At the start of every year companies and professionals everywhere (including myself) ramp up on industry events happening all over the country. It's a time for education, innovation and hopefully inspiration, as well. The ultimate goal? Make indispensable connections for your business, but also to get your creative juices flowing to take back a refreshed perspective to your team and your clients.
Last month I attended the Agenda Show for the first time. Since 2003, Agenda has worked to house a diverse and creative fashion community. With events in Long Beach, as well as a stop in Las Vegas with over 1,000 brands in attendance, there is no doubt that the brands, buyers, distributors, and media in the fashion and lifestyle space will find themselves in event utopia. After just attending, I can say with absolute certainty, if you need a jolt of brand java to jumpstart your year, there's no better place than Agenda.
With hundreds of events under my belt it was refreshing to see everyone showcasing their own personal style, the brand design, and overall good vibes. What's more, the layout itself had been given just as much thought as the booths that lined the Long Beach Convention Center.
For those of you who have done the conference circuit, there's always a little bit of dread at the time commitment, maximum schmooze requirement, and travel for any conference, but as soon as you step on site for Agenda, it's clear you're somewhere special. Even the check-in team was gracious and warm. (It's all about the small things).
It was clear to me that everyone was there for three things; to showcase their lines and meet buyers/write orders, to connect with other people in a meaningful way, and to have a good time while doing the first two.
Agenda embodies the creative entrepreneurial spirit and is an instant favorite and must attend. I look forward to attending again this summer!
Monday night, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr did not coach the game against the Phoenix Suns. Not because he was sick or injured. But because he decided to run an experiment: He let the players coach instead. The Warriors have been struggling over the last few weeks--they've lost games they shouldn't have lost to teams they shouldn't lose to. Fatigue may be part of it, but they're professional athletes who train for the NBA's pace. Carelessness may be another part of it, as we hit the season's midpoint. Monday's game was the second to last before a mid-season break, against the Suns, who are currently second to last in the Western Conference (the Warriors are first). In letting the players coach the game, Coach Kerr added an exciting twist to a game that would have otherwise been tough for the players to get up for.
The experiment was a success. Not just because the Warriors won by 46 points, but because the added responsibility made them function better as a team. Here are four ways self-coaching made the Warriors better, and could help your team too.
1. It promoted higher levels of focus.
Knowing that they were not only playing, but also coaching, the players were more "locked in" and engaged in the game than they otherwise might have been against the Suns. Getting substituted out of the game wasn't just a time to get water and wait on the sidelines, but an opportunity to focus on the other players on the court to understand how they were playing individually and as a team.
When team members are expected not only to perform but to also help others perform, they will be more likely to focus on the entire team system.
2. It inspired better communication.
Though some of the Warriors' veteran players are occasionally seen giving tips to newer players while on the sidelines, most of the time it's Coach Kerr and his assistants communicating the plan and strategy. In coaching the game, the players were now communicating in more diverse ways and more frequently. On the court, it was about more in-the-moment communication, and off-the-court they were sharing what they noticed and how they could improve.
Removing the reliance on a coach or manager to communicate what he or she is observing enables individuals to come together and share their perspectives directly with one another.
3. It made individuals accountable for team outcomes.
During Monday's game, power forward Draymond Green did not play because of an injured index finger. Still, he played a significant role in coaching the game. He called plays from the sidelines and stood up to applaud his teammates when they made shots. He also had discussions with his "assistants," two teammates, David West and Javale McGee. Ordinarily, an injured player may have had mini discussions with the bench players sitting next to him, if he attended the game at all. With the opportunity to coach, Green was still accountable (and arguably made more accountable) for the outcome of the game.
Making individual team members feel responsible for their teammates' performance inspires a sense of accountability for the entire team, not just themselves as individuals.
4. It provided individuals with new perspectives.
During a timeout in the second half, Steph Curry, one of the best players in the league, almost drew a "delay-of-game" warning. According to NBA.com, Curry told a reporter that he was horrible. He apparently thought about a play, forgot about a second option, and had two guys in the wrong place. Curry is a phenomenal player and teammate. He makes effective plays on the court and enables his teammates to be successful as well. Coaching off the court, however, he was forced to think about the game--and what success looks like--in a new way.
When individuals' roles and responsibilities are temporarily changed, it enables them to think about their day-to-day in a fresh way, while also building empathy for the role of the coach.
