Casting light or casting shadows

I’d like to encourage you to take a minute to consider how you deal with “light”.

In our business world, life giving light can come from a variety of sources. Fellow employees may voice their thanks or approval. Customers we serve might acknowledge the benefit they’ve received. Partners we work alongside might show their appreciation for assistance. And with the advent of social networks, these light giving moments can arrive as “likes”, “downloads” and reuse of thoughts or ideas.

How do you deal with this light? And how do you impact the light others receive?

When you see someone’s work is being acknowledged, do you amplify it by adding your own approval and making sure your network is aware? When someone’s efforts have assisted you, do you make sure they know that you are aware of their efforts and thank them publicly? If so, you are casting light.

People who cast light are those that make sure their own accomplishments and recognition doesn’t get in the way of those around them. It’s not wrong for you to strive to work in such a way as to attract light. That is what is expected of you as a valued contributor and leader. So when you are put in the light…great! You deserve to be there. But just as hard as you work to be in the light, you should strive to make sure others are getting the light they deserve.

I’ve been and continue to be blessed by being around very smart and creative people. A day doesn’t go by that I’m not reminded that there are plenty of people around me that have knowledge I can benefit from learning or skills that can enhance our combined efforts. They comprehend numbers better. They have better contacts. They are more organized than me (not hard). They are better communicators. These people have gifts and aptitudes that surpass what I can do alone.

Recent studies have shown how much individuals value “being appreciated”. At IBM we have an annual award that is given to those who make significant contributions. In the past, I suppose the recipients were notified via email and maybe their manager would let their peers know about the recognition. Our new CEO, Ginni Rometty practiced a light casting approach. Using our internal social network, she posted a personal message on each recipient’s profile board…where everyone could see. I’m sure if you asked the individuals involved, they would tell you how much that meant. Light has a warming effect.

IBM also practices casting light through a program called “Blue Thanks”. With a single click, we can call out someone for their contribution. The “thanks” is automatically sent to the recipient and their manager. More importantly, programs like this help remind us to cast light. Light can spread.

I’m not a fan of undeserved praise, so I’m not suggesting that you just go around “spreading sunshine”. But I’ll wager that if you took a minute, you could think of a handful of people who probably could use a little light shed on their work and contributions. Find a way to do that. Be creative. Surprise someone.

And if you are someone who is always in the light…check out your shadow. There are no doubt a number of people who have helped you get into the light you are enjoying. Share the light with them. Show sincere appreciation for their work. Put them in front of you when you can. And you’ll both benefit from the experience.

And if you’re someone who doesn’t care about those in your shadow, you probably aren’t reading this anyway.

When you work with your hands, you don’t turn your mind off

I had the pleasure of taking some time away from work last week. Our Atlanta home has a front porch that needed some repairs, so I spent the week rebuilding it. I love working with wood and seeing the results.

But while I was working, my mind was busy. Often it was contemplating something about the job at hand…a new way to do something. I had to install a number of pickets on the handrail that surrounds the porch. Centering each one individually would have been very time consuming, so I designed and built a “jig” to help me align each one in a matter of seconds. This 5 minute investment paid off in saving an hour or more of work.

So you’re asking yourself, “What does this have to do with social business?”

In June, I was asked to do a one-hour live TV interview for Hyde Park, a news show in Prague. The questions during the show would come, not from the host, but from the viewing audience via social tools. The topic was around “creative thinking” but anything was fair game. (A link is provided to the recording, but be warned, it is in Czech)

Here is one of the interesting questions that came in through Facebook:

John King: What advice would you give the post-communist Czech society? As the use of human intellectual potential in a country where people for generations were taught that only strenuous physical work eventually is fair, and where success is considered a crime?

My response was validated in my work last week: “When you work with your hands, you don’t turn your mind off.”

I know many companies who are looking at how social business can impact their people who use computers and technology in their workplace. Often they even go so far as to categorize these people as their “knowledge workers”. Having worked in a manufacturing organization and having worked in physically demanding jobs, I can assure you that many of the most “knowledgeable” workers have little exposure to a keyboard and personal computer. Yet their ideas and creative thinking may be overlooked in social business projects.

This is one reason I’m so proud of IBM Connections and the way it allows social business to reach into everyday business applications. I know of one of our customers who have encouraged their production line workers to capture “best practices”…not with a keyboard, but with their cell phone cameras. If they think of a better way to do something, they can simply record the procedure and upload it to their social system…making it instantly available for others to see and possibly set forward an improvement in the entire manufacturing process. The “jig” I made last week saved me time over the course of installing 50 pickets. But what if every week I installed pickets and we had crews installing pickets? The savings of one small “idea” could be incredible.

So I ask you, when you are considering the impact of social business, don’t overlook anyone. Look for ways to leverage the ideas of your entire organization. We are all creative!

It’s often not what you know, but who you know that counts

I’ve mentioned this in the past, but today it happened again.

