In November of 2003, I walked into the surf in Panama City Beach, Florida and about twelve and a half hours later, I crossed the finish line of an Ironman Triathlon. For the uninitiated, the ironman is a race where the competitors complete a 2.4 mile ocean swim, a 112 mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile run in under seventeen hours. I’d had the dream of doing an ironman for close to twenty years before I did it and to say it was a milestone would be an understatement. Looking back on that time, I’ve come to realize that many of the things I learned along the way, map perfectly to what makes for successful innovation. I’ve included a few of the big lessons below.

Innovation is a process

The actual ironman itself was only a day in my life but the vision and the realization of that goal was a much longer series of smaller, established practices developed over many years. If I hadn’t enjoyed the day in/day out training (almost twenty hours a week for three years), there’s no way I could have maintained the effort required to get myself in shape both physically and mentally over such an extended period of time. When the best organizations innovate, it’s about putting day to day processes in place that build a mindset and a culture of innovation and creativity. Of course the goal is new products and services but getting comfortable with – and even enjoying – the innovative process is what makes innovation an integral part of an organization’s DNA.

Innovation takes a team

While, ultimately, I was the only one allowed to swim, bike and run on race day, I had critical help from a variety of sources without which I’d have never gotten to the starting line. From my triathlon coach to my training partners to the love and support of my family and friends and the hundreds of volunteers on race day, I had a village of people who helped me on my journey. In the same way, even if an organization has in-house innovative geniuses coming up with brilliant ideas, those ideas will stagnate or disappear without the support of leadership and the teams of people it takes to bring great ideas to life. The innovative idea itself is just a starting point. It takes everyone getting on board to bring those ideas to their completion.

Innovation requires a plan

I knew that without a clear and actionable training plan, there would have been no way I could get out of bed every morning for three years and simply “figure out” what I needed to do to prepare myself for the physical and mental challenges that an Ironman would inevitably present. Fortunately, I had a coach who understood the event and over the course of three years gave me a daily workout plan that, ultimately, had me ready for the seemingly impossible challenge of an ironman. There’s a pervasive myth that innovation and creativity are “gifts” simply come to an anointed few. In fact, innovation thrives in a structured environment. Inspiration is only a small part of what makes innovation work. The key is a set of practices and guidelines that allow for those inspired ideas to flourish. Getting out of bed each day hoping innovation will come to you or your organization is as untenable as it sounds. Innovation requires a clear plan and structure in order to be both achievable and sustainable.

Conclusion

Even all these years later, my completion of the ironman reminds me that I’m capable of facing seemingly insurmountable challenges. However, the event itself was only the tip of the metaphorical iceberg when it comes to what I learned in the time leading up to the actual event. In the same way, a successful innovation is only the visible part of a mindset and culture that runs fathoms deeper than good ideas. Everyone in an organization must be willing to patiently look at the big picture, work together and follow the plan to achieve long-term innovative success.

 

Find out more about Cliff’s innovation & creativity programs for business teams and organizations.

In part one of this article, I explained the significant business implications of creativity and outlined the three steps teams can take to build their creative confidence. 

As a reminder, the three steps are:

  1. Rally around a common cause
  2. Leave your comfort zone (a little)
  3. Collaborate on creative efforts 

Now let’s dig in with a more in-depth exploration of steps one and two.

Step One: Rally around a common cause

Without a reason to come together and improve a team’s creativity, it’s hard to inspire individual team members to buy in to the idea. This is were rallying around a common cause can be the most helpful. A common cause can be anything from building a culture of innovation, preparing for a future company-wide transformation or any one of an infinite number of big-picture challenges that require a creative mindset. The cause itself is less important than the team’s commitment to whatever cause they choose. 

For example, when I was brought in to work with an airline whose cause was coordinating their disparate teams, they wrote a song using the metaphor of geese flying south for the winter. The song, called “If You’ve Got My Front, I’ve Got Your Back”, helped them add emotion and storytelling to their cause which made the exploration of coordinating their disparate teams much more motivating and memorable.