Coach Kerr is a highly effective coach. In fact, he just became the fastest coach in American history to get to 250 wins. But being a good coach isn't just about calling plays--it's about enabling your team to feel engaged, responsible for, and committed to its overall success. And the best leaders know that sometimes, you can achieve that by stepping back and doing nothing at all.
Anywhere from a third to half of the population fits the definition of being introverted, meaning these people are at their best in quieter environments compared with the extroverts who do well with a lot of stimulation. And if you're someone who clearly identifies with being on either side of the fence, you know how challenging it can be living and working with people who can be so different from yourself. Coming from the introverted camp, here are several things I wish extroverts understood.
Being quiet doesn't equate with having nothing to say.
It's quite the opposite. As thinkers, introverts have opinions on lots of things. Often, during meetings or social gatherings introverts want to chime in, but the talkative people will not stop talking. Considering a group only has so much time together, be considerate and share the stage. Better yet, actively inquire about an introvert's thoughts on a matter.
Introverts aren't less mentally healthy than extroverts.
In her book The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You, Elaine N. Aron cites a study where researchers compared 480 schoolchildren in Shanghai to 296 schoolchildren in Canada to see what traits made kids most popular. Chinese children considered "shy" or "sensitive" were chosen most often to be playmates. In Canada, these kids were chosen least often. Various cultures are incredibly biased when it comes to how they perceive introversion. Because of the American bias against introversion, even researchers have a difficult time being open-minded and impartial when it comes to the trait.
Introverts can be better leaders than extroverts.
Susan Cain, TED speaker and author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, cites research conducted by Adam Grant at the Wharton School who found that introverted leaders often get better results, compared with extroverts, because the latter can unwittingly squelch creativity by not giving up the reins and letting people run with their own ideas.
The brains of introverts and extroverts are different.
Dr. Laurie Helgoe cites several studies in which researchers compared the two and found that introverts generally have higher levels of electrical activity in the cerebral cortex, which may explain why they limit external stimulation so as to maintain an appropriate level of arousal. And studies measuring cerebral blood flow discovered introvert brain activation is greater in the frontal cortex, where things that necessitate focus and attention happen, such as remembering, planning, decision making, and problem solving. Their brains also show more blood flow in Broca's area, which is involved in speech production, which may be why introverts are inclined toward self-talk.
Introverts are great at studying people, and that's a good thing.
While extroverts often tend to sit in the front of a room, introverts often prefer the back or a corner. It's where they can observe, analyze and learn about the people around them. Being genuinely interested in others is a character strength.
Over a half a century ago, Alex Osborne wrote an influential book called Applied Imagination that opined that "the average person can think up twice as many ideas when working with a group than when working alone." Managers must have been convinced because brainstorming groups took off in popularity and are still used widely to this day. In fact, in business schools it is almost heretical to argue that teams are not more creative than individuals.
The only problem is that Osborne was wrong. Dozens of laboratory studies tried to confirm Osborne's claim, but found the opposite: brainstorming groups produced fewer ideas, and ideas of less novelty, than the sum of the ideas created by the same number of individuals working alone.
How could this be? Aren't ideas supposed to cross-fertilize, coming up with new and unusual hybrids through a process sometimes referred to as idea sex? It turns out group idea sex is of the ho-hum variety; more exciting ideas come from going solo.
There are three main reasons that groups are less creative than individuals working on their own:
1. Fear of Judgment
A series of studies by Professors Michael Diehl, Wolfgang Stroebe, Bernard Nijstad, Paul Pauhus, and othersfound that people self-censor many of their most creative ideas in group brainstorming sessions for fear of being judged negatively by others. When the scientists told groups that their ideas would be judged by their peers, they came up with significantly fewer and less novel ideas than groups that were told they would be evaluated by anonymous judges.
As Isaac Asimov, one of the most famous science fiction writers of all time (and also a biochemistry professor at Boston University) put it, "My feeling is that as far as creativity is concerned, isolation is required...The presence of others can only inhibit this process, since creation is embarrassing. For every new good idea you have, there are a hundred, ten thousand foolish ones, which you naturally do not care to display."
2. Production Blocking
When people take turns to voice their ideas, those bringing up the rear may forget their ideas before having a chance to voice them. Worse still, the process of attending to another person's ideas redirects a listener's train of thought, essentially hijacking their own idea generation process. Scientists were able to demonstrate this by separating individuals into rooms where they would speak their ideas into a microphone when lights indicated it was their turn. In some of the rooms the individuals could hear the contributions of others, and in some they could not. This study resulted in big creativity losses: being required to wait to give ideas caused people to submit far fewer ideas, and even fewer ideas if they could hear the contributions of others.
