How to Balance Creativity and Productivity

Creating something seems synonymous to producing something. Yet, the terms creativity and productivity can be very different concepts. If I describe someone as “creative” you probably imagine an artist or a person who generates clever ideas. When I mention a “productive” person, you likely think of someone very different. Perhaps an assembly line worker cranking out widgets, or a paper pusher who can empty their inbox at lightning speed.

The truth is you need to be both of these people. You need to be productive so you can meet deadlines and help your business be profitable. Meanwhile, you also need to be creative in order to generate new ideas, come up with better ways to do your work or find innovative solutions when things don’t go as planned. In the middle of the daily grind, you probably don’t think much about bringing the proper mix of creativity and productivity to your work.

But what is the proper mix of creativity and productivity? Here are 3 signs they are out of balance and how to balance your creativity and productivity.

Creativity-and-Productivity

  1. Too Much Play: Resistance pushes you to the next idea.

    An idea energizes and motivates you. You organize and rally behind it until you start to feel resistance. Energy wains as you realize the challenges of executing your idea. Eventually, you are lured away by another (newer, shinier) idea and the cycle starts over. Constantly chasing new ideas never allows the previous ones to mature.

    In her book Multipliers, Liz Wiseman describes this syndrome:

    Idea Guys are fountains of creativity, and their minds race with non-stop ideas. They may think they’re sparking innovation, but they cause whiplash as people scurry to keep up with each new idea, making minor progress in many directions.

    Signs you are too heavily in the “play” quadrant:

    • You never document processes for your activities because they change so often.
    • You are stretched in many directions, but don’t seem to complete many tasks.
    • You spend a heavy amount of time planning and brainstorming, but lose interest when it’s time to execute.

    How to restore balance:

    • Put new ideas in a “parking lot.” Write them on a dry erase board or add them to a list on your computer. Revisit them after the initial euphoria has worn off to see if they still have merit.
    • Start with the end in mind. Use the initial energy at the beginning of a project to set up milestones. Envision what success will look like and predict how completing the effort will make new opportunities available. This will help you push through the valleys of the project.
    • Use new ideas as motivators to finish your current work. There is an opportunity cost to saying “yes” to new ideas because they can take away from what you’re currently working on. Don’t allow yourself to start working on a new idea until you complete something comparable.
  2. Too Much Routine: Each day looks like the one before.

    You’re so busy executing, you don’t have time to question why you’re doing what you’re doing, let alone if there could be a better way to do it. Established ideas are not challenged and new ideas are not offered up. Because of this, each day seems like you just go through the motions. You stack ’em up, knock ’em down, then stack ’em up again.

    Signs you are too heavily in the “Routine” quadrant:

    • “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” is a common refrain. New team members or business partners are the only ones who offer ideas, and even that is temporary.
    • You’re losing market share to competitors who are more innovative. You keep old-fashioned customers only because of their sense of comfort and loyalty (until it gets too painful for even them).
    • Roles never seem to change. If you have a team, there’s no sign of advancement opportunities.

    How to restore balance:

    • Have more patience with alternatives offered by others. Allow ideas to incubate before shooting them down. (See 10 Signs You’re Shooting Down Good Ideas)
    • Be willing to test new ideas. If you’re scared to put a huge investment into a new product or service, see what you can do to float a trial balloon. Can you create a prototype or beta test with a select group?
    • Shake up routines. Ask team members if they want to do something different or try on a new role. Visit a museum or attend a conference. Visit the bookstore and select a few magazines from other industries, then identify trends and see if you can apply some of them to your business.
  3. Welcome to the morgue: Stagnation

    This is the most dangerous quadrant. You’re not creative and you’re not productive. You’ve practically flatlined. This can happen because of burnout or setbacks, but basically what you’ve been doing no longer works and you’ve now lost all motivation to try anything new.

    Signs you’re in stagnation.

    • It smells like entropy. Without any energy being injected into your business, things have trended toward chaos. Things aren’t well organized nor are they updated. Maintenance is slipping, perhaps non-existent, and appearances have not been kept up. (see The Smell of Entropy for an example)
    • It sounds like apathy. Common phrases are “Who cares?”, “It’s not worth the effort.” or “Nothing’s going to change anyway.”
    • It feels like death. You’ve gone through the stages 1) Denial and Isolation, 2) Anger, 3) Bargaining, 4) Depression and 5) Acceptance. Now all that’s left is to wait for the bank to put the last nail in the coffin.