Finding a common cause for your team requires an awareness of the goals and challenges your team is currently facing. Simply asking your team members what difficulties they’re contending with is a good place to start. Encouraging team members to face these ideas head on begins the process of thinking more creatively about possible solutions. It’s important to note that this approach can be applied by leaders and teams in a variety of ways beyond a songwriting exercise. By thinking laterally about an essential idea or challenge, teams will open up new and previously unexplored ways of thinking. This exploration can take a variety of forms. One approach for thinking laterally that I’d suggest is the haiku. This form of poetry is a particularly good approach for exploring a team’s common cause as its brevity and structure (three lines of five, seven and five syllables respectively) make the creative approach accessible to all. Once a team shows themselves capable of this kind of creativity even in an exercise as simple as writing a little poetry, the boost in creative confidence will naturally follow.

Step Two: Leave your comfort zone (a little)

Creative work, even for professional creatives, can feel daunting so it’s no wonder that teams are resistant to creative work. That being said, part of the magic of creativity is that it unlocks a part of us that only lives outside of our comfort zones. While executives who participate in my songwriting program routinely describe themselves as “not creative,” what they really mean is that they’re unfamiliar with how to access their latent creativity. In response, I break down the songwriting process into its component parts of metaphor, verse and chorus so that it becomes a simple exercise with clearly defined parameters. Once the rules for exploring their creativity are defined, the teams’ initial discomfort disappears. Without exception in the almost a decade of songwriting programs I’ve facilitated, every team succeeds in writing the lyrics to a song and – in spite of their initial hesitation – enthusiastically sings their newly-written song together.

The teams’ resulting exhilaration is the natural consequence of going beyond the boundaries of their typical daily work and comfort zones. While this can feel overwhelming at first, the rewards in the form of an increase in creative confidence are worth a little, carefully-scripted discomfort. Also, once teams realize that they’re capable of small steps outside of their comfort zones, their confidence and motivation will lead to a greater willingness to take calculated risks in the future. If you’re unsure of what constitutes leaving your comfort zone, perhaps consider the haiku approach suggested above . This is a low-stress yet unfamiliar challenge that will nudge your team to use their beginners’ minds. But, really, any challenge that doesn’t allow your team to rely on their existing knowledge or expertise will do the trick.

In the third and final part of this article, I’ll explain how collaboration on creative efforts is an genuinely effective way to build your team’s creative confidence.

 

Find out more about Cliff’s innovation & creativity programs for business teams and organizations.

When I started my business around bringing innovation and creativity to organizations, I quickly realized that far different from my perspective around change, obstacles and failure (shaped by over three decades as a professional creative), business teams and organizations saw these three areas very differently. Having not had the benefit of working on their collective creative confidence, organizations tend to value the status quo, older, more established problem-solving methods and they also tend to have an inordinate fear of failure. What I have found, however, is that with just a little nudge in the direction of creativity, perspective on the above challenges can change dramatically for the good.

Change becomes normalized 

There is a belief that the status quo is safe which is not only incorrect but also a dangerous misconception. While it is true that the status quo can be comfortable in the short term, change is, in fact, the natural order of things. There is a long list of failed companies who  denied and/or resisted change in favor of the status quo. By exploring creativity and accepting the accompanying disorder and chaos that is a necessary part of that process, we can accept and normalize change. With that significant shift in mindset, creatively confident people and organizations thrive in an ever-changing business environment.

Obstacles can be approached with new solutions

I’ll start this observation by roughly quoting Abraham Maslow who stated, “if the only tool you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail.” Obstacles (aka problems) come in a variety of shapes and sizes that don’t lend themselves well to “one-size-fits-all” solutions. Creativity is designed to give those who use it a varied and effective set of tools far beyond Maslow’s hammer. Creative confidence offers a broader range of problem-solving approaches which can make obstacles seem far less daunting.

