Have you made your call a gift?

We are in a storytelling workshop. Not just any storytelling, mind you. We are telling stories that move to act. These are stories that aim to make the audience get up and do something. Ayana Johnson, executive director of the Waitt Institute, an NGO for ocean preservation, has just finished her story and we are debriefing it with the audience, when it happens.

An audience member offers a comment that sheds new light on the meaning of a good call to action. He says that the speaker ‘had’ him with her story of wanting to be a marine biologist from the age of five and how, now that she was one, she discovered that the behavior of fish is not the problem for the ocean, it’s the behavior of people.

‘You had me and I felt the urgency,’ he says, ‘and then I was hoping so much you would tell me how I could help. I wanted you to give me something concrete to do. Now I’m left hanging.’

All dressed up with nowhere to go.

When you have done everything else right: connected with the audience, shown them why you are leading this effort, made the challenge and its urgency understandable – then your call to action is a gift to those that resonate with you or your purpose. Give them that gift. The gift of having thought out what minimal effort will have maximum impact. Give your audience the gift of the opportunity of meaningful action.

Many people are reluctant to give the call to action. They associate it with asking rather than giving. Please, please, do this for me. It goes in the direction of begging. That triggers all kind of status issues. Some are too humble to ask, some are too proud. In both cases fear of rejection is at play. By seeing your call as a gift we can bypass those unproductive emotions. And it is more than a mind-trick. There is a real gift to give. Because making your call simple and meaningful is far from easy. As Richard Branson said:

Any fool can make something complicated. It is hard to make something simple.”

Consider the plight of two health researchers, Steve Booth-Butterfield and Bill Reger-Nash, professors at West Virginia University. They are quoted in the Heath brothers’ excellent bookSwitch as looking for ‘ways to persuade people to eat a healthier diet. From past research, they knew that people were more likely to change when the new behavior expected of them was crystal clear, but unfortunately, “eating a healthier diet” was anything but.’

As they were mulling this over and brainstorming approaches, they came across research on milk. They learned that besides being a great source of calcium, ‘milk is also the single largest source of saturated fat in the typical American’s diet. In fact, calculations showed something remarkable: If Americans switched from whole milk to skim or 1% milk, the average diet would immediately attain the USDA recommended levels of saturated fat.’

Their call to action became ‘switch to skimmed milk.’ They ran a two-week campaign in two regions and saw the market share of skimmed milk rise permanently from 18% to 35%. They worked hard to find a call to action that was simple and doable. In a sense, that was their gift to the people of West Virginia. The research and effort that went in to finding the right call to action is what made the difference.

Your call to action may be only 10% of the story you tell to further your cause. But perhaps it deserves 90% of your effort and genius to make it the right one. Remember, any fool can make it complicated or vague.

So what happened next in our workshop? The audience chipped in, considering and proposing options. Someone said that ‘Stop eating shrimp’ was something that Ayana herself had advocated. She smirked and said she hadn’t wanted to bother them with it again. Now we saw it differently, because she had done the rest of the storytelling right and got us all dressed up for a party. Giving the right call to action – simple and concrete -wasn’t bothering us. It was a gift. It was giving us all a party to go to.

Find out more at www.thnk.org

The other side of the stick: How to receive feedback

“Do you think a person can get too much feedback?” – He had come up to me during drinks after a THNK evening session, on one of those nights where there seems to be no barriers to the topic of conservation. He was one of our younger participants, certainly a few years under the average age of 38. What he asked got me thinking. It was also quite touching, especially because of the earnestness with which he asked the question.

Small group work dominates at THNK and group-members are asked to give each other feedback regularly. This is a multi-edged sword: it can enhance observation and communication skills, help people gain insights into the effect of their behavioral choices on others, and help them become aware of unconscious behavior. However, even a multi-edged sword is a sword. Its blade can cut into things. And this young man shared with me that it had cut into his confidence as a leader. What was he to do? Should he stop listening to feedback?

The role of feedback in creative leadership is well-established: we need to know how we are performing, both in terms of content and in how we lead our team. Creative leadership constantly seeks out and integrates feedback. We train people in the art of giving feedback, but is there enough focus on how to receive it? Can creative leadership mean not listening to feedback from time to time? How could you receive feedback in such a way that you benefit from it and don’t feel cut down by it?

Article is available at http://www.thnk.org/2013/12/how-to-receive-feedback/

Need for creative leadership

There is a need for creative leadership that is capable of dancing with complexity and ambiguity. This need is driven by 3 factors: The world is changing, business is changing, people are changing.

Creative leadership is the ability to create and realize innovative solutions especially in the face of structurally complex or changing situations. It refers to those people who when all is shifting, and new approaches are yet unknown, can still create clarity of purpose for their teams. These are leaders who seek to navigate – and even benefit from – the unpredictability around them. Not just for the organization or themselves, but usually also for society at large and the ecology of the planet….

Article written for THNK with Mark Vernooij: http://www.thnk.org/2013/11/need-for-creative-leadership/

Orchestrating creative teams

“Come up with something new! And make it good.” Have you ever said that? More and more leaders nowadays make this demand. They need something new and they need it to be good. Mostly because their circumstances are changing radically and their organization hasn’t. Or maybe simply because that is the kind of market they are in. Come up with something and make it good!

At THNK, we work with and learn from the best in the world, we guide teams in coming up with innovative solutions for large societal problems and business challenges. So what have we learned about creative leadership in this process? And, in particular, what have we learned about orchestrating creative teams? How does this differ from the orchestration of more traditional operational teams?

We have learned that:
– a strong creative team typically outperforms the gifted creative individual.
– a creative team consists ideally of 3 carefully selected individuals, not 2 or 4, or even more.
– the team needs to feel on a privileged mission and the team home can reflect that.
– creative leadership means leading the team concurrently from the front and from the back.
managing the energy of the team means pushing the teams to, but not over the edge.

Article written for THNK with Menno Van Dijk, read more at http://www.thnk.org/2013/09/orchestrating-creative-teams/

Born winners dont exist, nor do born losers

Recently, the coach of the Dutch women’s field hockey team spoke about talent to an audience of filmmakers. When selecting players, he would often give the assignment to change their technique some way. Later, he would check and see who had picked up his advice most. He wasn’t just looking for talent. Coachability is also key. And it doesn’t just apply to field hockey.
Continue reading Born winners dont exist, nor do born losers

Please be different but not too different

At THNK we put much thought into creative team selection or, as we call it, “casting the creative clash”. We strive for a lot of diversity, but not all diversity works. And then there’s homogeneity. Because being somewhat similar can be helpful too!

To maximize team creativity, what type of diversity would you seek when forming your teams – and where do you want homogeneity? Here’s a top 3 for both categories.
Continue reading Please be different but not too different

When Aha meets Haha

It was only 5 minutes in when the magic started to happen. We were in the peer-coaching workshop and had just started the pushing for insights and surfacing assumptions exercise, participants were in pairs asking each other surfacing questions including ‘what if your assumptions were false how would that change how you see yourself and the world?’ and then close to me it started.
faces of David Rock's dance to insight
Continue reading When Aha meets Haha