Blog (page 3)

Is working from home affecting your creativity?

At the start of the year, if you were used to working in an office, working from home was a bit of a novelty.

As time’s gone on we’ve learned and adapted.

Flexible and remote working is here to stay and it brings with it a mix of opportunities and challenges. It means saving time and money on commuting, being home to meet the kids from school and with the right leadership and culture, it should provide you with the flexibility to work at the times of day when you’re at your best.

There’s a definite downside though. Flexible and remote working means that we miss out on the social part of working in an office, learning from others and bouncing ideas around. It can also be hard to know how colleagues are really doing if we can’t pick up on visual and non-verbal cues, if we can’t just casually say ‘hello’ as we’re passing their desk or hear about what’s going on for them over a cuppa.

Boundaries between home and work are easily blurred when your desk is the kitchen table. It can be difficult to switch off when work and home are the same places. To un-merge work and home life I’m an advocate of the fake commute – a journey signalling the start and end of the working day. Whether it’s just round the block, or longer it doesn’t matter. It’s your signal to start and stop work, which is going to be even more important in the future as working from home is here to stay.

Is working from home affecting your creativity?

I believe that one of the downsides of flexible and remote working is that learning and creativity will take a knock. It’s often those casual conversations while we’re waiting for the kettle to boil, the small talk before a meeting starts or the chance conversations that we have in passing that build strong working relationships, encourage learning, and spark creativity.

Creativity is often sparked by curious and random conversations and in my experience it’s less easy to have those sorts of accidental conversations on Zoom. We don’t pick up on nuances in the same way, informal chats with colleagues are less common and as a result so are the connections that form new thinking and the exchange of ideas.

When working remotely or from home we need to be more deliberate about creating those moments when creativity can flourish.

3 tips to help foster creativity when working flexibly or remotely

  • Build travelling time to your Zoom meetings. Allow time in your agenda at the beginning for the casual chat.
  • Have walk and talk meetings. Get up and moving about. If its raining walk about inside, it doesn’t matter where you go, just get away from your desk and from your screen.
  • Flex your curiosity. Go and learn something outside of your working life; a new skill, read a book, visit a gallery, (yes watching something different on Netflix does count….and I urge you to step away from a screen if you can) go metal detecting, foraging or bird spotting. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as you’re interested in it and you’re learning something new.

If you’d like some help to keep creativity thriving in your team get in touch.

You could also join them up to the Lucidity Network. They’ll get learning and connected to some brilliant people who can motivate, support and inspire them. There’s more information about the Lucidity Network here. If you’d like to join your team, get in touch for a group discount.

Three tips to manage uncertainty

Uncertainty is a natural and unavoidable part of life. None of us have a job for life, a guarantee of good health, or absolute certainty over what tomorrow will bring. As the coronavirus outbreak has shown, life can change quickly and unpredictably.

The challenge for all of us is that human beings are wired to seek certainty. When we’re faced with uncertainty our brain believes our safety is threatened.  This triggers us in to a fight, flight or freeze response. When we’re in a fight, flight or freeze state our ability to make decisions, collaborate and solve problems is impaired. We want to feel safe and have a sense of control over our lives and well being. In an uncertain world, our need for certainty fuels worry and anxiety and makes the management of uncertainty a constant in our lives.

From an evolutionary perspective, humans’ first priority is survival. We’re built to be able to anticipate danger, prepare for it, and fight against it. Think about our ancestors who had to be alert for anything, from predators to natural disasters, that might pose a threat to their survival.

Today, the dangers we face are different, but our brains are still wired the same.  As a consequence, we react to uncertainty with the same responses as our ancestors. When faced with uncertainty our reptilian brain takes over with a fear response and triggers us to fight, flight or freeze. This response is great for fighting a bear, or out-running a sabre tooth tiger. However, it’s less good for figuring out how to juggle working from home with schooling the kids or preparing for a job interview.