Failure is not permanent

In creativity, it is understood that failure is an inherent part of the process. Familiarity with failure has multiple benefits. First of all, knowing that failure is necessary for the ultimate success of any endeavor, serves as a powerful reminder that failure to be expected and not feared. Secondly, for the creatively confident, failure isn’t seen as an end but rather a step along the road to innovation. In other words, failure is not permanent. Knowing that this is the case goes a long way towards allowing us to take the kinds of risks that build highly successful businesses.

Conclusion

One of the many magical powers of creative confidence is it’s ability to reframe what might previously have seemed like a negative situation into an opportunity for growth and success. Change, obstacles and failure and just three examples of the above. I’d like to conclude by quoting Tom Kelley, a partner at the world-renowned design firm IDEO. 

At its core, creative confidence is about believing in your ability to create change in the world around you. It is the conviction that you can achieve what you set out to do. We think this self-assurance, this belief in your creative capacity, lies at the heart of innovation.

 

Find out more about Cliff’s innovation & creativity workshops for business teams and organizations.

Comfort zones are, you guessed it, comfortable. We have all the answers, we know how things are going to go and we like it that way. Who could blame us? The problem is that reality – and growth – doesn’t buy in to the idea of the status quo. In the real world, entropy reigns supreme. A quick definition of entropy is “a lack of order or predictability.” And given that entropy is the natural state of things, thriving in this kind of ambiguity begins with accepting that there are good reasons why ambiguity can lead us to successful outcomes. I’ve listed some reasons below why there is real power in embracing ambiguity.

Ambiguity is the hallmark of creativity

Creativity is all about coming up with new approaches to age-old challenges but creativity is rarely – if ever – a neat and clean process. In order to bring something new into the world whether it’s a song, a product or a business strategy, ambiguity is a necessary part of the process. By accepting that the creative process is going to be messy for a time, we can remove some of the resistance we have to our creative work. Ultimately, by living with and working through the ambiguity, we will arrive at novel solutions which would have remained unattainable had we insisted on coloring inside the lines.

Ambiguity is a necessary precursor to innovation

While ambiguity is a critical part of the innovative process, we can console ourselves with the knowledge that it is only a part of that process. However uncomfortable the ambiguity and chaos inherent in innovation may be, ambiguity isn’t the final destination but rather an essential part of the journey. By taking a longer view of the innovative process, we can come to understand and welcome the ambiguity that can lead to truly dramatic and lasting innovation. Attempting to shortcut the process by either avoiding or minimizing the ambiguous elements will only result in half-baked or ineffective innovations. It is only through accepting ambiguity that we can find our way through to the other side.

Ambiguity leads to breakthrough

Speaking of the other side, breakthrough is the ultimate goal of any effective creative or innovative endeavor. That being said, breakthroughs don’t come cheap. The fee for breakthrough ideas and strategies is the discomfort that comes from swimming around in the “soup” of uncertainty and confusion. However, paying that fee can lead to significant change and success. While it might not feel like it at the beginning of the process, ambiguity is a fee well worth paying.

Conclusion

In my years spent in the creative and innovative trenches, I’ve never found a shortcut that avoids ambiguity. I’d be lying if I told you I don’t still feel a tremor of uncertainty – and even fear – before I lead an organization through the ambiguous process of writing a song about the critical organizational challenge they’re currently facing but my experience tells me that a little bravery in confronting ambiguity goes a long way towards successful and consistent innovation.

 

Find out more about Cliff’s innovation & creativity workshops for business teams and organizations.

Innovation is universally acknowledged as a critical element in the growth and success of any organization. Yet there is continued resistance to innovation for a variety of reasons including the perceived safety of the status quo and a fear of the unknown. Adding to this resistance are several pervasive myths about the innovative process that serve as obstacles to embracing innovation. I thought I would take a moment to debunk three of the biggest myths around innovation in the hope that this will ease the reluctance around incorporating innovation into your organization. 

