Creative leadership: Encouraging risk taking

Risk-taking

Being the first with something new means by definition to take a risk. Will it work? Will it be accepted? Will it hit big? Will there be a payback on the investment?

Never daring to take these risks, means always moving within well-known and already-explored areas and thus slipping in the competition. This applies irrespective of which area one works; in research, business, medicine, agriculture, societal transformation.

Julius Caesar could not have taken control of the Roman Empire if he in 49 AD had not decided to cross the Rubicon river and march to Rome with his army. The discovery of America had had to wait if Christopher Columbus in 1492 had not dared to sail unknown waters to find a new maritime road to India. Man had not landed on the moon if John F Kennedy had not had a vision and dared to invest both his prestige and the necessary resources.

Starting a business often requires a very large measure of risk taking and no company can survive and grow without a long range of decisions that all imply risks. Nevertheless, risk taking is not something that comes naturally to us. On the contrary, most people have a strong inherent aversion against taking risks. Taking a risk means losing control over the future. We do not want that. Instead, we want to be safe by knowing what’s going to happen in a week, a month, a year…

We want to know what the weather will be like. We want to know how the stock market will evolve. We want to know if the competitor is going to hit. And we definitely want to know if that angry bull will turn around and set after us as we enter the meadow? Feeling that you have a grip on the future, often gives a calm and internal sense of safety and reassuarance, while the uncertainty about what is going to happen and the risk of failure instead can be deeply distressing (unless we belong to the minority living for the adrenaline kicks).

Risk-taking is therefore necessary for survival and growth, but risk-taking can also mean the end. Had there not been a danger of taking risks, there would have been no drama in it. It is therefore important to be smart when taking risks. The better you know yourself and the outside world, the better you are predicting the future, and the more you can calculate the risk, the greater the likelihood that it will be a successful conclusion.

It is also important to always have a plan B. Before the launch of Windows 98, Microsoft had hundreds of different detailed scenarios to fall back on unless something went wrong.

It is important that risk-taking is built into the organisation, i.e. that there is room to invest in the more crazy projects and to have the opportunity to test many of the creative ideas that come from the employees.

However, you should only exceptionally risk more than you can afford to lose. The American investment bank Lehman Brothers took too many and excessive risks in relation to its capital, which led to the world’s biggest bankruptcy in 2008 after the collapse of the US housing mortgages market. Had the bank not taken these big risks, perhaps the subsequent global financial crisis could have been prevented or at least significantly mitigated.

It is therefore a good idea to spread the risks and, for example, never bet more than 10% of the development budget on a single risky new project. The better overview you have on the innovation budget and the clearer the principles are for how much risk you are willing to take, the less anxiety for the risk taking you will have. In addition, the more ideas you have in the company, the less dependent you are on any single idea.

This blog post has been inspired by:

Sloane Paul (2006). The leaders guide to lateral thinking skills. London: Kogan Page.

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The moon and your creativity

Moon 1000x667
“Super moon”, 3 December, 2017

Is the moon and its cycle affecting our creativity? This question is especially pertinent tonight, when there is a “super moon“.

This full moon has a larger-than-usual apparent size of the lunar disk as seen from Earth, coinciding with the closest distance that the Moon reaches to Earth in its elliptic orbit.

I was thrilled to have coincidentally just received my new telephoto lens today, and had a splendid opportunity to test it on the moon (result as above).

The time of the full moon has a specific significance in many cultures, and it’s not unusual among highly sensitive persons that they have special bodily and emotional feelings during the full moon, including insomnia.

It seems however that the correlation between the full moon and various mental disorders and disturbances, “lunacy” could account for less than 1% of these conditions, which should be a comforting thought.

So what about creativity? Getting the million dollar idea, may depend on how easily you could access all the myriads of associative connections happening in the subconscious parts of your brain every single moment.

What normally keeps all these new combinations of concepts from popping up in your conscious mind as new ideas, is the effective filter mechanisms you have in order to reserve your limited conscious thought capacity (one thought at a time) for the more mundane but necessary tasks of your daily life.