Fear and uncertainty can leave us feeling stressed, anxious, and powerless. It can drain us emotionally as we worry about everything including the economy, employment, finances, relationships and our physical and mental health.

We’re all different in how much uncertainty we can tolerate in life. Some people seem to enjoy taking risks and living unpredictable lives.  Others find the randomness of life deeply distressing. All of us are different. All of us have a limit as to how much uncertainty we can handle.

Three tips for managing uncertainty

Structure and routine. Having a structure to your working day, for example starting and finishing work at the same time, having set tasks that you do at set times, or having team meetings and 1-2-1’s at regular times, can create a sense of predictability that can help to counteract the stress of uncertainty. I wrote about this in my blog on tips for working from home. 

Be aware of the meaning you’re making. When faced with uncertainty, research in cognitive behavioural therapy shows that people tend to overestimate the risks and negative consequences that may result from a situation, and underestimate the probability of a positive outcome. What assumptions are you making about the situation? What gaps in knowledge are you filling with negative assumptions?  Shift the meaning you’re making about the situation by challenging yourself to image the best possible scenario.

Create space to reflect. To understand your reactions to uncertainty, create space for reflection.  It can be helpful to remember that you’ve faced uncertainty before. How did you manage it in the past? (You’re here now so you did OK!) For example, allocate time with yourself every week to reflect on the week. You could keep a reflection journal or work with a coach or buddy up with a colleague.

If you’d like more help and practical tools to manage uncertainty,  join me and over 170 other members over at the Lucidity Network. More information and sign up here. 

Why the ability to solve problems is more important than having a right answer

When I was 8 years old I knew all the flags of the world. When I was 16 I knew about Pythagoras theorem and when I was 21 I knew how Nylon was made.

Whilst flags, Pythagoras and Nylon are all interesting to a degree, I’m not sure how genuinely useful any of those topics have really been in my career. I learned about them to pass exams. I crammed the information in order to regurgitate it and get as many questions right as I could. Then I forgot it all. My schools and Universities could tick a box though. If enough of us remembered enough facts it meant they got better ratings, which meant more students and more money in subsequent years.

Throughout education I remember being rewarded for getting things right. And I learned this young. At an early age I figured out that asking challenging questions, thinking differently or being a maverick didn’t make me popular with teachers, so over time I stopped.

Then when we start work we are given key performance indicators and objectives. As adults working for an organisation we are measured and judged on how we conform to a set of pre-defined objectives. These are just the grown up versions of getting rewarded for getting things right passing tests, and ticking boxes.

So it’s no wonder that so many organisations struggle to be successful at innovation. Learning to pass exams rather than learning to think for ourselves discourages innovation from an early age, and lets not underestimate the impact that our early years experiences have on our adult behaviour.

Innovation isn’t about confirming to a set of rules or learning about how things have always been done. It’s about thinking differently, responding to change and solving problems. I’m not saying that it’s not important to learn from history and the great discoveries that have gone before us, but if we are not mindful, we may end up focusing on the events of the past and miss the real lessons of the innovators experiences; of questioning the status quo, learning from the present and not giving up when others said it was impossible.

And the real life lessons that we experience are really important in a world that is changing faster than ever before and will never move so slowly again. It’s unlikely that anyone entering the workforce today will have the same job in ten years time. *One estimate suggests that 65% of children starting primary school today will end up working in jobs that currently don’t even exist.

Right now we need our innovation and creativity skills more than ever before.

We’ve been forced to change radically in 2020. Many of us have already adapted to working from home or adjusted into new roles. We’ve stayed connected, and many people have been even more connected while remaining socially distanced. Parents have adapted to teach their kids (and many kids have adapted to teach their parents)!

Human beings are good at creativity, innovation and adapting, but we’re not used to having to adapt so quickly in a highly stressful situation and for a sustained period of time. The adrenalin needed to respond to a crisis exhausts us and we run out of steam. Gary Gower talks about it in his recent blog about getting past the 6-month wall.

