[Leadership Summit 2011] Creativity & Passion Means – Part 4

Here is the fourth post in my series of answering questions from Clemson’s Leadership Summit 2011, questions surrounding Creativity and Passion. Enjoy!

How have you incorporated creativity into your leadership style? Was it easy? Difficult? What are you still working on in the area of creativity & passion?

First of all, I do not consider myself a great leader. This is not a self-deprecating statement. It is the truth…I am a young professional with a lot to learn. But this is what I have learned about using creativity as a means to lead.

There is a lot of trust involved and you have to paint a great, tangible picture where the light at the end of the tunnel seems reachable. You hear many people talk about how business relationships are built on trust…HELL YES. I would not be where I am today if it was not for trust. But leading with creativity is not a tough idea to embark…it takes a plan. You have to have some sort of rubric in place that guides people through a creative process. Something that allows people to feel grounded in an approach.

John Warner tells a great story about Virginia Uldrick who started the Governor School for the Arts. Here is a school teacher who is teaching finger painting and positions herself on various leadership positions to create this high seminary of learning. In an interview, John Warner asks her how does she attract such fine teachers of ballet and hold them accountable to perform as teachers. Virginia has to answer to the legislature…so how does she hold such creative people accountable to perform. She states that she is an out-of-the-box thinker and John keys in on that statement…asking “What do you mean you are an out of the box thinker.” He wants to know how to harness this creative tension. She states to John…that if these ballet instructors can perform at the highest level…she will build the grandest stage for them to perform. John states…now who would not want to “work” for Virginia? Well…who would not want to work with Virginia, along side the vision of creativity?

*** Image is a Degas Painting from The Painter’s Studio Blog: http://thepainterstudio.blogspot.com/2010/04/my-love-of-ballet.html

Sparks will fly…InnoVenture Southeast 2011

A few years ago, I was chatting with John Warner and he was describing the InnoVenture experience to a group of people. As he described this conversation, this conference, this experience…he explained that “Sparks will fly!” I was wondering what the heck he was talking about…and it was not until today that I fully grasped this statement.

InnoVenture Southeast 2011 Day One…and it all started with watching my friend and client Lonnie Emard of IT-oLogy present in front of close to 200 people. As I sat and listened, more and more folks became recognizable. More and more of my close friends, colleagues, and clients began to walk through the door.

As I was walking around the follow-up conversation in the center of the room, I walked into a conversation of my own. Yes…a colleague from Clemson. This led to a conversation that led to an idea. As we were brainstorming this idea, another friend walked up and joined the conversation. This idea was growing…three minds are better than one. For some reason, something caused us to stop chatting and walk away.

A few minutes later, as I was standing in-front of IT-oLogy’s booth chatting, those two people who were brainstorming with me a few minutes ago walked over and said, “hey, remember what we were talking about…how can we make it happen?” Then it started right back up again. The brainstorming continued and before you know it…we set up a meeting for next steps and action items.

THEN…and only THEN…another friend walked up. I made introductions and after the exchange of business cards, my friend said, “I have an idea.” This sparked a whole new conversation, a whole new set of ideas, a whole new brainstorming session. This session could only happen if the right people are present and the right innovative thinking was in progress. Sparks were flying.

What you do not know, each of these people were decision makers in their organization. They had the ability to use their entrepreneurial spirit and engage in a conversation around a common theme…innovation. These were two conversations that I was a part of during day one of InnoVenture Southeast 2011. Imagine the numerous other conversations happening that led to exchange of ideas, ideas of innovation, contact information, and follow-up emails that night.

I was so excited, so struck by these ideas…I could not wait to get back to the office to send follow-up emails. We were already emailing ideas back and forth…Sparks were flying! Innovation is a funny thing…all it takes, get like minded people together and a open forum of conversation and innovative exchange. I walked away inspired!

Blogging…is truly an entrepreneurial experience!

For many young bloggers and writers, the discovery phase of writing online is so new and confusing. There is a huge perception that what we write is going to be viewed as the gospel, and those comments can negatively impact our message. It is my humble opinion in that discovery phase of writing and blogging, that content is king.