    How to restore balance:

    In his book, Boundaries for Leaders, Dr. Henry Cloud talks about how to reverse the death spiral of a leader. His points give a good framework for escaping stagnation

    • Create connections. Schedule times to bring your team together and let everyone discuss the current situation and even share some potential solutions. Emphasize a positive tone, but encourage honesty. Share in victories and difficulties.
    • Regain control. Dr. Cloud recommends making a list of things you can’t control that are making business difficult. Spend 5-10 minutes REALLY worrying about them (don’t be in denial). Then stop worrying about them. Make another list of what you can control which can create positive results. Prioritize this list and plan these activities as your primary focus.
    • Take note of the 3 P’s. Realize it’s not Personal (you are not a failure). It’s not Pervasive (not everything is going wrong). It’s not Permanent (don’t lose hope). Dr. Cloud recommends journaling the negative thoughts around the 3 P’s and writing counterarguments to each.
    • Add structure and accountability. Break your workday down into small increments (e.g. 30 minutes each), and specifically plan what to do in that time. “[Writing down objectives] for each thirty minutes of the day helps identify and isolate activities that are particularly endangered due to inaction.”
    • Take the Right Kind of Action with the Right Kind of Accountability. Take action that SPECIFICALLY drives results. Dr. Cloud further states, “The accountability you want is the kind that drives success, not the kind that only measures results and keeps score.” and “Said another way, don’t count the score. Count the behaviors that run up the score.”

At the beginning of this article, I mentioned how creativity and productivity differ. By taking stock of where you are in the grid above, then restoring the balance of creativity and productivity in your business and/or team, you’ll likely discover these two words come together to create a state of flow. This is where creativity and productivity work together, building upon each other in a powerful way. When you’re in a state of flow, ideas help drive activities to completion while measurable progress promotes innovation and inspiration.

StateOfFlow

We need both creativity and productivity to accomplish meaningful work on a consistent basis. Finding this balance may be the difference in discovering your success.

If you have thoughts on creativity and productivity, feel free to leave a comment below or tweet me about it.

How Do You Decide When to Quit?

Knowing when to quit and when to press on can be one of life’s toughest decisions. When things get tough, the tough get going… but do they go straight ahead or in a different direction? When I wanted to quit football in high school, my father taught me a lesson I have never forgotten.

high-school-footballIn preparation for the big homecoming game my sophomore year, our rural Oklahoma football team had ordered new uniforms so we would look our best during the halftime ceremony. Just one problem – there weren’t enough new uniforms for everyone. Junior and senior class players got first selections. Then as one of the coaches was giving sophomores their uniforms, he skipped me (and a couple of other “average” athletes) and gave the remaining uniforms to some of the talented freshmen players.

I was humiliated.

I wasn’t being a fashionista. This was a message to me that the coaches didn’t consider me a valuable contributor, and this message would be on public display to everyone else. The uniforms were so distinct the rest of the team would notice, as would everyone in the stands while we stood in the middle of the field during the homecoming ceremony. I couldn’t imagine being one of the few varsity players wearing a marred and tattered, older-style uniform. I walked up to the coach and said, “I quit.” and walked out of the field house.

Shortly after the game had started, my father wondered why I wasn’t on the field and he came and found me. I explained my reasons for quitting the team. He understood my frustration, but reminded me I had made a commitment to the coaches and my team. He encouraged me to finish out the season before deciding whether to quit, but left the decision up to me.

I knew he was right. After the game, I swallowed my pride and asked the coach if I could return to the team. I finished the season, but never played football after that year. Since I didn’t continue pursuing football, it may seem like rejoining the team was meaningless. But I learned some valuable lessons from my father’s advice.

All of us have been in a place like this – where we don’t feel like a valued contributor, where we don’t sense we are in our element or where we don’t feel fulfilled. Maybe that is where you are today. You have no desire to stay where you are, but quitting can be a scary proposition.

So, how do you decide when to quit? Here are a few tips.