When we’re stressed, anxious or out of steam our ability to think creatively is diminished.

When we feel stressed, it’s common to experience ‘brain fog’ – that feeling of not being able to think straight. When we’re out of steam we can lack the ability to focus or concentrate on anything properly. When we’re anxious we can make quick and ill thought through decisions or procrastinate so much that we do nothing at all.

This is because when we’re feeling stressed or anxious our basic survival instincts kick in and our bodies go into fight, flight or freeze mode. This makes it very difficult to access the creative thinking parts of our brains needed to solve problems effectively.

We are all creative and according to research, to think creatively we simply need to be in a relaxed or playful mindset. That’s why many people have their best ideas in the shower, walking the dog or in the pub. Ideas flow when we’re relaxed.

There’s no relaxation or playfulness when we’re operating in fight, flight or freeze mode. So in a crisis it can be hard to think creatively and solve problems, despite knowing that in a crisis is the time when we need these skills the most.

Being able to solve problems is a very important skill right now. That’s one of the reasons that I set up the Lucidity Network. It’s gives members training materials, connection with others to help solve problems and group coaching. Join the Lucidity Network here.

 

 

Gary Gowers guide to getting past the 6-month wall

A guest blog on getting past the 6-month wall, by Gary Gower, a wire fox terrier that likes to be heard.

A long time has passed since I wrote my first ever blog – my guide to life in lockdown. When I wrote it I didn’t realise that the corona virus would impact us all so significantly or for so long. Last week we hit a 6-month wall.

I’m Gary Gower, a wire fox terrier and I live with my PA Lucy Gower.

At the start of lockdown we were optimistic. I was delighted that I got better walks and the long evenings and the light mornings meant I got the best sniffs of the day. My PA got really busy providing more support and connection for her membership community, the Lucidity Network. We even had Zoom lunches where I got to wear a cravat and cheer people up just by being me! But then we got Zoom fatigue from looking at people and pets on a screen all day and we went into a decline.

That’s when my PA had a panic as her work is mostly training and conference speaking in rooms with lots of people. They stopped happening. She wasn’t going away at all. We were stuck at home alone and I missed seeing my friends at doggy day-care. We both got a bit grumpy and anxious.

I think this was when my PA started baking cakes. She made a different one every week to practice new recipes’, and feel she was learning new things. But that stopped in June when she said the cakes were making her clothes shrink.

Then we worked hard at optimism. My PA appreciated that she wasn’t spending much on petrol. We got lost on the common a lot as (my PA said she had to do 10,000 steps a day) and we appreciated discovering new tracks and bogs. I appreciated the volumes of stinky mud I got to roll about in.

We’ve definitely got to know each other better, and we have adjusted to a different life. My PA always has an online delivery booked in, and the cupboards are better stocked in case we get locked down. We do good walks and don’t get lost as much as before, although there has been less mud. We moved to a smaller house that apparently costs less and I have new neighbours to bark at.

But last week I’ve noticed my PA is back in a slump. I think she hit a 6-month wall. She’s got a kind of disinterested boredom. She said she has brain fog and is finding it difficult to concentrate. She’s talking about wading in treacle. She’s struggling to be motivated to do anything; work, relax, watch TV, read or do the washing up. At least she still gives me dinner and takes me for walks, but even that feels like an effort. I think her mood affects me. I sit on the top of the stairs with a sad face. Even my favourite toy, Christmas Pig doesn’t cheer me up.

I was listening to the radio and apparently there’s a thing called surge capacity.

According to Ann Masten, PhD, a psychologist and professor of child development at the University of Minnesota; Surge capacity is a collection of adaptive systems – mental and physical – that humans draw on for short-term survival in acutely stressful situations, such as natural disasters.

However, she says that natural disasters usually occur over a short period and are visible. If there’s a hurricane or a flood you can look outside and see the damage. And according to my PA (dogs don’t have great sense of time passing) we passed the 6-month wall last week and there’s nothing visible – just an uncomfortable feeling of indefinite uncertainty.