Myth #1 – Innovation is only for a specialized few

There is an image of the “innovator” as a kind of mad scientist with a mystical connection to creativity that allows them to pull ideas and inspiration out of thin air. In my work with organizations, I’ve come to expect that I’ll be told by high-performing executives that they’re not creative. I’m convinced, however, that we’re all creative and that creativity is simply a matter of giving the proper tools to bright, accomplished individuals in order for them to succeed. All children are creative and it’s only when the emphasis gets placed on productivity that people tend to let their creative muscles atrophy. The good news is that with practice and intention, innovation is simply another skill we can all nurture and develop.

Myth #2 – Innovators have to go it alone

When I ask participants in my songwriting/innovation workshops what concerned them the most when they were told they’d be writing a song, I almost always hear that they were afraid they’d have to write the song on their own. I’ve found that this is the analogous fear that executives face when they think about innovation. The reality is that collaboration is a significant part of the innovative process. It is specifically the work of diverse teams  and individuals that gives innovation its breadth and depth. On top of leveraging different talents and abilities to bring new and interesting perspectives to the process, collaboration quite simply makes innovation less daunting. Knowing you can rely on others as well as yourself to come up with new ideas and approaches makes the entire process significantly less forbidding.

Myth #3 – Innovation has to happen all at once

One of my favorite expressions when it comes to the tackling of seemingly monolithic tasks is “eat the elephant one bite at a time.” Of course innovation will feel daunting if the expectation is that a solution be found immediately. The reality is that any innovation project can be broken down into its component parts and achieved one small step at a time. This is precisely what I demonstrate to my workshop participants when I break down the “impossible” task of writing a song into metaphor, verse and chorus. All of a sudden, the stunned and concerned expressions change to those of focus and delight as the songs begin to take shape.

Conclusion

Innovation is one of those words that conjures a preset series of beliefs that can end the conversation even before it begins. It has become my mission – by bringing songwriting to organizations in need of a new way to think about innovation – to demystify the innovative process. Hopefully by removing some of the false ideas around how innovation is achieved, I can open minds to the possibility that we’re all much more capable of innovation than we might believe.

 

Find out more about Cliff’s innovation & creativity workshops for business teams and organizations.

It’s been clearly recognized that teams with members from diverse backgrounds and experiences are the most likely to succeed in innovative and creative areas. That being said, this diversity can add a layer of complexity given how important it is for teams to quickly establish a common ground from which to execute. In my close to a decade of working with teams in areas as diverse as banking, computers and biotechnology, I’ve discovered several constants when it comes to bringing teams together as quickly and effectively as possible. 

1. Take them out of their comfort zones

One of the great levelers when it comes to teams made up of members not only from different organizational silos but also from different levels of seniority is to take everyone out of their comfort zones at the same time. When I explain to my teams that over the next hour, they’ll be writing (and singing!) a song, it’s safe to assume that without prior songwriting experience, everyone from the CEO to an administrative assistant will be temporarily at sea. This discomfort, albeit intentionally brief, is designed to make sure that everyone understands that they’re all beginners and working from the same blank slate.

2. Give them an “impossible” project

For almost all of the organizations and teams with whom I work, songwriting is not only “uncomfortable” as I mentioned above but it can also feel practically impossible given the lack of my participants’ musical experience. What this does so beautifully is that it makes it abundantly clear that the team members will have to rely upon each other to get through the project. When I debrief with my workshop participants after the songwriting workshop and ask them what they were most scared of when they heard they’d be writing a song, one of the most common responses I get is that they were afraid they’d have to do it alone. Team members demonstrate a palpable relief when they’re told they’ll be working together. This sets the stage for a fruitful and evenly distributed collaboration.

