Don’t Let Your Team’s Creativity Croak



Film: The Princess and the Frog

Release Date: December 11, 2009

Scenario: Tiana and Naveen, both humans who are now frogs thanks to Dr. Facilier’s voodoo curse, find themselves stranded far from New Orleands in the bayous of Louisiana.  It is here that they meet Louis, a jazz trumpet-playing alligator with big teeth, a big personality, and an even bigger dream of playing jazz music with a band and an audience.  He tells them that Mama Odie, the Voodoo Queen of the Bayou, should be able to help them return to their human forms.  However, he only overcomes his fear of going to the deepest, darkest part of the bayou when Naveen slyly puts the idea in his head to ask Mama Odie to make him human, too.  The trio set off down the river with Louis acting as their raft, and the gator and Naveen begin to fantasize about what their lives will be like once they’re human.  Tiana finds herself having to clear obstacles from their path and steer them away from other obstructions as the others are too engrossed in their daydreams to pay attention.

Leadership Lesson: While teams brainstorm, dream, and tinker, we as leaders should clear the path and steer the course.

As leaders, we should strive to create an environment where creative thinking is encouraged, if not expected.  There will always be opportunities where we need fresh ideas for improvements to existing policies and/or processes, or we need innovative thinking for new campaigns, products, etc.  These are times where we need to act as a spark to ignite a flame of inspiration in our teams, then step back and let the fireworks begin.  It’s at this point that we put on our captain’s hat and take the wheel of the ship to steer everyone in the proper direction, keeping an eye out for pitfalls or rocks that others may not see.

This may sound a little crazy to some of us.  How can we just let creativity happen?  Shouldn’t there be order and structure?  The answer is: not really.  All of that comes after the idea has been discovered.  The fewer limits there are, the greater the potential is for more ideas to choose from.  The only rules needed at this stage are: 1) all ideas must be shared and none held back, 2) no criticizing of other people’s ideas, and 3) everyone must contribute.

As captain of this visionary vessel, we must follow these rules and keep everyone else accountable to them as well.  Therefore, we must both contribute and encourage others to do the same.  However, we have the added responsibility to ensure we are all plotting the same course.  It usually doesn’t take long for the conversation to veer toward subjects that are off-topic, and we have to course correct.  How we go about doing this can either add wind to the sails or sink the ship very quickly.  Rather than simply ending a conversation because it’s not relevant to the current subject, we can instead acknowledge the diversion as a valid point and make a note to discuss it at a later time.  This gives affirmation to our team that their ideas are important and valuable, but also shows that we are keeping our primary goal in mind.

The killer of creativity is a single word: “No.”  It not only stops the flow of the idea being rejected, it also causes every individual to consider and question their idea before they will share it.  This is the antithesis of free-flowing thought and sharing.  A much better way to approach far-fetched or seemingly impossible ideas would be to respond with a “Yes, if…” statement.  I recently read about this in Martin A Sklar’s section of The Imagineering Workout from Disney Editions.  It was used by his friend Harrison (Buzz) Price when working directly with Walt Disney, who loved the positivity and continued openness that this phrase creates.  Rather than negating an idea, it shows what would be necessary to make it plausible.  For instance, let’s say we are brainstorming with our team about how to reward employees for having perfect attendance during our busy season.  Maria proposes to make everyone with perfect attendance during that time period eligible for a drawing for a new car.  We know in our minds that there is no way that we would be able to convince our higher-ups to go along with this, but we need to keep things positive and open.  So, we respond with, “Yes, if we can find $30k-worth of savings from somewhere else in our budget to purchase the car, that would certainly be a great incentive.”

If we are building and shaping our teams correctly, they will be capable of extraordinary things.  The guidance we provide will simply enhance and expedite what our incredible people are already capable of, and our encouragement will keep the flame of confidence and engagement burning bright in each one of them.



“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

-Antoine de Saint-Exupery


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