Masten says. ‘It’s important to recognise that it’s normal in a situation of great uncertainty and chronic stress to get exhausted and to feel ups and downs, to feel like you’re depleted or experience periods of burnout.’

Basically we run out of steam. No wonder my PA is feeling it. Maybe you are too? Me, not so much as I’m a dog and I just roll with the punches, but my PA talks about a feeling of loss; loss of ‘normal’ life.

Gary Gowers tips to get past the 6-month wall

The ‘new normal’ is indefinite uncertainty. All the tips to help you adjust to life in lockdown in my last blog still apply. In addition, here’s some things that I’m working on with my PA to help her keep going for however long it takes.

Give yourself permission to feel what you feel

If you feel rubbish, disconnected and disinterested then that’s OK. You don’t have to be brave if you’re just not feeling it. Work on just accepting that’s how you feel. Give yourself permission to expect less. It’s OK if you feel like sitting on the sofa. It’s OK not to feel great. Accept that it is what it is for now. I just go and sit in my bed with Christmas Pig.

You can’t change the situation but you can change how you approach it

My PA said that 2020 had been a ‘sh*t show’. Acknowledge that and then find a ‘yes and’ to go with it. For example, ‘this year has been really tough but me and my PA have got to hang out a lot and go on some great walks with some brilliant mud which has been really great’. Don’t deny how you feel, and in addition to the gloom, see if you can find a positive ‘yes and’.

Make plans

We all need to have something to look forward to. And lots of us have had big plans curtailed by the pandemic. (I was supposed to go and stay with my grandparents, who give me lots of treats and I was super disappointed). Don’t stop making plans for the things you enjoy doing. It helps to have something to look forward to. Even planning a walk with a friend can make a positive impact on your day. Recently my PA and me went canoeing to the pub with some friends. We looked forward to it, and it was a really super afternoon.

What things do you miss – and how can you recreate them?

We’re all missing things, holidays, coffee with friends, playing at doggy daycare. Jot them down. Are there things that you can adapt? For example, many people have told my PA that they miss the informal chats at work while making tea because all they do now are proper meetings. Can you start the meeting 10 mins early and everyone in the meeting make tea first to still have those chats? I miss when my PA used to leave me on my own when she had meetings, so I go and hide on my PAs bed and pretend she’s gone out.

Build your resilience bucket

Humans are resilient. You all have a full bucket and every knock back spills some resilience out of it. So its important to do things to keep the resilience bucket topped up and not let it get empty, because that’s when you burn out. Thankfully I’m one of the things that keeps my PA’s bucket topped up. She feels better after going for a walk or when she fluffs my beard up into funny shapes, or boops my nose. What’s your thing or things that help to build your resilience? And can you do them regularly so your bucket doesn’t get empty?

Stay connected

According to Masten, ‘The biggest protective factors for facing adversity and building resilience are social support and remaining connected to people. That includes helping others, even when we’re feeling depleted ourselves.’ 

I know that when I’m feeling grumpy I just want to sit on the top of the stairs on my own, but I know if I go for a walk, chase a ball, chew a stick and sniff other dogs that I feel much better.

Humans need to stay connected too and make a deliberate choice to do it. It can be easy when you have disinterested boredom to just go inside your own head. Be deliberate about stepping out of your own head and connect with others on a regular basis.

If you’d like help, support and connection to get past your 6-month wall, check out the Lucidity Network. My PA runs it. It’s a mix of training, learning and connection to a network of brilliant people to help you keep your resilience bucket full during the new normal uncertainty. You get to have the occasional lunch with me too. For more information and to join us click here.

Lucidity Business Book Club: Change by design by Tim Brown

How design thinking transforms organisations and inspires innovation was the focus of the Lucidity Network book club meeting in September.

