Look Inside, Take New Action, Speak New Ideas

Look Inside, Take New Action, Speak New IdeasThere’s a lot buzz around reinvention and innovation. There are countless articles on tools and best practices; many books on the best organizational structure, and plenty on roles and responsibilities. There’s so much stuff that it’s tough to define what’s missing, even when what’s missing is the most important part. Whether its creativity, innovation, or doing new, the most important and missing element is your behavior.

Two simple rules to live by: 1) Look inside. 2) Then, change your behavior.

To improve innovation, people typically look to nouns for the answers – meeting rooms, work spaces, bean bag chairs, and tools, tools, tools. But the answer isn’t nouns, the answer is verbs. Verbs are action words, things you do, behaviors. And there are two behaviors that make the difference: 1.) Take new action. 2) Speak new ideas.

To take new action, you’ve got to be perceptive, perceptive about what’s blocking you from taking new action. The biggest blocker of new action is anxiety, and you must learn what anxiety feels like. Thought the brain makes anxiety, it’s easiest to perceive anxiety in the body. For me, anxiety manifests as a cold sinking feeling in my chest. When I recognize the coldness, I know I’m anxious. Your task is to figure out your anxiety’s telltale heart.

To learn what anxiety feels like, you’ve got to slow down enough to actually feel. The easiest way for overbooked high performers to make time to slow down is to schedule a recurring meeting with yourself. Schedule a recurring 15 minute meeting (Daily is best.) in a quiet place. No laptop, no cell phone, no paper, no pencil, no headphones – just you and quiet sitting together. Do this for a week and you’ll learn what anxiety feels like.

To take new action, you’ve got to be receptive, receptive to the anxiety. You’ll naturally judge anxiety as bad, but that’s got to change. Anxiety isn’t bad, it’s just unpleasant. And in this case, anxiety is an indicator of importance. When you block yourself from taking an important action, you create anxiety. So when you feel anxiety, be receptive – it’s your body telling you the yet-to-be-taken action is important.

After receptive, it’s time to be introspective. Look inside, turn toward your anxiety, and understand why the task is important. Typically it’s important because it threatens the status quo. Maybe it would dismantle your business model, or maybe it will unglue the foundation of your company, or maybe something smaller yet threatening. Once you understand its importance, it’s time to use the importance as the forcing function to start the task first thing tomorrow morning.

The second magic behavior is to speak new ideas. To speak new ideas, you’ve got to be perceptive to the reason you self censor. Before you can un-censor, you’ve got to be aware you self censor. It’s time to get in touch with your unsaid ideas. Now that you no longer need the 15 minute meeting for taking new action, change the agenda to speaking new ideas. Again, no laptop, cell phone, and headphones, but this time it’s you and quiet figuring out what if feels like right before you self-censor.

In your meeting, remember back to a brainstorming session when you had a crazy idea, but decided to bury it. Get in touch with what your body felt like as you stopped yourself from speaking your crazy idea. That’s the feeling you want to be aware of because it’s a leading indicator of your self censoring behavior.

Next, it’s time to be receptive, receptive to the idea that just as you choose to self censor, you can choose to stop your self censorship, and receptive to the idea that there’s a deep reason for your behavior.

Now, it’s on to introspective. When you have a crazy idea, why do you keep your mouth shut? Turn toward the behavior and you may see you self censor because you don’t want to be judged. If you utter a crazy idea, you may be afraid you’ll be judged as crazy or incompetent. Likely, you’re afraid saying your idea out loud will change something – what other people think of you.

There are a couple important notions to help you battle your fear of judgment. First, you are not your ideas. You can have wild ideas and be highly competent, highly valued, and a good person. Second, other people’s judgment is about them, not you. They are threatened by your idea, and instead of looking inside, they protect themselves by trying to knock you down.

There’s a lot of nuance and complexity around creativity and innovation, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Really, it comes down to four things: own your behavior, look inside, take new action, and speak new ideas. It’s that simple.


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Mike ShipulskiMike Shipulski brings together people, culture, and tools to change engineering behavior.  He writes daily on Twitter as @MikeShipulski and weekly on his blog Shipulski On Design.

Mike Shipulski




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