3. Set a tight deadline

In my experience, one of the most destructive elements to team unity is perfectionism. If even one member is dead set on making things perfect, it can either discourage or silence the remaining team members. By setting a tight deadline to complete their “impossible” task, I don’t leave room for my teams to write a “perfect” song. This allows everyone to feel like they can participate without fear that their answers won’t be perfect as they’ve only got a few minutes to come up with a minimum viable product. I’ve found that this tends to unite the individual members of the team in a way that taking a full day (or even a few hours) would not allow.

Conclusion

Teams are fickle entities. When everything is running smoothly, the results can be significantly greater than the sum of the team’s individual parts. However, teams made up of diverse members have to find a way to gel before they can hope to succeed. Even the most well-intentioned team members will always need a way to find common ground with their peers. Hopefully, by applying the above tips, your team will achieve its full potential.

 

Find out more about Cliff’s innovation & creativity workshops for business teams and organizations.

Over the years, my work with business teams has brought me into the realm of highly seasoned and successful executives. It’s no surprise to me why these accomplished people are where they are. They’re smart, tightly focused and in control. These are all exceptional, even critical, qualities for leadership. However in order to stay ahead of the inevitable changes that come for any and all businesses, it’s also essential that from time to time even these high-functioning leaders reawaken their often long dormant beginner’s mind. This is precisely what I do for them when I teach leadership teams to write songs in an exploration of their most pressing challenges and goals. I’ve listed some of the powerful benefits of employing a beginner’s mindset below.

Beginner’s mind prevents perfectionism

While I’m sure it would be nice to be perfect, it’s an elusive goal. The danger in striving for “perfect” is that progress and productivity are sacrificed at the altar of perfectionism. What beginner’s mind offers is a chance to free ourselves from that pressure since we’re new to whatever challenge or idea we’re exploring. Being a beginner is the ideal way to approach innovation challenges given that there’s no need to find an immediate solution. Innovation is often about the willingness to accept and learn from a chaotic situation without feeling the need to fix it/make it perfect right away.

Beginner’s mind awakens curiosity

Once we’ve been in business long enough to become experts in our fields, there’s significant inertia preventing us from being open to new approaches and ideas. We’ve worked long and hard to find approaches that work for us and deliver the expected results. While this is true, it’s only effective if the world around us stops changing which, alas, it never will.  A beginner’s mind rekindles our innate curiosity in a way that can help us develop important new skills and approaches we might otherwise have avoided.

Beginner’s mind provides new solutions by avoiding familiar approaches

One of my favorite quotes (paraphrased) is Abraham Maslow’s “if the only tool you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail.” Senior leaders get to where they are by having very effective “hammers.” While, there is no doubt that there are many situations in which a hammer is the perfect tool, there are times when a hammer will cause more problems than it solves. We need to turn to a beginner’s mindset to see the issue in a new light. While this approach can be uncomfortable, leaving our expert comfort zones from time to time is not only a good idea but also an ideal way to add new tools to our problem-solving collection.

Conclusion

There is a belief that the status quo is safe. If we just keep doing the things we’re doing – which are working just fine thank you very much – then all will be well. Unfortunately, all our hard-won expertise can fall by the wayside when the world changes around us. Embracing a beginner’s mindset, in spite of all the time and effort we’ve spent becoming experts, is a strategic hedge against the inevitability of change where we’re all beginners even if it’s against our will. Better to build our beginner’s mind “muscles” on our own terms so that when we’re forced to use them, we’ll be ready.

 

Find out more about Cliff’s innovation & creativity workshops for business teams and organizations.

The beauty of the status quo is that everything is clear and predictable. The danger in the status quo is that the world refuses to stand still and without a willingness to embrace change, things can quickly become stale and, for example, business teams can lose their motivation. In my work with teams over the past decade, I’ve discovered several highly effective ways to break through the inertia of the status quo to recharge and motivate listlessly performing teams.

