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Sticks, stones and words all hurt

Sticks and stones

I remember being bullied at school. I mostly got bullied because I was fat.

I remember grown ups telling me not to pay any attention to the bullies. They said, if I didn’t pay them any attention they would get bored and leave me alone. I also got told that ‘sticks and stones might break my bones but words could never hurt me.’

The phrase means that hurtful words ‘cannot cause any physical pain and thus can be ignored or disregarded.’

The thing is, this adage, this old childhood chant, simply isn’t true. It very possibly might have had some truth once upon a time, a long time ago before social media existed, but not today.

I get where it’s coming from, don’t let the words in, don’t let them hurt you.

Did anyone else get told this phrase when they were a child? But the simple truth is that words can hurt. They can hurt a lot. And for a very long time. Arguably words can stay with us for longer than the physical pain of sticks and stones.

This is also a worrying message, in that we’re not supposed to be hurt by words. Are we supposed to bottle up the hurt and keep on going? Do the children of the ‘sticks and stones generation’ have a default to brush off the words and battle on?

And when we brush things off or bottle things up, when we don’t feel safe or able to talk, that’s when problems start to fester. When we ignore the bullies, whether they get bored or keep on going let’s not pretend that their impact is not felt. It’s felt in the moment and those words can also linger in our memories for a lifetime.

According the mental health charity Mind, 1 in 4 people will experience mental health problems in any given year. The single best thing we can do in those moments is to talk about how we feel and not to pretend that words don’t hurt.

Whatever your job, you have a responsibility to be thoughtful to those around you. You don’t know what’s going on for your colleagues, customers or clients. Choose your words carefully and in a world where you can be anything. Be kind.

Inspired to write this blog by the sad news today of Caroline Flack passing away.

We drew pictures before we wrote words

Creativity

Why is it when I ask people if they see themselves as creative, most people say ‘no’? Yet when those same people are given the opportunity to be creative the creativity that flows from them is astonishing?

Last week we hosted a Lucidity Network event with our partners Not9to5 on creativity at work, starring artist Jenny Leonard at the brilliant Spaces in Angel Islington.

When our guests started to show up and they saw tables with pens and paper in preparation for them drawing things, I know several people reached for some courage in the form of wine!

We are all creative

We are all creative. The biggest barrier I’ve found if that people don’t believe that they are. Think back to being a kid (or think of your own kids) we used to create all the time. An empty cardboard box could be a castle, a spaceship, a shop counter or an aquarium.

Yet somehow as we get older, we worry more about what other people think and about getting things ‘right’. We draw less. Drawing is a way of communicating. It’s a visual language. Human beings drew pictures before we wrote words. It’s not a case of being able to ‘draw’ its about being able to create and communicate.

Jenny helped us learn to create and communicate though a series of drawing exercises. Everyone had some A4 paper and a pen. Let me give you a flavour of what we did.

First everyone was asked to draw circles. There was no ‘right’ we just drew in whatever way we wanted. We compared circles. Everyone’s page was different. Not surprising, yet it actually was weirdly surprising at how different everyone’s circles pages were. It also helped people to relax, signalling it wasn’t about who was good at drawing. (In fact if you choose to use drawing in a work context you might choose to create a level playing field so no one can be a ‘good’ draw-er, for example you could get everyone to tape their pencil to a stick and draw from the end of the stick not the pencil. Or ask people to draw with their non dominant hand or draw with their eyes shut).

Then we drew something super simple, the wine glass on the table, then we built up to draw a frog, before really going for it with a dinosaur.

The next task was to create a character, any character that came to mind that might feature in a story. Then we passed the paper to person to left and they added something else to the picture, before passing the paper to the left again for the next addition. The final pass to the left involved making a speech bubble and writing something in it.

Take-aways

Once people relaxed into the tasks the fear feeling in the room shifted to a playful dynamic.It was fun. There was laughter and people were happy to share their creations.

The drawing exercises engage a different part of our brain to when we write. They help us to play. The more we play, the more we invent. In fact psychologists as far back as the 1970’s have linked creativity to being more about your mindset than anything else and that we are more likely to be creative when we are in a playful mindset.

Innovation and creativity is about collaboration. The rich insights we get from others input makes the sum of the parts more valuable than working away on your own.

If we can use some of these exercises in our work it can change dynamics and encourage and inspire creativity. They might even break the cycle of the same old ideas churning round and round the boardroom and provide breakthrough’s into new, exciting and different ideas. You just have to be brave enough to break the ‘how we do things here’ patterns and give it a go.

Join the creativity at work webinar

If you want to learn more, practice creativity and build your bravery for using drawing to help your colleagues explore creative thinking and problem solving, join us on the creativity at work webinar on Saturday 15 February at 11am. This webinar is just £10 and you also get a free months membership of the Lucidity Network which through coaching, training and events helps you to be braver, be more creative and make more impact. Here’s your link to sign up for your creativity at work webinar. 