  1. Assess your commitments.

    Did you commit to a timeframe or to specific deliverables? Consider how failing to meet those commitments could impact your employer, your client and/or your reputation. If staying committed is best for everyone involved, push to that finish line. I felt I had committed to completing the football season when I joined the team, so I pushed on. In another example, Heather Dorniden pushed herself to the literal finish line after falling during a 600 meter race. Here are the two inspiring videos: the first video and the second (hat tip to Michael Hyatt‘s great post “Don’t Quit Before the Whistle Blows).

    If I miss a goal, which sometimes happens when you set huge ones, I want the reassurance that I did everything I in my power to make it happen. I want the peace in knowing that it wasn’t for lack of hustling that I missed a target for my dream. I want to know that the one thing under my control was under control.
    Jon Acuff, Quitter: Closing the Gap Between Your Day Job and Your Dream Job

  2. Assess the opportunity to grow.

    That event at homecoming helped me recognize I was only playing football because I thought I was supposed to. Honestly, I didn’t enjoy it and likely would never have been more than a mediocre player. The time I would have spent continuing to play football was instead funneled into creative activities I enjoyed and excelled in, as well as a part-time job.

    Consider whether quitting now improves or limits your capacity to grow. What are the opportunity costs for sticking with it compared to trying something else? Do you have other options you know you can pursue and be excellent in doing?

    Mediocre work is rarely because of a lack of talent and often because of the cul-de-sac. All coping does is waste your time and misdirect your energy. If the best you can do is cope, you’re better off quitting.
    Seth Godin, The Dip

  3. Set a tripwire on your decision.

    There are very few times when you commit to something for life, so most everything we commit to has to end eventually… but when? My father suggested I wait and decide whether to quit after the football season was over. This gave me a specific time to consider my decision. If now isn’t the right time for you to decide, set a tripwire. Do you need to make your decision after fulfilling your commitments, like I did? Maybe you need to prepare yourself for the transition. Practicality may require you to line up another option first. But don’t let these issues cause you to procrastinate. Estimate how long this should take and set a date for your decision. This will give you a specific goal to aim for and will help motivate you to make progress toward that goal.

Quitting isn’t easy, but languishing in mediocrity is no picnic either. By considering your options and making a plan, you can improve your opportunities for success. Finally, don’t feel like quitting makes you a loser. To quote Seth again from The Dip…

Winners quit all the time. They just quit the right stuff at the right time.
Seth Godin, The Dip

I hope these tips help you do exactly that. Quit the right stuff at the right time.

4 Reasons Your Team isn’t Performing

Reasons Your Team Underperforms

Last quarter, your team didn’t reach their goals. You chalked it up to market circumstances or a seasonal anomaly. Halfway through another quarter and things aren’t looking any more optimistic. It’s obvious this is a trend and something has to change.

Before you assume you should restructure bonuses or send folks through training, you should consider different reasons your team isn’t performing. If you assume you know what the problem is, then you’re guessing at the solution. And applying the wrong solution may be worse than doing nothing at all.

So, what could the problem be?

Here are 4 reasons your team isn’t performing:

1.     Lack of knowledge

Either people don’t know what to do, or how to do it (or both). Leadership will often assume this is the problem, because training seems like a simple solution.

Signs you may have a knowledge problem:

  • The same questions are asked by different individuals
  • There is a steep learning curve with every project/undertaking
  • Quality is inconsistent

Knowledge Solutions:

  • Training
  • Quick Reference Guides
  • Mentoring
  • Continuing Education

2.      Lack of structure or process

The steps to get things done in your organization are undocumented and it is unclear who has authority. Consultants will often assume this is the problem, because they have methods to address this.

Signs you may have a structure or process problem:

  • Decisions are often delayed
  • People are doing the same work (redundancy)
  • People step on each others’ toes unintentionally
  • It is difficult to report status of projects/undertakings
  • Quality is inconsistent

Structure and Process Solutions:

  • Organization charts
  • Outlining roles & responsibilities
  • Process maps / flowcharts
  • Decision framework

3.      Lack of Tools and Resources

People are not equipped to do their work. They do not have the hardware, software, people, and/or budgets they need to accomplish their responsibilities. Front line workers and line managers will often assume this is the problem because they see the workload, feel overwhelmed, and don’t feel supported by leadership.