1. Scare them a little (just a little)

One of the best ways to set the table for motivating a team is to take them out of their comfort zones. When I tell a group of executives that they’re going to write (and sing!) a song, I can safely say I’ve taken them beyond what they typically encounter at work. After this brief moment of shock, however, I’m quick to set up a psychologically safe environment where everyone feels equally encouraged to contribute. The idea behind scaring people a little at the beginning is that it grabs their attention and all other distractions tend to fall away in service of the task at hand. Then once the task is accomplished and the fear has dissipated, a blend of relief and exhilaration steps in to take its place.

2. Give them a challenge they’ll need each other to complete

The power of teams is in their combined ability to achieve. When a team is demotivated, it often has to do with forgetting the inherent power of collaboration. Asking an individual who’s never written a song to do it on their own would be a recipe for confusion and likely a certain degree of resentment. However, bringing a team together to contribute their individual experiences and skills to the challenge results not only in great lyric-writing and a good amount of laughter but also in an elevated sense of accomplishment. Sometimes it’s as simple as reminding a team how well they’re capable of performing when they rely upon each other.

3. Bring in someone from the outside 

One of the things I enjoy most about working with business teams is that when I’m brought in, I rarely know anything about the internal dynamics of that day’s team. This enables me, as the facilitator, to treat everyone equally without fear of straining a work relationship by not showing the proper deference. In order to get a team back up and functioning well, each participant needs to remember that they need the others to be at their best. By being immune to any and all office politics, an outsider, such as myself, can help level the playing field and improve team morale.

Conclusion

Teams are the lifeblood of productive and profitable organizations. However, they are not a “set it and forget it” endeavor. Teams need to be nurtured and challenged in equal measure in order for them  – and the individual members – to thrive. When a team’s motivation flags, it’s a clear sign that attention must be paid. Motivation, more than the skills of any individual team member, is critical to a team’s – and ultimately a company’s – success. The above recommendations are designed to help bring demotivated teams back up to their high-functioning best.

 

Find out more about Cliff’s innovation & creativity workshops for business teams and organizations.

Innovation and creativity are often assumed to be the domain of a gifted few who are endowed with a natural ability that the rest of us don’t have. However, I’ve made a career out of proving to myself (and now others) that we’re all creative and capable of innovation. Since I’m often my own my test case, I thought I’d mention a few of the mistakes I made around creativity – which apply equally to innovation – when I was starting out. My hope is that by explaining how these errors trip us up, I can remove a few of the obstacles that prevent all of us from exploring and developing our ability to innovate and create.

1. Waiting for inspiration

I’m going to begin this section with one of my favorite quotes by mega-successful author, Stephen King. “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” This was absolutely my mistake in my early songwriting efforts. The conditions had to be just right and then the heavens would have to open up and THEN I’d start writing a song. This was just fine when I wasn’t trying to make a living as a songwriter but the moment I realized that hoping I’d be inspired wasn’t exactly a business plan, I changed my approach. I had to learn ways to go out and get inspiration so that I could create consistently. For example, I’d write down an idea for a song title every morning so I’d never be starting with a blank page. Making your own inspiration is all about small, actionable steps.

2. Trying to make things perfect

When you’re truly invested in the creative process, there’s a natural tendency to want to make things exactly right. I used to agonize over single words in a song to the point where I would bring my creative process almost to a standstill.  I believe this comes from the best of intentions. After all, if you genuinely care about your work, why wouldn’t you want it to be perfect. The irony is that the harder you try to make something perfect, the worse it generally becomes. Innovation and creativity require a willingness to live with chaos, confusion and even failure before the good stuff presents itself. If you’re constantly trying to perfect what you’re doing instead of placing the emphasis on moving forward and gaining momentum, you’ll find yourself frustrated, stuck or even worse, giving up. Be easy on yourself in the early stages of innovation and save your perfectionism for later. I love the quote that has been falsely attributed to everyone from Hemingway to F. Scott Fitzgerald to James Joyce. “Write drunk, edit sober.”