It is important to create a focus for the content; learning how to communicate the message clearly. As bloggers/writers begin to find their niche, writing with a community takes it’s focus. It is this discovery phase that allows our internal engines to see what responses we receive and allow community driven content to naturally take shape. Obviously the joy is that we are using analytics to see where we engage certain audiences.

Here is what concerns me, so many times we read there is a heuristic or model to become a successful blogger/writer. Evverywhere we look, there is the “five steps” for  this or that. To me, blogging is like an entrepreneurial experience.

I have two friends that have very good definitions of entrepreneurship:

  • “Innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship. The act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth.” – John Warner quoting Peter F. Drucker
  • “Entrepreneurship is an activity that involves the discovery, evaluation, and exploitation of opportunities to introduce new goods and services, ways of organizing markets, processes, and raw materials through organizing efforts that previously had not existed.” Sean Williams, Ph.D

If you read these two viewpoints, this to me parallels the blogging world. Bloggers specifically can become innovators with a capacity to create wealth. Bloggers find a need in the market place and focus their writing. This discovery engages that market place.

But…with writing and entrepreneurship, there is not always a clear path to the end and so we have to leverage our communities, and focus on our content. We also have to be passionate about our “product” and write about that passion. Even if the community is going in one direction, we have to be willing to explore new avenues to write about passionately…which engages thought leadership.

I think that there is more than a one stop model for each person in the writing process. Yes, if we a blogging for business…we need focus. But I do think we have look beyond reach, action items, and engagement; and allow ourselves to write in way that allows more of that discovery phase to shine. Writing and blogging can be a place to explore new ideas, new strategies, and empower people to find the voice they never knew they had.

This post was inspired by Mack Collier’s Post: The 3 Critical Content Creation Questions You Must Ask (And Answer!).

My holiday thank you note writing…

So…this holiday season, I have been trying to take the time to write holiday cards. For the past three years, I have been creating a little holiday video that is from me to all my clients, friends, and family. One message to all of these people. Typically I would have about a 85% open rate, and about 90% of those who open would enjoy close to a minute of the video. These stats told me…that this was an impersonal way of saying Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays.

I have had this little bird singing in my head, telling me to do something a bit different. It is something that I remember John Warner saying in the first NetworkBash a few years ago. He was talking to the audience, explaining how after his yearly event called InnoVenture….he would write each person a thankyou note. This note was handwritten. I would bet he probably had a 100% open rate and 100% of those who opened the letter actually read the note. I don’t know about you, but when I receive a hand written thank you note, I read it!

The other day, I received a hand written thank you note from a very important public figure…I was humbled and honored. This busy person took just a few moments out of his busy, public policy day to write me a thank you note! WOW! His written words inspired me this holiday season.

What many people do not know about me is that I love buying cards. I like to find funny, off color cards that make people laugh. Each birthday, I typically buy two or three birthday cards for each person and number them in order for the recipient to open.  I have been known to find a store with good cards and buy them out. I actually made a lady mad in Beaufort for buying all of her funny cards…I think I spend about $150.00 that day. I have a good collection for the perfect moment.

So this Christmas…I went out and bought cards. Funny cards, professional cards, thank you note cards, and generic holiday cards. I sat down and wrote to each person, each client, each friend a personal thank you note. I wrote to each client thanking them for their business and friendship. Some were sent off-color cards, some more professional cards, and some a typical holiday cards. But to each person, I wrote a personal thank you note. I let them know why I wrote and let them know that appreciated their relationship.

It got to be one fun little task. I got through the list of 100+ plus and kept on finding more funny cards, more appropriate cards. So I wrote to more people. It was therapeutic!  I did not write to my close family members because I will be seeing this a lot during this holiday season, but I tried to write to as many people as I could. Some I did not, because I could not track down their address, so I will hand deliver. Some…I am still remembering and writing as fast as I can.

So this holiday season, how are you letting those you care about…know you care? Sometimes a hand written note says a lot…I know it does for me!