A way of toning down these filters is through regular meditation, and some people regularly into spiritual meditation note an easier access to normally subconsious thoughts when meditating at the time of the full moon, and especially during a super moon.

Is this true? I don’t know. Next time to find out for yourself will be on the night of the 2nd January, 2018. If you are not yet into meditation, then perhaps time to start now.

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To do or to talk about doing

Donald Trump

Sometimes our ego gets in our way of actually doing things!

The creative process often begins with a first brilliant idea, and then in our inner dialogue we paint in brilliant colors the amazing things we want to achieve. This is an important part of creativity, because if we fail to formulate our intention to ourselves, we have little chance to realise our dreams.

Often this is the easiest part of the creative process, but it feels so good! Because with this, we have actually left the starting blocks and are out on the track – at least that’s what we think. The “feel-good hormones” are flooding in our body and we feel at our creative peak.

The feeling of being on the way and the need for confirmation (that inner ego that has to be nurtured and watered all the time), means that we immediately begin to share with others what great deeds we have ahead of us.

Say that we have an idea for the plot of a new novel. A Facebook posting about our new author ambition immediately gets a lot of “likes” and encouraged by this, we continue to describe in detail our masterpiece to be. The confirmation we receive encourages us to continue – but not to do, but to talk about doing.

Eventually however, comes the moment of truth, when we actually sit down to get started with the actual creative work. But panic! Nothing comes out! That amazing plot for our novel suddenly feels quite thin, and the words are not flowing as we had expected.

Well, we can always go back to our social media and continue sharing our author efforts, because then we have achieved something. Our self-esteem is restored!

PS. Sometimes it is not a bad thing though that ideas remain as words and do not materialise. 🙂


This blog post was inspired by Cory Arcangel’s book “Working on my novel“.

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Take help to find your blind spots

blind spot

We all have a point deep inside our eyes, just where the optic nerve reaches the retina, where we do not have the ability to “see”. This is our “blind spot”. Also as humans, we carry blind spots in our personalities. These are peculiarities and behaviours that exist and prevent us from fully developing ourselves.

Although these blind spots can be completely obvious to the surroundings, it is meaningless to expect the persons in question to be able to to cope with them and adjust their behavious without help because they are actually blind to them.

You, like everyone else, have your own blind spots, and these can put obstacles in your way, not least if it is a behavior that other people find annoying. Knowing their existence, you should therefore take every effort to identify them. But as you don’t see them yourself, you have to rely on the help of others. If you are driven by an effort to constantly develop yourself and grow as a human being, you need to be prepared to open yourself to constructive criticism.

If you honestly and openly can listen to what others can tell about you, without immediately going into defense mode, you can gradually increase your self-awareness and eventually erase your blind spots.

But this requires courage to acknowledge your shortcomings both to yourself and others, and be prepared to work with them. And I can from my own experience certify that this could be a painful process.

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Eight ways to boost your creative life energy

Young woman doing cartwheel on grass

Everything runs on energy, and so does your creativity. When it comes to creativity, the energy is not the kind of that could be counted in calories, but instead your life force energy, the one that in Eastern philosophy often is called Chi.

You can easily feel when your creative energy is high. You know the days when the sun is shining brighter, your stride is lighter, and you feel like taking on any challenge. Such days your mind is alert, and the thoughts are running lose.

You can also easily recognise the opposite.  The days when you are tired or stressed under the pressure of  too many things waiting to be done. Everyone around you is pushing for your attention and your mail inbox is filling up faster than you can empty it. On top of that, you may be out of focus due to worries and concerns.

You are both body and mind, yin and yang, and in order to boost and keep your creative energy, you will need to take care of both, or like the old Romans put it; “Mens sana in corpore sano” (“a healthy mind in a healthy body”).

You have been endowed by a body which is an intricate and beautiful piece of machinery, which unlike your car cannot be exchanged for a newer model. Instead you will need to take care of the one human body model you have the best way you can.

The following eight tips will ensure that you will optimise your creative energy, and live a fuller life.