3. Thinking you should do it alone

The image that often comes to mind when we think of innovation and creativity is the lone genius toiling away in their laboratory but, in my experience, this is what scares many of us away from attempting to innovate in the first place. One of the great joys in my career has been the long list of amazing collaborators with whom I’ve been able to create and innovate. The reality is that innovation and creativity are much more likely to be team-based than an individual effort. Collaboration is about playing to each others’ strengths and diversity of experiences to come up with novel and useful ideas that we could not have created alone. I resisted collaboration early in my career which not only made the creative process harder but also made my songs decidedly less inspired. Once I realized the power of a great co-writer, my songs and career improved dramatically. This is not to say that alone time to ideate isn’t valuable but I’ve found my best ideas and had my greatest successes via collaboration.

Conclusion

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard the phrase “I’m not creative” from members of high-performing business teams and organizations and, yet, given the proper direction each of these participants ends up undeniably demonstrating their innate ability to innovate and create. Part of the reason is that I’m there to help them navigate – based on my own experience – the unfamiliar terrain fraught with the mistakes above, however, the simple awareness of these mistakes is a good first step towards getting out of our own way on the road to innovation and creativity.

 

Find out more about Cliff’s innovation & creativity workshops for business teams and organizations.

There is a moment in the workshops I lead for business teams and organizations that changes everything. It’s not when I get up on stage with my guitar because who doesn’t want to sit and listen to a little music? Instead it’s the moment when I tell my audience that they’re going to be writing and singing a song. I love this moment for the way it politely but firmly pulls seasoned executives (or scientists or accountants or attorneys) out of their comfort zones. It’s a given that the groups I work with are all very accomplished in their chosen fields but I’m there to show them that by leaving their comfort zones for the duration of my workshop, they’re going to emerge better for the 90-minute experience. Below are a few of the reasons why.

1. It levels the playing field
Team dynamics can be tricky with some members clearly deferring to others whose expertise they require for a particular sought-after solution. However, when faced with a task that no one in the group knows how to accomplish, all of a sudden the paying field is leveled. Now, it’s not about prior expertise but, rather, about a willingness to dig in and explore a new and unfamiliar terrain with our peers. This is a very powerful dynamic and one that, in the very best way, humanizes all the members of a team so they can work together as equals to achieve something completely new.

2. It prevents perfectionism
With high-achieving individuals who are already good at a particular task, it’s often not enough to simply get that task done. It becomes about making that particular job “perfect.” However, when no one on a team has ever written a song, there aren’t any benchmarks for what is perfect. Instead, the creative process is allowed to run its course without being hampered by countless edits and “improvements.” I’m a big believer in the removal of our inner editors when it comes to innovation and creativity. So when a team leaves their comfort zone and has to keep the process moving forward, there’s just enough room for ideas but not enough for squeezing the life out of the process.

3. It’s a reminder that there is always more to learn
The danger in continually playing to our strengths is that we can fall into the trap of believing we’ve learned/grown enough to get by. Holding on to the status quo might feel comforting for a while but given that change is inevitable it can be a genuinely dangerous way to approach not only our businesses but our lives. One of my favorite quotes is “change is what happens to us but innovation is what we do to them.” Taking my teams out of their comfort zones and teaching them a new approach to problem-solving is my way of showing them that there’s always more to learn.

4. It’s exhilarating to achieve something “impossible”
Finally, let’s not forget how thrilling it can be to achieve something new that we’ve previously considered beyond our capability. I get a vicarious thrill from showing bright executives who don’t consider themselves creative that, given the proper guidance, they are indeed deeply creative. It’s always a pleasure to see the faces of my participants – so somber at the prospect of leaving their comfort zones – light up with the joy of accomplishment once they’ve done so.

Conclusion
All of this to say, it is never my intention to make business teams and organizations uncomfortable for an extended period of time but, rather, just long enough to reap the benefits of exploring unfamiliar territory in a curated and constructive manner. And, of course, one of the best parts of leaving our comfort zones is when we come back, we’re stronger for the experience.

 

Find out more about Cliff’s innovation & creativity workshops for business teams and organizations.