You are creative (whether you believe it or not)

Creativity

Over the years I’ve asked 1000’s of people whether they think they’re creative. It doesn’t matter where I am in the world, the response is always the same.

If I ask the creative people to put their hands up most of the room look away, or at their phones. A handful of people sheepishly half put their hands up. About 1% of the room proudly shove their arm up in the air and ‘admit’ to being ‘creative’.

Somehow, creativity has become the territory of the ‘creative people’. Why are so many of us embarrassed to admit that we might be creative?

Whether you believe it or not you are creative. Creativity is not about whether you can draw or paint. Creativity is about making connections and putting old ideas together to create something new. And creativity is fundamentally about solving problems.

Maybe if I asked ‘how many of you are good at solving problems?’ I’d get a different response.

Creativity can often be perceived as ‘fluffy’ or a ‘nice to have’. This is a flawed perspective because creativity is an important survival strategy. Changing demographics, increased competition, economic and political uncertainty and advances in technology are just some of the factors that affect every individual and organisation on the planet.

Today, organisations must be creative in the way they respond to the changing needs of their customers, clients, colleagues and the market environment or they will not survive.

How we access our creativity is different for all of us. The majority of us don’t have our best ideas when we are at work, stressed at our desks or put under pressure by our manager to ‘think outside the box’.

That’s because, for the vast majority of people, creativity isn’t something that we can simply switch on. Most of us have our best ideas when we are relaxed or in a playful state or with time to properly think. Often the best ideas happen when people talk, build on each others ideas, have time to ponder and collaborate to solve a shared problem.

Whilst all human beings are inherently creative, the way our brains process information can sometimes inhibit our creativity.

Our ways of thinking become more ingrained as we get older. Every experience we have reinforces our established neural pathways. This makes it harder to deviate from what we know, and think creatively – or from a different perspective.

I recently heard an analogy that our neural pathways are like roads. When we’re young they start as meandering pathways that can merge and criss cross. Then, as we get older we favour certain paths and those pathways get more ingrained. We form habits. Our thinking travels those established pathways more and they become more engrained. Those meandering pathways become super highways which are very hard to deviate from. If you’ve ever done anything on ‘auto-pilot’ you’ve experienced this.

And when we’re on auto pilot we’re not questioning anything, not challenging the ‘way things are done here’, not looking for better solutions and not thinking creatively. That’s why, despite being naturally creative animals, we need to practice our creativity and keep our neural pathways open to new ideas. We need to slow down, make time to ponder keep the meandering pathways accessible, enable connections between old and new, allow for exploration and different thinking. We must learn to challenge ourselves to keep off the superhighways of ‘how we do things here’ and keep making new connections and having new ideas and solving problems.

So practically, how do we improve our creative thinking and problem solving skills? What do you actually need to do?

I’m glad you asked. If you’d like to improve your creative thinking and problem solving skills then start by coming to the next Lucidity Network and Not9to5 event. It’s on Wednesday 5th February from 6-8pm and we’re focusing on how you can build your creativity skills to get better results in your work. Here’s more information and reserve your place here. 

Why storytelling is an important skill in business

storytelling

Dreaming big and storytelling are an important part of being an innovator. Innovation, by definition, means “trying something new”.

We encourage would-be innovators to think big, break the mould and shout their ideas from the rooftop in order to radically shift the status quo and create measurable change.

However, the reality of “innovating” is easier said than done. You can’t expect anyone to like your new idea or any changes to systems and processes that you might propose. It’s particularly difficult if you’re up against an industry with a rigid culture of traditions, bureaucracy or stuck in the ‘way we do things here’.

So what can you do to get people on board with new ideas and inspire them to want to make change happen?

The power of storytelling

Many of the world’s best innovators and influencers are also some of the most accomplished storytellers. Martin Luther King Jr. famously roused the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s with his legendary “I have a dream” speech.

Steve Jobs, the revered Apple CEO, was able to paint a story of his visionary future with the now infamous presentation that launched the iPad.

JFK painted a vision of sending a man to space and returning him safely to earth:

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal… of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind.”

 Humans are wired to tell stories 

Storytelling skills are absolutely key to your ability to inspire and influence other people. That’s why we help innovators develop their storytelling skills. 

Storytelling is how human beings have shared knowledge for hundreds of thousands of years. Scientists have even shown that information learned through emotionally charged storytelling has greater memory recall. Stories inspire people. They remember them, they retell them.

For you to be an innovator, your ability to tell stories could be the difference between your innovation staying on the drawing board and making it to the market place.