I travel quite a bit and enjoy being socially connected to a lot of very smart people. One such gentleman in Sweden posted a question to me on my Profile Board (part of IBM Connections). Today, I’m in the US and there is a 6 hour time difference…so his post came in at 3:27am my local time. I was traveling this morning and saw his question at 9:30am. I also saw that it was already answered by one of the other “smart” people in my network…an coworker from Denmark. Interesting as well, he asked in English…she answered in Swedish and provided a link to the materials he was seeking.

He got his question answered before I even was aware that he had asked. She provided a great service by providing the answer (which I would have had to look for…albeit quite easy in our social system).

The beauty of this is the power of an “open conversation”. It’s like we were at a coffee house and he asked me while I’m sitting at a table with all my “smart” friends. I may not know the question, but it’s likely someone at that table would know. If IBM wasn’t a social business, he would have sent me an email (or voice mail)…I would not have known of the question until 6 hours later…then I would have done the research and if it meant finding someone who did know…I’d start sending emails and leaving voice mails until I found the answer…to finally get back to him. You know the drill…you do it all the time.

Instead, he asked the question…maybe even knowing that I didn’t know, but knowing that I knew someone who would know. And if he just asked in our open conversation setting, someone “smart” would answer…and she did!

Being around smart people is great. Having open access to their creativity and brilliance is even better. One of my co-workers once told me, “I love working for IBM, because we are a social business and I can be as smart as anyone else…just 5 minutes later.”

Be creative…get social…share your ideas and knowledge! There are questions out there to which you are the answer. It would be a shame to waste “you”.

Where are the creatives? Look in the mirror.

I’ve been giving a session called “Where Ideas Come From: Developing and Maintaining a Creative Culture”. During one of my sessions last week I realized that I was missing something very important.

I’ve been asking people about “the creatives” in their organization…what are they like…where to find them…how to get their ideas. I was projecting an image that creatives are a special kind of person. I know better. I was WRONG in my approach.

We are ALL creative. People are born creative. As Picasso stated, “We are all born artists. The challenge is to remain an artist as we grow up.” When you are looking for “creatives” in your organization, you should start by looking in the mirror.

When I ask crowds to give me words that describe “creative people”, I get “innovative”, “risk taking”, “colorful”, and at my last session I got “messy”. Creative people can be all those things. They are observant, they are connected, they are not afraid to fail so they experiment freely. They try new things and don’t settle for the “norm”. Now…does that describe you?

If not, why not. Let me ask you to think back to when you were a child. Were you more “innovative, risk taking, colorful and yes…messy”? So you have the ability to be creative. Revert back to the kid in you. Get yourself a box of Crayola crayons (You’re an adult now and can probably afford the big box of 64 with the built in sharpener). Color yourself back to your childhood…and your creative self.

“If our people have an idea”

I was recently visiting a company where I was discussing social business with one of their executives. As is often the case, I like to have conversations that help me gauge the company’s culture. Whenever I go to visit a company, I start looking for clues from the moment we drive up to their building. Their signage for their business, their posters or messages being displayed on the monitors in their lobby, and a great source is their literature available for their visitors. I usually find their latest yearly report and look at the themes and executive messages.

Quite often these reports will state how they are “a people oriented company” that “values the individual employee and customer”. When I speak to the executives, I sometimes start the conversation by telling them I am glad they are people focused and I would like to know what they are doing to engage and leverage their employees and customers.

In my recent visit, I asked some of these questions and received the following response. “If our people have a new idea, we have a process for them to submit it.” This one statement told me quite a lot about this person’s perspective if not the perspective of the company.

First, “IF our people have a new idea”…If? really? It should have been “when”. People are creative beings. If I respect that, I will expect them to have ideas – not be surprised when they do.

Second, “we have a PROCESS”. If you want to take the wind out of the sails of a creative person, just introduce a “process”. Processes aren’t bad, but they infer a “one size fits all” approach to any action. They make the idea become part of a transaction.

Which brings me to “for them to SUBMIT it”. Just drop your idea into the process and then wait to see what happens. You submit payments, you submit actions to workflows, you don’t submit ideas. You share ideas.

I appreciate hearing statements like this because it give me a good starting place. It’s better than “We don’t have any way for people to give us feedback.”

I want company executives be able to say “We encourage our employees and customers to share their ideas by providing a social business network that’s available to them anywhere at anytime.” When you commit to a social business culture, your attitude and expectations change. Then you win!

Why CreativityCrisis?

We are in a time when our educational systems have failed to prepare our children with the skills they will need…the skills we currently need…in our corporations today.

In meeting rooms and cubicles throughout America, we have a deficit of individuals who are passionate about creative thinking and are not satisfied with the status quo.

We are formed to be creative. Just look at any child and how they play.
There are no boundaries to what they can do and no obstacles to their imagination. They aren’t worried about making mistakes because they are too focused on creating something remarkable and fun.

I plan to use this website to promote ideas and concepts that will help
to break through our creativity crisis.

Thank you for your interest and I look forward to working with you.