Is Your Company Too Busy to Reclaim Its Creative Edge?

12/24/2015 01:25 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Imagine a company that was innovative and ahead of its competitors. It could be in any sector and operate anywhere or everywhere in the world. The company knew what it stood for and what made it stand out from the crowd. But over time, it became comfortable with success, so much so that it failed to notice when other companies not only caught up but edged past until the point where it fell back into a crowded space. Employees worked hard but felt like they were getting nowhere.

However, the company executives and management didn't notice. Or if they did, attempts to reignite the creative growth oriented thinking required to reclaim their edge produced half-hearted results. Do you know of any companies like that?

What stands in the way of reclaiming the creative edge so necessary in today's business environment where only the most agile will thrive?

What time does that leave for strategic reflection? How does a company executive even notice that the edge was lost a long time ago? And then how do you interrupt habitual decision-making and management by crisis in order to see how to restore creativity?

Perpetually being too busy is a fundamental block to rising above the trap of fighting to maintain market position focused on a short-term horizon to enter the realm of business sustainability.

Being able to rapidly respond to emerging issues in a volatile decision making environment is vital. The risk of motoring on, assuming that what's worked before is still a viable strategy, is high!

How high you might ask? Unless you stop, reflect and look around it's very hard to appreciate that failure to adapt is likely to mean total failure. Companies are dying out at an earlier age as this graph illustrates.

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On the other hand, companies that think differently, like civil engineering company Bam Nutall, or any other business member of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation for that matter, are rethinking how they operate, not in terms of outmaneuvering competitors but by living by their principles and making decisions based on internal values shared with customer values. The emergence of the circular economy , among other forces, is powering a whole scale mindset shift that creatively engages all employees quite naturally without coercion, incentive or manipulation. It's much more interesting than running back to back marathons simply to increase quarterly profits.

Reclaiming a superior market position demands:

Recognition that the company's edge has been lost

  1. Talk to your new hires who, until they start drowning in the river of routine, bring an objective view of your company's habits. Import a group of business students who are attending the more innovative business schools. Start with those that belong to the Global Responsible Leadership Initiative because they are aware of the systemic change underway. (Traditional business schools still teach what worked for the industrial era and have lost sight of the rapidly changing big picture.)
  2. Task observers with identifying where the company is getting in its own way and which metrics are rewarding what you don't want.

You'll gain insight and perspective, which alters how you interpret information and subsequently your decision-making.

A growth mindset

  1. Reflect: Is your company and your personal/professional decisions driven by a desire to constantly learn or by the need to stay safely in the zone of familiarity and feeling of being in control?
  2. Identify the beliefs that drive the company's decisions. Is it that profit is the sole purpose? Or providing shareholder value? Or being of higher service to society by making a contribution that goes beyond the company? To identify the values do not look at the poster on the wall. Work backwards from the decisions being made.

Carol Dweck, in The Psychology of Mindset, differentiated between a fixed mindset, where beliefs run the show, and a growth mindset, which is focused on continuous learning.

Breaking out of being busy demands stepping back to become more contextually aware of what creates the results you are seeing in your workplace at every level, from having the difficult conversations to integral performance.

You'll gain clarity on why desired change isn't happening along with insights useful for leveraging effective action.

Bold leadership decisions

  1. Identify where you hold the most conflict within yourself about your personal growth or regarding a tense situation. You'll find your starting point for your leadership development.
  2. Gain clarity on the source of that tension so that you will know what is driving your reaction in different situations. (Hint: Keep asking Why? It is annoying but revealing.)
  3. Eliminate all use of relying on your authority to leverage influence. Responsible leadership resides in each person, regardless of title or delegated authority.

If the road to reclaiming your company's innovative edge were gold and paved there'd be no reason to engage the talent you hired. You could just keep telling them what to do and nothing would really change. But it is not. It is a bumpy with pot-holes and gravel patches. It's complex and it demands seeing failure as an essential part of the learning process. It also means letting go of controlling others in order to gain greater control over your own leadership decisions to access your innermost wisdom.

Companies mimicking the movie 'Speed' are too busy to stop and reflect. They are also too busy to grow or adapt.

Regular reflection pays off with creative breakthroughs.

Bring in some customers and other outsiders who asks the irritating questions that push thinking to a higher view. You'll illuminate the place where habits are replaced by discoveries. Serious creativity can arise.

Dawna Jones offers a sounding board-mentoring service for change agents seeking insights and ways to better navigate difficult dynamics, particularly collisions between traditional thinking and what's needed to adapt. Think of it as cultural oversight.

Workshops focus on the advanced decision-making skills and elevated awareness required for seeing through complexity to achieve an expansion in mindset. By engaging creativity and deeper intelligences, the company's risk exposure is reduced.

Dawna is the author of Decision Making for Dummies, on Steve Denning's (Forbes) list of 8 noteworthy books for 2014. She blogs for Huffington Post Great Work Cultures and hosts the Evolutionary Provocateur podcast. Contact her via LinkedIn.

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