability to adapt quickly and appropriately. It’s a matter of attitude, and each day we need to strive to get those pieces in place.

When you choose to embrace and practice improv, it’ll dramatically affect your workplace environment and it will have a contagious result. However, it will take constant practice on your part – to the point where you can’t stop doing it. You will believe in yourself and your abilities, and that confidence will propel you to even greater excellence and encourage others to share and feel comfortable in contributing.

When it comes to understanding and applying improvisation, people sometimes tell me, “this is too simple, Pete.” And the thing is, I agree; it is simple. It’s supposed to be simple. The most powerful concepts are not all that difficult to grasp. You can use improvisation and “yes, and…” to encourage creativity and ideas that will go on to change the world. You can use it to inspire and include others in your workplace, your marriage and family, and all your relationships—it works at all levels.

Allow those in your life – especially your team members this busy season – to benefit from the practiced principles of improv. Consider a team exercise. Sign-up to receive my weekly challenge designed to help you and your team find creative ways to build new habits and improve the way you communicate. Let them enjoy the freedom of sharing ideas that will take your business and relationships to new heights!

Mary Poppins Knew Best

petermargaritis-blog-marypoppinsknewbestWho is going to argue with the wisdom of, “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down?” Certainly not me. Think about it – I’m sure you do some form of this with your children, or dog, if you have either – in order to get them to digest something undesirable, but necessary. You add something sweet to go with it!

I am definitely in favor of taking this advice literally during the undesirable time of year that is busy season. Sweets and snacks made available during the long, endless hours of busy season can certainly go a long way, but so can something else that’s “sweet.” Humor.

Is there anything better than experiencing a really good laugh? It’s one of those sensations that lightens your mood, makes you want more. When something is funny, it feels good – it’s the sweet that can make the medicine of long hours taste a little better. So, why are so many workplaces seemly devoid of humor? The answer definitely depends on your culture and your colleagues. The point is, humor isn’t as common and present as it should be…and stress can be a big reason for that.

I get it; people are feeling tense. It’s a stressful election season, we’re in survival mode with ramped up deadlines, we’re all just trying to get through till quitting time. And let’s be honest, when you’re facing a tough deadline or enduring an impossible task, do you really want to be interrupted with some joker saying, “Hey, did you hear the one about the priest, the rabbi, and Bill Clinton walking into a bar?” Nope. Not the time, not interested. However, humor need not be a stand-up routine – it can be present in how you finish a request in an email, or a brief quip in passing to a colleague in the lunchroom. Perhaps you won’t get a belly-laugh each day at work, but you’ll be a part of lightening the mood and thereby making work more enjoyable for not only you but everyone on your team.

Here are some ideas of how to get your team on board to invite and enjoy a little humor this busy season:

  • Use the internet. Google any number of phrases “busy season laughs,” “accountant humor,” etc. to find funny accountant memes, hashtags, articles, and GIFS to enjoy throughout the season. Let us give thanks to the internet for being able to find stupid, yet funny relatable things for us to laugh about.
  • Schedule office get-togethers – even if brief (30 minutes) and in the break or lunch room. Give people a reason to take a break, interact, and enjoy something different whether it be a treat, reward, or lunch.
  • Keep a positive attitude – it can be contagious.

Busy season doesn’t last forever – but the memories (good ones!) can live on for a long time and, with just the right amount of humor and engagement, it can actually become a time of year your team doesn’t dread.

Start practicing using humor effectively every day by joining my Yes, And Challenge. Share your challenge insights on Twitter with #YesAndChallenge or The Accidental Accountant Facebook Page.

Getting Over SALY – What Next?

blog_getting-over-salyLast month on the blog we talked about breaking up with SALY – doing things the “same as last year.” SALY refers to this notion that we tend to do things the same way we did last year because, in some cases, it’s just the easiest. We get in a rut of doing what we think is easier, or don’t change because we somehow think we’re not supposed to.

As we start creeping up on busy season, it’s time to figure out what comes after deciding to dump SALY. If last year needed to improve, how is that going to happen? Getting better and improving doesn’t necessary mean you have to completely do away with what has been done, but it will require new ideas – which requires creativity – which requires everyone being confident in communicating those new ideas.

A Safe Place To Be Creative

David Kelley, CEO of legendary design firm, IDEO spoke about the importance of building creative confidence. He relayed the experience of a classmate of his early on in elementary school being ridiculed by a peer about the project he was trying to create. As a result, he immediately shut down and quit the project, feeling discouraged about his peer’s opinion. Kelley went on to talk about how we can often “opt out” of being creative due to this kind of experience – we tell ourselves that we’re not creative, so therefore it’s somehow true. He stressed how wrong this is, and how important it is for us to understand and realize that we are all naturally creative – we’re not divided up into “creatives” and “non-creatives.” That is the important thing for us all to realize – especially for those of us in technical professions, who otherwise considered “not creative.” We are in fact creative, and your involvement in the creative process is just as important as anyone else’s. I tend to think of creativity as the generation of ideas; so, the more, the better – especially if you’re going to get over SALY!

Getting Those Ideas Out

I often introduce a technique called mind mapping and clustering to help individuals share ideas. If you have an objective, think about things associated with that objective. Some will be attributes, and some will be details. From a creative perspective, once the mind is able to see the details and attributes, it often will connect the dots in new ways to produce novel associations and ideas.

For example, if your objective is to open a new restaurant, you start by considering some of the details and attributes of what you anticipate you will be doing. What type of food do you want to serve? Do you want to open it in the city or the countryside? Is there a particular theme you want to emphasize? What will be your reputation for service? As you imagine your restaurant, you will be able to list dozens of details, and they will readily cluster into attributes.

You just connect the dots. Whatever your dream, you can quickly create a specific picture from a general concept through this technique of mind mapping. It goes back to associations and the use of the improve principle, “yes, and…” In your brainstorming session, you take two things that may not seem to go together and put them together. That’s the essence of creativity – considering something that perhaps you haven’t considered before.

Implementing a Creative Workplace

In the end, the workplace needs leaders that inspire and encourage the expression of creativity. John Dragoon, CMO of Novell was quoted in Forbes speaking to this saying, “Truly creative leaders invite disruptive innovation, encourage others to drop outdated approaches and take balanced risks. They are open-minded and inventive in expanding their management and communication styles, particularly to engage with a new generation of employees, partners and customers.”

When it comes to creativity and generating ideas, all are needed and all are wanted. While what comes out might be a bit rough, with a little polishing and fine-tuning, the result can be quite extraordinary. Join my Yes, And Challenge to practice communication that fosters creativity and build new habits. Share your challenge insights on Twitter with #YesAndChallenge or The Accidental Accountant Facebook Page.