Go to any professional setting and you’ll likely hear someone say, “We’ve got to think outside the box.”
It’s a well-worn metaphor often given as feedback. And for good reason.
Conventional solutions often don’t work for unconventional problems. Albert Einstein put it best when he said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”
Here are four creative quotes from some visionary creatives that’ll have you rethinking the way you approach solving problems.
The Importance of Creativity at Work
Creative solutions to problems don’t arise in a work culture that doesn’t value creativity. It must be ingrained in the culture.
Some companies, like design firm ZURB, have made creativity the heart of their culture. They do weekly creative exercises that bonds them as a team. However, it’s not just about being silly and wacky. It’s about building on ideas as well.
Creativity and feedback are tandem activities. You can’t improve the one without the other. For instance, someone could have an “out-of-the-box” solution and another person might suggest ways to improve that idea.
Riffing leads to iteration, which can lead to something better than expected.
Don’t Always Wait for Permission to Solve a Problem
Imagine where we’d be today with computers if computer pioneer Grace Hopper didn’t heed her own advice. Computers wouldn’t infiltrate our lives nearly as much as they do now. They certainly wouldn’t be user friendly.
“If you’ve got a good idea, and it’s a contribution, I want you to go ahead and DO IT. It is much easier to apologize than it is to get permission.”
-Grace Hopper, computer scientist and U.S. Navy rear admiral
Hopper isn’t known as “The Grand Old Lady of Software” for nothing. She created the first compiler, which took English and translated it into code. That led to the first computer language, COBOL. A language still used by today’s programmers. She’s still celebrated today with the Grace Hopper Conference, the largest gathering of women in tech.
She came up with the idea while working on the UNIVAC, the first commercial computer, in 1949. She advocated for a computer language that would use of English instead of math.
Her peers didn’t see the problem she was trying to solve. They told her computers simply don’t speak English, let alone understand it.
Nevertheless, Hopper knew in her gut she was solving the right problem. She knew there was a user need with a solution. While what she did may not have been called Design Thinking back then, that’s what she used. She prioritized and addressed the communication problem users had with computers.
Despite the feedback from her peers, she didn’t back down and continued working on her computer language. Like she’s said many times, it’s always easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission.
Problems don’t require permission to be solved. If we sat around waiting for permission, then nothing would get done.
Getting Team Buy-In Through Better Storytelling
Jobs was a master storyteller. Watch one of his famous Apple keynotes and you’ll see that. He had a flair for the dramatic reveal. After all, he always had “one more thing” to say at the end of every keynote.
“The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller. The storyteller sets the vision, values and agenda of an entire generation that is to come.”
-Steve Jobs, cofounder and former CEO of Apple
He didn’t only use his storytelling skills for presentations and public speaking. He used it to rally his troops and motivate them to create the best products they could. For example, when Apple was going to replace its operating system, Mac OS9, he didn’t simply issue a directive from atop the mountain. He knew what the system meant to all those who worked hard on it. So he held a funeral for the OS, giving his team a chance to mourn.
Jobs even delivered the eulogy with his usual dramatic flair.
What was genius about this move wasn’t the gesture, but in how it got the team to welcome the new OS by saying goodbye to the old one. Jobs got the team’s buy-in through the use of storytelling.
One more thing…
You can use storytelling as well. Your story doesn’t have to be as lofty as Job’s or as dramatic. Yet, you can use story to sell your ideas. In that way, you’ll get your peers to understand your concepts and get behind them. And they’ll be more open to giving you the feedback you need to move forward.
Great Leaders See Greatness in Others
Poet Maya Angelou was a leader in the literary community. She was an inspiration to many through her words as a writer and her actions as an activist. As such, she knew leaders couldn’t be selfish. That they had to see beyond themselves. True leadership comes from how you help others achieve their best.
“A leader sees greatness in other people. He wore she can be much of a leader if all she sees is herself.”
-Maya Angelou, author and activist
Angelou practiced what she preached, seeking to harness other talent rather than be threatened by it. Throughout Angelou’s career, she mentored and uplifted her peers, as well as others such as Oprah Winfrey.
A leader can’t see others as a threat. If they did, then they won’t inspire anyone to do their best. Nor will others be motivated to work toward a common goal. If this happens, innovation will stagnate. Everyone will work in silos. Team buy-in will be non-existent. In order to be an effective leader, you have to keep an open mindset and listen to other ideas. Don’t see feedback as negative, but as an opportunity to grow, for you and others. Soon, you’ll be leading the charge for the next generation of problem solvers.
Learn to Shut Up and Listen
Author Simon Sinek would like us all to listen more instead of blather. The author of “Start With Why” advocates for us to be the last to speak instead of first, especially in meetings and feedback sessions.
“Listening is active. At its most basic level, it’s about focus, paying attention.”
-Simon Sinek, author and TED speaker
Listening is a critical skill in effectively communicating in a professional setting. If you listen more than you talk, you’ll be able to hear solutions that you might not have considered. That’ll lead to better decisions. It’s like on the old “Star Trek,” where Captain Kirk would always ask Mr. Spock or Dr. McCoy for their feedback. He’d listen to them before taking the action that would solve the problem in that week’s episode.
More than that, it made Spock and the doctor feel heard and valued as part of the team. Same thing with your peers. By listening more, your peers will feel seen and heard, creating an inclusive working atmosphere. And they’ll be more apt to support you and collaborate more often.
Matter: The Future of Feedback
Matter helps professionals become the best version of themselves. We believe everyone can achieve mastery, learn, grow, and be respected by their peers. People perform better when they receive monthly peer feedback (proven by science too!).
Matter makes 360-degree feedback easier, pleasant, and more productive. Grow over professional and soft skills like supportiveness, empathy, communication, and listening. Level up and take charge of your career with Matter.
Cover Photo Credit: Grace Hopper Conference