Signs you may have a tools and resources problem:

  • Tools are not evenly distributed and those with proper tools are your highest performers
  • The use of existing hardware or software is a consistent bottleneck (be sure it’s not lack of knowledge)
  • Multiple workers are putting in overtime on a regular basis
  • There is a large area of responsibility within a group for which no individual has the required skills or experience

Tools and Resource Solutions:

  • Assess needs through outlining team goals, roles and responsibilities
  • Research industry best practices on staffing and tools (could be informal questions asked of employees who worked elsewhere)
  • Assess ROI of additional budget for staffing and tools

4.     Lack of Motivation

People have no incentive to perform better. Entrepreneurs will often assume this is the issue, because they believe others share similar motivations to themselves.

Signs you may have a motivation problem:

  • It is unclear what is rewarded and recognized by your organization
  • You have a hard time retaining people who have a healthy sense of competition
  • People complain about expectations and adopt a victim mentality
  • Opportunities are unaddressed

Motivation Solutions:

  • Clearly stating how and why individuals are rewarded (meeting goals, taking good risks, giving extraordinary effort, etc.)
  • Have a system for tracking and reporting performance
  • Give employees honest feedback on their performance (more often than once a year)
  • Be consistent with rewards and recognition

So, when it appears your team is chronically underperforming, take stock in these 4 key areas. By identifying a specific cause, you can define a specific solution and increase your opportunity for successfully reaching (or exceeding) team goals.

What have you done to improve your team’s performance in the past?

I’d love to hear other thoughts and solutions you’ve seen work before. Share your experience by commenting below.

Envision Versus Division: Which Will You Choose?

In your organization, you have a choice. You can envision something bigger than yourself that others can rally together around. Or you can cut things down to size and try to divide, because you’re afraid of hoping for something bigger.

When you have a mindset to envision, you unite people around a common cause. You share in the responsibility and in the credit. You inspire others to “step up to the plate” and challenge themselves. You include people who bring different skills and experiences to the effort. You motivate everyone to achieve something great, and you focus them on what is truly important.

When we divide, we separate people into “us” and “them.” This restricts what we’re able to do, because “we” don’t want “them” to show “us” up. So, things become very political and begin to alienate people from the team and the organization’s goals. This can deflate any energy and determination our teammates had, which makes our whole organization weaker.

Envision-versus-divisionThink about whether you support a culture that ENVISIONS or one that is DIVISIVE.

Why is it so easy for us to lose sight of how counterproductive divisiveness can be in our work environment?

 

 

How to Deal with Your Insecurities

In my previous post, I outlined an approach for dealing with insecure leaders or coworkers. Of course, it’s hard to do this for someone else when your own insecurities are controlling you. So, maybe it’s better to start with our own “stuff.”

Our insecurities can hold us back at work and at home. When we feel threatened or uncertain, we can act out in ways that hurt ourselves and others we care about. We sabotage our own efforts and erode the trust of friends and colleagues. How can we manage our insecurities and avoid destructive behavior?

Some of the same steps I stated before can be helpful. Here’s a quick summary from last week’s article:

Dig Deeper

Know thyself. Understanding your personality through an index like the 9 Domains, the DISC Model or Myers Briggs Personality Types can help you know when you are operating in a stress behavior. (The Birkman Method is another more advanced / thorough tool for the workplace.)

Give Complements

Surround yourself with people who balance out weaknesses and strengths.

Follow Up

Check back on your progress. Without checks and balances, it is easy to fall back into old habits and veer off course.

What else can you do to deal with YOUR insecurities?

