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Fostering Creativity and Innovation

If you’ve been following our latest set of blogs, you’ll know that we are handing on some ideas from the Global Leadership Summit that we find “sticky”:  that is important to move the work of ecclesial leaders to different levels of effectiveness.  There’s one more from this year’s GLS, coming next week.  If you’ve not read the others, start with our Paradosis posts on the right of this blog post.

The treadmill, the hamster wheel, the “Groundhog Day” syndrome, “same stuff, different day”  You know what I’m referring to here:  the grind.  Every day is more of the same.  Nothing is ever new or different, and if someone suggests even the slightest change in what has been happening, it is met by staffs or teams that are exhausted to the point of cynical inertia.  Never mind suggesting a total overhaul, or a brand new approach; not enough bandwidth.  I hear it over and over again.  “We are just too busy, too exhausted, too overwhelmed or understaffed.”

At the same time, thought leaders are telling us this moment is like no other in modern history:  the chance to be deliberate, creative and innovative as we all get the chance to “start over” compliments of Covd19 and its Delta variant.  This is the time, they are telling us, to take hard looks at the way we’ve been doing things, at what the “go home” orders created in terms of workplace practices, and at what the future is begging for from us as we emerge.  Will we be the same creatures we were before Covid’s cocoon?  Will we be ready for transformation?  How can leaders in any organization capitalize on this opportunity?

GLS presenter Juliet Funt (yes, for those of you old enough to wonder, she is Alan Funt’s daughter, of Candid Camera fame- and she’s every bit as engaging as he was) offered this practice as one means to capture this moment:  the strategic pause, or what she calls white space.  Her analogy flows from the imagery of building a fire.  If you pack the materials too tightly and don’t leave enough room for air to flow through them, they cannot burn.  Her conclusion, “it’s the space between the combustibles that allows them to burn well.”  Or said another way, it’s the breathing time between thoughts, between meetings, between workdays, work weeks and special events that allows the creative oxygen to flow. That, she says, is what will permit these spaces to flare with energy, creativity and innovation.

What does embracing the strategic pause, creating white space mean for your team or staff interactions?  It means you agree to the practice of “taking a minute” to think together.  What kinds of brain activities take place during this time: recuperation, reflection, reduction and construction.

  • Recuperation: this can be as lengthy as some extra whole days off, or brief enough to allow brains and hearts that have just encountered a lot in a short period of time, time to rest.  During the workday, leaders can begin to create daily routines around a practice Funt calls “the wedge.”  It’s a small portion of time inserted between two activities to think, plan and compose yourself.  It reduces stress and provides equilibrium.  It’s what she calls “a sip of rest.”  Leaders, institutionalize this practice to take away the shame often associated with “needing a minute.”  Leaders can provide team members/staffs with the permission to change the culture that lauds exhaustion to one that lauds self-care.  One more tidbit about “the wedge”:  if it’s accompanied by agreed upon practices about when everyone is “off the clock”, when no one takes any calls, and the expectation that vacation days are used, the culture begins to shift to one that practices Sabbath.  Jesus did it.  Why don’t we? 
  • Reflection: Ever been in a meeting where an idea is agreed upon and it’s expected that right after processing the idea and making the decision, you are expected to get to the “how”: immediately, creatively and practically?  Taking a minute, providing some thinking time between idea-decision and work on the how allows for a thoughtful “how.”  This allows time for practical thoughts like what we are currently doing that will not work with this new idea.  It also allows time for the larger questions like how this idea fits with mission and values, and how it contributes to the personal or ecclesial legacy you are trying to leave.  No white space too often means these important questions about “how”  are never asked.
  • Reduction: This is a leadership practice that will serve your teams and staffs in countless ways. It’s the practice of taking the time to think about the ways to mathematically (as in real numbers) reduce the regularly occurring but unnecessary “stuff” that occupies your team/staff time.  Meetings should pop in your head.  Taking a minute…some white space…will allow leaders to begin to intuit the “shouldn’t have to be here”, “waste of time” activities that are distracting your staff/team from the real work.  And this “minute” will allow leaders to begin to figure out how to reduce this phenomenon.  The result will be space and time for innovation and creativity, and a LOT of good will.
  • Construction: Let’s face it, it takes time to build anything, even a new idea.  It’s time you are in charge of as a leader, so make it a practice to embed the space for thoughtfulness.  Thinking can allow for beneficial forgetting.  Many things didn’t need to be remembered.  It can allow space to disconnect from unhelpful associations so that new ones can emerge.  With that newly created space comes the ability to construct, to innovate, to create, to build on the new idea.

So that’s what a strategic pause/white space offers creativity and innovation.  Now it’s up to leaders to embrace the practice and give the gift to themselves and their employees.  Our choice.

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