Now imagine what happens when people do not have to take turns but instead volunteer ideas at will: the most outgoing people in the group will dominate the idea submission while the quieter people, or those more worried about social pressure, do not submit many (or any) of their ideas. Furthermore, if they do submit their ideas, they may submit only those ideas that build upon the ideas that were already contributed - a sure way to drive out novelty.
3. Feasibility Trumps Originality
Another series of studies by Professor Eric Rietzschel and colleagues shows that teams aren't just bad for idea generation; they even impair idea selection. If you let people work alone to generate ideas but then let the group select the best ideas to pursue, they will make decisions that reduce novelty. The studies showed that when groups interactively ranked their "best" ideas, they chose ideas that were less original than the average of the ideas produced, and more feasible than the average of the ideas produced. In other words, people tended to weight "feasible" more highly than "original." If a brainstorming group is intended to elicit novel ideas, asking groups to select and submit their best ideas is not the way to achieve that outcome.
The Benefits of Spending Time Alone
Solitude is immensely valuable for creativity; it affords a person the time to think and pursue those things they find intrinsically interesting. It can help them to develop their own beliefs about how the world works, and to develop a self-concept that is less structured by the opinions of others.
In my research on serial breakthrough innovators, I found that all of the innovators had spent significant time alone, pursuing their own interests. Most were voracious readers --Elon Musk, for example, often read for 10 hours a day, and his brother Kimbal noted "If it was the weekend he could go through two books in a day." Elon Musk himself says, "I was raised by books. Books and then my parents."
Many of the innovators were also "autodidacts," vastly preferring to teach themselves subjects rather than being taught in school. This helped them to become independent thinkers that challenged assumptions. Thomas Edison noted about himself, for example, that he found he "involuntarily challenged" everything he read and desired to demonstrate whether it was right or wrong. His individualistic style of acquiring knowledge and his reflexive challenging of received wisdom eventually led him to question many of the prevailing theories of electricity. And of the innovators I studied, Albert Einstein was most vocal about the need for solitude and individuality in creativity, arguing, "The really valuable thing in the pageant of human life seems to me not the political state, but the creative, sentient individual, the personality; it alone creates the noble and the sublime, while the herd as such remains dull in thought and dull in feeling."
When managers want employees to come up with breakthroughs, they need to give people some time alone to ponder their craziest of ideas and follow their paths of association into unknown terrain. They should be urged to come up with ideas freely, without fear of judgment. They should be encouraged to commit their ideas to paper, and to flesh each of them out before exposing them to others. Managers can also follow Google and 3M's lead and give employees in creative roles a significant percentage of their time (e.g., 3M uses 15% of work hours) where they pursue products of their own creation and choosing. Google's Gmail and Google News, and 3M's Post-it-Notes, and many other products, were developed this way.
A creative idea can be fragile--easily swept away by the momentum of a group conversation. Almost every team suffers from some degree of group think; individuals who are more outspoken or who have forceful personalities can dominate the conversation and the decision making. They can herd a team onto a particular trajectory without even intending to do so, or worse - they can bring everyone to a mediocre compromise. A little isolation and solitude can give other individuals a better chance to develop their breakthrough ideas.
You sit down with your team for a brainstorming session and wait for the creativity to flow -- but nothing comes to you. When there's too much pressure to think up your next big idea, this is often the scenario that results. But if you can reframe your thinking and seek inspiration in unexpected places, you'll be amazed at the ideas that start pouring in.
These six entrepreneurs share simple ways to jumpstart your creative thinking. Remember: It often helps to think outside of the box -- or even outside of the office.
Seek inspiration from outside sources.
When you find yourself at a loss for ideas, looking beyond your brand can inspire your own upcoming project. Dalia MacPhee, CEO of clothing brand DALIA MACPHEE, turns to the greats in fashion and photography to jog her creativity.
"A few years ago, we were trying to come up with a new fashion campaign for our latest collection. I suggested we start looking up the best fashion and art photography published in the last 60 years," she says. "Just being exposed to similar creative got the juices flowing, and by the end, everyone at the table had at least three great ideas."
Get your blood pumping.
Derek Robinson, founder and CEO of digital marketing agency Top Notch Dezigns, knows that staying still can be a productivity killer when you're already stumped. If you take a break and get moving, you may be surprised at the resulting boost in creativity.