  1. Keep a Log
    Notice when you act out in unhealthy ways at work (e.g. avoiding responsibility, blaming others, becoming territorial, procrastinating, claiming someone else’s reward). Next time you do, write yourself a note. Describe what was happening and how you felt. Keep a log of these incidents and look for patterns. Do they occur around deadlines or when work is added to your plate? Maybe it happens when you are confused or when your requirements are not clear.  Some people may exhibit stress behavior when they feel alone, or when they feel others are ganging up against them. (Here’s a list of common causes of workplace stress)
  2. Get a Reality Check
    Once you’ve identified the source of your insecurity, you can ask yourself whether it fits with reality. Do you actually miss deadlines or just worry about it? Is there really no one who will help you with your full plate? Can you not ask for clarity on expectations?Ask a trusted friend or coworker for their perspective. You may be putting unneeded pressure or expectations on yourself. You may discover what you are worried about isn’t even happening. And if it is happening, it may be a self-fulfilling prophecy. By worrying about missing a deadline, you start micromanaging and interrupt other people’s work. They can’t get their work done because of the interruptions and you end up missing your deadline.
  3. Be Patient
    Lifelong habits are hard to break. So don’t expect to “cure” yourself. You will likely fall back into your old routines. The trick is to be aware of yourself and to manage your reactions. Give yourself (and others) the grace to fail, and the courage to try again. This process takes time, but can be more fulfilling if you’re patient with yourself.

Do you know your tendencies? Are you doing anything to manage your insecurities? If you don’t take intentional action, you’re unlikely to improve your behavior and more likely to hamper your own success.

This is not exhaustive and you may have other thoughts or suggestions. Feel free to share your comments below.

How to Deal with an Insecure Leader

Insecure-LeaderYou probably get along with most people in your life. But it probably doesn’t take long to think of someone who challenges you in a negative way and makes your life difficult. These folks don’t just wake up and scheme about making you miserable. It’s more likely they are trying to do what they feel is right, but because of some insecurity they sometimes will exhibit unhealthy behavior – which can affect you.

We all deal with insecurity at different points in our lives and careers. It’s challenging enough to deal with our own “stuff,” but we’re often in an environment that requires us to deal with other people’s insecurities as well. Compound these internal and external factors and you can see why offices, homes and little league baseball can be a breeding ground for drama and conflict.

When reacting to stress or difficulties, your boss or colleague may start acting out from their insecurity. What are some signs of insecurity? 

  1. Pointing fingers at others’ mistakes (even insignificant errors)
  2. Whining and complaining
  3. Taking all the credit
  4. Drawing attention to their plight
  5. Withdrawing from any interaction
  6. Becoming indecisive
  7. Ramping up activity needlessly
  8. Being domineering and/or territorial
  9. Getting stuck or paralyzed

So, how do you deal with an insecure leader (or coworker)?

React

One way is to respond to their actions.

  1. Defend yourself against criticism
  2. Pacify their complaints
  3. Placate to their ego
  4. Rescue them from themselves
  5. Guard the door until they’re ready to face the world again
  6. Make decisions on their behalf
  7. Help them spin their plates
  8. Walk on eggshells
  9. Wait patiently for them to get unstuck

Dig Deeper

Another way to deal with insecure people is to deal with the insecurity itself. Ask why they are acting the way they are. Just be sure to do it in a way that conveys you want to help them, not criticize them. Encourage them to talk to someone (a mentor, a coach, a friend, clergy, etc.) who can give them guidance and peace of mind. Help them see that facing their insecurity is better than letting it control them.

Understanding the differing personalities and their ways of operating is definitely helpful. The lists above follow the 9 Domains, but a basic understanding of the DISC Model or Myers Briggs Personality Types can help you recognize when others are operating out of insecurity or responding to stressors.

Give Complements

These aren’t compliments like, “Nice shirt.” or “Have you lost weight?” I’m talking about finding people who complement each other with different strengths and weaknesses. John Maxwell calls this “Developing a Complementary Friend”.

If your trusted friend also complements your insecurities and helps make up for some of your weaknesses, you’ll be well on your way to overcoming this problem.

Encourage insecure people to collaborate with people who complement them. Point out how they can help one another because of their differing styles. This can help make their differences a positive instead of a negative.

Follow Up

As with most things, making a one-time course correction doesn’t mean you’ll stay on target.  If you have addressed someone’s unhealthy behavior, follow up with them to check on progress. Make observations. Ask a few open-ended questions of colleagues. And ask the insecure individual how they feel it’s going. If they know you are checking back and will hold them accountable, they will be more aware of when they start slipping back into reacting to their insecurities.

Working with others is hardly ever neat and tidy. It can be a messy ordeal, especially when dealing with insecure people. But dig a little deeper, complement strengths and weaknesses, and follow up on progress. By doing this, you may find your workplace can be (in general) a healthier and happier place.