‘The mission of design thinking is to translate observations into insights, and insights into products and services that will improve lives.’

As a group of individuals concerned with improving lives we were therefore keen to learn more.

The book opens with a case study of a 2004 design brief that Shimano had given Tim and his team. The goal was to address the flattening growth in its traditional high-end road racing and bike segments in the US. To get under the skin of the problem, they brought together a multidisciplinary team of designers, behavioural scientists, marketers and engineers to identify appropriate constraints for the project.

‘Looking for new ways to think about the problem, they spent time with consumers from across the spectrum. They discovered that nearly everyone they had met had happy memories of being a kid on a bike but many are deterred by cycling today – by the retail experience (including the intimidating, Lycra-clad athletes who serve as sales staff in most independent bike stores; by the bewildering complexity and excessive cost of the bikes, accessories and specialized clothing; by the dangers of cycling on roads not designed for bicycles and by the demands of maintaining a sophisticated machine that might be ridden only on weekends. They noted that everyone they talked to seemed to have a bike in the garage with a flat tire or a broken cable.’

By seeking real life insights into behaviour, the team was able to identify a new market, which led to the development of a simple and affordable bike that was comfortable to ride, easy to maintain but still looked good.

But the team didn’t stop there. They wanted to address all the challenges they had identified through their research process and as such created in-store retailing strategies, a unique brand that aimed to encourage people to get back on their bikes and enjoy the freedom cycling brings; and they worked in collaboration with local governments and cycling organisations to identify and promote safe places to ride.

It is this holistic approach that Tim says illustrates what design thinking is. It is not a linear process that has a defined beginning, middle and end. Instead, it involves a sequence of ‘overlapping spaces rather than a sequence of orderly steps’ that the project team may loop back through more than once as they refine their ideas and explore new directions.

* ‘inspiration’: the problem or opportunity that motivates the search for solutions
* ‘ideation’: the process of generating, developing and testing ideas
* ‘implementation’: the path that leads from the project room to the market

What did the book club members think to the book? Of those who had read some or all of the book, the general consensus was that it didn’t teach us anything new! To be fair, the book was first written in 2009 and many of the ideas within it have been widely adopted. Likewise, many of the people attending the book club meeting worked in communications, strategy and service design, and as such were familiar with design thinking and how it works in practice.

That said, elements of the book did provide useful reminders of tools and techniques that can be applied in multiple contexts. These included:

  • There are three overlapping criteria for successful ideas: 1) feasibility, what is functionally possible within the foreseeable future; 2) viability, what is likely to become part of a sustainable business model; 3) desirability, what makes sense to people and for people. A competent designer will resolve each of these three constraints but a design thinker will bring them into a harmonious balance.
  • Design thinking requires a team that offers diverse backgrounds and skills – but that these people also need to be confident enough of their expertise that they are willing and able to collaborate across disciplines.
  • Faced with complex problems, we can be tempted to increase the size of the core team but this can be counterproductive, slowing things down and muddying the waters. As such, the inspiration phase requires a small, focused group whose job it is to establish the overall framework. It is at the implementation stage that the team size can be increased.
  • A key obstacle to the formation of new ideas is the ability to fail. Therefore, the preferred culture is one that believes that it is better to ask for forgiveness afterwards rather than permission beforehand, that rewards people for success but gives them permission to fail. The best ideas emerge when the whole organisational ecosystem has room to experiment.
  • To really understand people, it’s important to watch what people don’t do as well as what they say they do, and listen to what they don’t say as much as what they do say.

Becky Slack is managing director of Slack Communications and chair of the Lucidity Network Business Book Club.

Change by design: How design thinking transforms organisations and inspires innovation by Tim Brown

The next business book club meeting takes place on Tuesday 20 October, 7.30pm BST and we’re reading
Be More Pirate: Or how to take on the world and win by Sam Conniff Allende.

The Lucidity Network Business Book Club is open to all Lucidity Network members. Check out this link for more information and to join the Network.