The structure of a story

Are you trying to convince people in your organisation that there’s a better way – or at least that you deserve the opportunity to try?

The trick to getting the ball rolling is describing problems and their solutions in a way that captivates attention and encourages action.

Every powerful story is made up of key areas, as we’ve outlined in our five-step story structure below to help the listener, in this example, engage with the new idea of automated rent payment.

1. Setting the scene

Tell the listener who the story is about.

Give them enough information to make them care what happens.

Using a character reference or real human being helps, e.g. Irene is an elderly woman, too frail and frightened to leave her house after falling on some ice. She has to struggle to the rent office every week because there is no other way to pay her rent other than in person.

2. Describe the problem

The problem on hand is that a frail, injured senior citizen has no other option but to leave her house to pay her rent in person.

3. How the solution will change you / them?

If the payments could be automated, Irene could pay her rent easily without the pain and expense of getting to the payment office and standing in a long queue.

4. Paint the vision of the different future

In this context, the innovation (automated rent payment), has made the difference.

Someone like Irene and millions of senior citizens just like her don’t have to struggle to make it to the payment office, and she has peace of mind that her rent is paid on time.

5. Highlight how the listener has a role in making the better future happen

Consider the role your listener plays in the story. For example, if you are trying to persuade your colleague to support your idea, help them connect to the part they play in making the better future for Irene happen.

 Quick storytelling tips

Consider how you tell your story to others. Below are our top tips to get peoples attention and inspire them to get involved.

  • Make it about one person or a particular group of people –  people connect to stories of specific people on an emotional level, e.g. Irene, rather than stories of the thousands of people like her.
  • Make it simple, use simple language, no jargon or acronyms; your story has to be easily understood to be effective. A good litmus test is to consider if both your granny and a five-year old will understand it.
  • Think about your audience and what sort of story would appeal to their interests.

Lastly, and most importantly: you have to care!

If you don’t care about your story, it’s very hard to convince anyone else to care.

(Nancy Duarte talks a bit more about the importance of structure and passion in her TED talk.)

I’m running a half-day workshop on 21 January from 2-5 in Exeter on the power of storytelling. If you’re interested in learning more about storytelling and how to apply it to make more impact in your work to get then sign up today. 

Click this link for more information and to sign up. If you have any questions then drop me a line at lucy@lucidity.org.uk.

Does it matter if we make assumptions?

Quality Street

For over 40 years the toffees have been the left-over Quality Street left rattling around at the bottom of the chocolate tin long after the last cracker has been pulled. I’d always assumed this was just the way it was in every household.

Until last week when I posted this…

There was uproar! Who knew?! People like toffee Quality Street and some people even like them BEST! It was a real eye-opener. People said;

‘I like to toffee ones bring them over!!’ 

‘First to go in our house’

‘Entirely different for ours, we always have fruit flavoured ones left’ 

It just goes to show how easily we can make a whole bunch of assumptions about toffee Quality Street as well as other less important topics.

Does it matter if we make assumptions?

It’s not a case of it ‘mattering’ as such. It’s more a case of acknowledging that it’s something that we all do.

We all make assumptions all the time about people, places, books, films, food and pretty much anything and everything you care to list. It’s how humans operate. Our brains, when confronted with a situation, check for a thinking shortcut. We refer back to what we already know about a similar situation that’s occurred before. For example, if the toffees are always left, and if we don’t have different experiences of toffees being liked and eaten we default to the short cut. We make a wrong assumption that ‘toffees are always left and no one likes toffees’.

Making assumptions can mean that we get things wrong (people do like Quality Street toffees!).  It can also inhibit our creativity. If our assumptions, for example, are that ‘we tried it before and it didn’t work – so it’s not likely to work now’ or ‘that’s not how we do things here’ it can limit what we believe might be possible and stop us from exploring new thinking.

So it’s normal to make assumptions. And if you’re trying to think creatively and solve problems in a new way, it can help you if you deliberately start to become aware of the assumptions you’re carrying around with you from your past experiences. Assumptions about situations, or people, or the very problems you’re trying to solve.

The best way I’ve found to shine a light on assumptions is simply to ask yourself ‘What assumptions am I making about this situation?’ Then list them. And then start to work through the assumptions list and ask yourself, ‘Are they right? What if that wasn’t true?’ These questions might reveal some new thinking.

Maybe you’ve got some more tips for challenging assumptions? Do share them below.

And before I forget, I’m partial to the green triangles so if anyone wants to do a swap next Quality Street season then let me know.

If you’d like more help with creativity and innovation, check out the free stuff section and download the free chapter of my book ‘The Innovation Workout’ and the Lucidity Innovation Toolkit. Or if you’d like some specific help, drop me an email at lucy@lucidity.org.uk and we can book in a time to chat.