What business am I in?—I’m in the creative-business business. Sadly, many business leaders don’t grasp how transformational creativity can be to their bottom line, while most creatives don’t have an understanding about how their special sauce can drastically impact business results. When it comes to creativity itself, I am on the record as suggesting, “courageous ideas are the only ones that matter.” One of the observations that I try to bring forward in Return On Courage: A Business Playbook For Courageous Change is that courage is undoubtedly an underutilized “journey word,” while landing on an idea that’s meaningful is the ultimate destination.
My hope, with an article like this, is to help you stay disciplined, focused and courageous as you tinker with creativity in the messy middle of an initiative. As we often forget, we’re not able to be there in-person, on the front line with our ideas when they’re released into this media-obese world we play in. If we’re inundated with 3,000 messages per day, your idea must have some mustard to withstand the mediocrity that pollutes the panoply of media vessels.
So, how shall we stay one step ahead of “sea of sameness” thinking? Creativity is the answer to making magical work and, to go a step deeper, creating a magical culture that maximizes authenticity and minimizes attrition. When you get it right, you can courageously contribute in a meaningful and lasting way that could change the game (and your business) forever.
As 2021 is right around the corner, now is the time to inspire your team to creatively lean into this newfound challenge. The following ideas may help you think through what this next new world needs, and it might just short-circuit the short-term thinking that you encounter in the day job.
In today’s workplace, most of us are not compensated for courageous feats of creativity. Instead, we are rewarded for staying the course and remaining in the safe zone. The process we have for reviewing our employees doesn’t do us any favors. Annual reviews are easy on the leaders, but brutal on the brand. Our employees are “fine” not sticking their necks out, because going outside of their comfort zones and taking risks could uproot their livelihood. And this, most likely, won’t affect just the employee—there are families at stake. The bigger the family, the smaller the level of risk you may be inclined to take in the workplace. This shows us just how broken our business culture is and how absent courage is from it. Many do whatever they can to protect themselves—at all costs—regardless of what’s best for the business.
The company is supposed to be compensating employees for great leadership, great thinking, great creativity, great management, and great results . . . and many employees are only thinking about protecting themselves. But, if we reward risk on a monthly basis, suddenly we have a construct in place that celebrates courageous thinking. From monthly gift cards to days off, get creative on how you’ll unleash courageous thinking on a regular basis. I always like to say, “your future is safe with change.” Make it easy for people to take on change and take risks regularly. Have the courage to reward a failed venture. Then reward them weekly or monthly for doing so.
Creating processes and infrastructure to create learning experiments are an excellent way for an organization to acquire knowledge—one of the building blocks of courage in business. Many office experiments end up being perceived as failures when they are anything but. These less-than-perfect experiences gathered over a period of time help us shape how we approach the next, new innovation. Rather than placing all-or-nothing bets on the future, companies can create Experimental Task Forces (ETFs) whose role is to unearth revenue-generating opportunities before your competitors do. Wherever you need courage the most is where you should employ your ETF. Where most of your company remains ground soldiers, this ETF—a mission-focused internal “special forces” squad—gets the time, space, and budget to tackle possible future problems.
There’s a famous proverb that says that fear and courage are brothers. You actually cannot get to the courageous move in business without first channeling it through fear. Unfortunately, most of us prefer to suppress fear versus address fear. How about this: let’s not wait for a true threat that could take down our businesses. Most companies wait until that threat is too close to the stove instead of putting a proactive plan in place—the hospitality business response to the AirBnB threat, is one example. How does this happen? To date, the onus is on the day-to-day operation, so long-term, creative thinking takes a back-row seat. It’s time to flip that thinking. When it comes to fighting futuristic business fears, every company should put in the hard work now to proactively identify a potential nemesis of the business. Proactively exposing, then addressing, that fear forces examination and an action plan. It can kick-start innovation and creativity in business. We need to be diligent about staying proactive (versus reactive or, worse, inactive) when it comes to taking on what could take you down. It starts by addressing, instead of suppressing, fear. That fear can be flipped into your friend.
How do you make your competition irrelevant? List three business innovations that could keep you relevantly ahead in business. Think through new offerings that allow you to play offense rather than simply defending what you already have. Another way to look at this question: What idea (that currently exists or doesn’t exist) might actually kill your company? Bring that idea to the surface and decide if you want to invest in that idea. Better for you to cannibalize your business than another.
Who would make a good member of your Experimental Task Force? Consider this your “special forces” unit. Your ETF is responsible for innovating your tomorrow. List three to six coworkers who would thrive on this team. Don’t limit yourself to titles, age, ethnicity, gender, corporate politics or current experience. Focus on who you think diversifies the ETF and brings a unique perspective to the team.
Which fear do we need to address and take down first? Is there one pressing fear that keeps you up at night—or, a long-term fear that can crumble your business over time? Start there—address that fear rather than suppress it. Remember, you either have an industry fear or you become the industry fear. Which would you rather be?
Want more? If you would like a step-by-step process on how to unlock courage, and creativity, in your company, pick up Return On Courage at Amazon. Or, reach out to me directly—I’m happy to share more about the steps we would take to transforming you into a Courage Brand®.
Ryan Berman is an author, keynote speaker and the founder of Courageous; a create-the-change company that builds and leads Courage Brands®. Ryan has helped install courage in the stories and culture at Google, Kellogg’s Europe, charity: water, Major League Baseball, Snapchat, Johnson & Johnson, Cereal Partners Worldwide and US Ski & Snowboard. His book ‘Return on Courage’ shows how during these courage deficient times, courage is a competitive advantage for those leaders who choose to unlock it. Berman also has his own altruistic Courage Brand called Sock Problems: a sock company that “socks” different problems in the world.