"I move from work to any task that is physically exhausting," he says. "A few months ago, when I was in a brainstorming session with our web design team, I could not think beyond my initial idea. A two-mile midday run had everyone around me surprised, but once I was back, I was raring to go. A couple sets of tennis tend to work equally well."
Don't limit ideas.
"I find a mental block is simply me being distracted or doubting my ideas," says Ben Landis, founder and CEO of social growth accelerator Fanbase. When you take the pressure off by embracing all ideas, good and bad, you'll likely find something to work with among the deluge.
"When I am in a brainstorming session, we have a rule that all ideas are good ideas. This isn't always true, but if you can say anything without judgment, more ideas will come out," he says. "We write everything down, then revisit the best ones."
Keep your environment clean.
Sometimes having an unobstructed mind is as simple as working in an uncluttered space. Jared Atchison, co-founder of WordPress form builder WPForms, finds that a clean and quiet environment with lots of natural light breeds the best ideas.
"I'm most creative when my environment is clean, minimalist and quiet. It also helps if the environment brings nature indoors with large windows, bamboo flooring or an outside deck," he says. "When my outside environment is free of clutter, my mind has more room for creative thought."
Change your surroundings.
If bringing nature indoors doesn't do the trick, try taking a walk outside instead. Matthew Capala, CEO of global boutique search marketing agency Alphametic, knows that vibrant city streets can offer a lot more inspiration than the four white walls of a conference room.
"Encountering resistance during strategy sessions is common, especially in the world of SEO. Finding creative workarounds and getting back into a flow state can be a matter of literally walking around," he says. "Our office is in an arts district in Miami, and the street art is one of the reasons I chose the location. Being inspired by the surroundings makes creative impulses contagious."
Eliminate the word 'but.'
"We get caught up in things we can't do and things that won't work," says Jen Brown, founder and artistic director of improv-based education program The Engaging Educator. By flipping the script and staying positive during brainstorming sessions, your ideas will take a turn for the positive, too.
"The word 'but' creates a block in our minds. By eliminating 'but' and substituting it with 'yes,' we open up possibilities and ideation becomes limitless," she says. "For one client, we used a 'but' button -- every time someone said 'but' during a brainstorm, we hit a buzzer. It broke the habit quickly."
One of the most important lessons I learned about success comes from the best selling author and humorist David Sedaris: if you want to be successful you need to give up something.
In a personal essay that Sedaris wrote for The New Yorker, " Laugh, Kookaburra," he describes a road trip he took with his boyfriend Hugh in Australia. While there they meet up with a friend, Pat, who had retired after a successful career. She explains to them that life is like a stovetop with four burners. The burners represent work, family, friends and health. If you want to be successful you need to turn one of the burners off. If you want to be really, really successful you need to turn off two. She has chosen to turn off family and health. Sedaris says he's turned off friends and health. His boyfriend has turned off work.
"I asked which two burners she had cut off, and she said that the first to go had been family. After that, she switched off her health. 'How about you?'"
Understanding that you, or Sedaris, or any successful person, cannot have everything is one of the most important lessons we can learn in life and work. Especially when, in this age of oversharing, other people seem to have it all. The simple reality is no one has the time, energy, or resources to have everything they want. Making peace with your finite resources can reduce stress, as well as help you to develop strategies for tricking the system when you can.
Trick the system.
If you can make what you want and what you need co-exist, you can trick the system. You can walk to your meetings, transform your desk to a treadmill desk, work with your children, meet your friends at the gym, or go on hiking trips together.
My favorite? If you can work with your friends and become friends with the people you work with, you're having your cake and eating it too.
It is true that between work and family, often friends are the first thing to go. But friendships at work can turn projects, travel, and collaborations into opportunities to get to know people and the best excuses to hang out with people you enjoy. And friendships at work will positively impact your business.
Just like you can turn on and off burners on a stove, you can choose to deliberately give something more importance at the cost of something else.
As a mother of young kids, I used to be torn between being a great parent and being a great designer. It was impossible to be both at the same time. My solution? I stopped working on weekends and became a fully present mom. And during the week I gave my work my all.
Stefan Sagmeister, graphic designer and director of The Happy Film, turns the work burner completely off every 7 years to take a sabbatical to travel, see friends and family and to replenish his creative soul.
Once you become aware of your burners, you can develop strategies to turn them on and off with intention.