I remember a teachable moment with our son many years ago, back when he was still in single digits. He and our oldest daughter would often ride along in the car and stare up at the clouds, imagining what shapes they made. You’ve done it too. I’m sure you’ve seen fish, dragons, lions, spaceships, and a whole host of other shapes fired from your imagination.
Most of the time, our two children would look up at the same cloud and say they saw something completely different. That’s very common occurrence with any two children, but what was interesting is that for a long time our son would unequivocally state that there was no way she could see something different from the shape he saw. We simply chalked it up to age and maturity and encouraged our children to not argue.
One day a similar argument ensued and we intervened. My wife and I both interjected what we each imagined we saw in the cloud, which was completely different from either of the children. I’ll never forget the look of surprise on my son’s face as he said, “You mean people really do see different things in the same cloud?”
That moment was a paradigm shift in my son’s thinking. Yes, much of it was a natural part of him growing up and beginning to move from concrete to abstract thinking, but it was also a lesson in learning that not everyone sees things the same way. In his black and white world it was hard to comprehend that someone else’s brain might work differently, that someone else’s imagination could conceive of an idea other than his own. There are times when the “gray areas” of life are not about right vs. wrong, but really a difference of perspective.
If you’re leading a team of people—especially creative and innovative people—you have to be careful that you don’t get locked into the same sort of thinking. Sometimes leaders have tunnel vision, or a vision so clear that it’s hard for them to conceive of a different plan of action. Even though they logically understand that others can have a different perspective—indeed it’s why they hired some of the people on their team—they become so married to their own ideas that they believe no one else could possibly come up with something better.
Make a conscious determination to not only be open to different ideas, but to also become a leader who fosters creativity by encouraging different perspectives. Here are six ideas to get you started:
- Listen to any and all ideas, no matter how crazy they might seem at first blush.
- Encourage the introverts on your team to communicate and share their ideas in the way they feel most comfortable. Don’t listen to only the loudest, most passionate voices.
- Don’t automatically dismiss a perspective that is significantly different from your own, even if it’s the complete antithesis of yours. It might just spur your team to conceive of something new and brilliant.
- Reward all team members for their hard work in submitting creative ideas, not only those whose ideas are the “winners.”
- Become a facilitator of discussion and innovation, someone who encourages the team to bring their best ideas to the table.
- Ask if there’s anyone on the team who thinks you’re moving in the wrong direction, and ask why they believe that’s so.
One of the hardest parts about letting go of our own ideas in favor of someone else’s is our own pride. As leaders, we need to make sure that we’re not stamping employees out on an assembly line to be little robots who do our bidding. Our ultimate goal is their success, because when they succeed, so do we. That means the best ideas, the most visionary perspective, and the team’s collaboration are what we’re working towards.