1. Get enough sleep

Sleep is important for restoring your body after an intense day of work (or play). Sleep is also necessary to consolidate your memories and put them in a broader context. Lack of sleep causes slower brainwaves in your prefrontal cerebral cortex, poor attention, anxiety, memory loss and physical and mental fatigue and for a few days without sleep can lead to acute psychosis. In a previous blog post I have written more about the importance of a good night’s sleep.

2. Eat healthy

Modern western diet with a lot of carbohydrates and industry processed food is the main cause of the global obesity epidemic that comes with a number of chronic diseases, notably type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, including stroke. Many natural and non-processed food items are also anti-inflammatory. In a previous blog post I have been writing on how the right food could increase your creativity.

3. Exercise regularly

In order to keep your energy high and at the same time reduce the risk of disease, regular exercise is important. High-intensity training may be addictive (in a positive way) to some individuals due to the regular excretion of endorphins – the body’s own opiates.

But for those who are less interested in intensive training, it may be comforting to know that also light training, such as half an hour’s brisk walk four times a week brings you all the benefits that are related to good health and increased energy levels. The most important thing is to choose a form of exercise that appeals to you, and that you are likely to continue exercising year after year. Exercising regularly has a number of positive effects:

  • Your health is improving: Regular exercise has a number of positive health effects. Training reduces blood levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, lowers the blood pressure, prevents inflammation, reduces cardiovascular disease, diabetes and colon cancer, strengthens the skeleton, reduces weight, and increases life expectancy.
  • Your sleep is improving: Studies have shown that physical exercise counteracts problems with insomnia.
  • You get an energy kick: Low-intensity exercise (walking) reduces fatigue and gives up to 20% energy boost. The effect of a brisk walk on the immediate energy level is greater than a hard work-out.
  • Your memory is improving: Studies have shown that aerobic exercise, such as running or swimming increases the size of the hippocampus, which regulates memory and learning.
  • Improves your self esteem: Regardless of intensity, training has shown to make us find ourselves more attractive.
  • Improves the sex life: The sex life can of course be improved by higher energy, weight loss and increased self-esteem. But research has also shown that regular exercise increases the sexual ability of men and the sexual desire of women.

4.  Enjoy sex and physical touch

Most forms of soft physical touch (caresses, hugs, massage and sex) feel very enjoyable, and this is partly due to the body secreting the hormone oxytocin, which is sometimes referred to as the “love hormone”.

In the brain, oxytocin is also involved in processes that relates to our social context, connection with other people, trust, empathy and generosity. It is also stress-reducing and anxiolytic and has an important role during pregnancy and lactation. Intimacy and physical touch is therefore very important to our mental well-being in all stages of our lives.

When we have sex, oxytocin plays a major role for our enjoyment, but it’s not the only hormone that does this. At the orgasm, the second “feel-good-hormone”, dopamine, is also excreted, as well as endorphins. But in addition to the positive oxytocin effects , regular sex also has many other benefits, not least for the health.

Sexual activity improves the immune system by increasing the levels of certain antibodies in the blood. Sex in itself is also a form of physical exercise and regular sex therefore gives all the benefits we have seen in the above section. It has also been shown in different studies that sex reduces the experience of pain – including headaches!

In men, regular ejaculations also protect against prostate cancer, and in both sexes, sexual activity keeps the hormones (estrogen and testosterone) in balance.

Finally, regular sex also improves the sexual experience itself and makes the sex better.

4. Minimise the stress factors

The now living generations are probably the most stressed out in history. The work-life balance is getting increasingly difficult. Living both the physical life and a 24/7 online virtual one adds rather than decreases the stress. An eternal strive to earn more money to buy more things is the frosting on the stress cake.

From time to time it could therefore be good to sit down and see what are the stress factors in your life, all the things you do that drain more energy from you than they give you. If possible then try to eliminate as many of them as you can.

If you are really honest with yourself, there are probably a lot of things you do because you feel obliged to, and not because you really want to do them. Life is too short to always try to please others, especially when no one is thanking you. Learn to say NO more often.

In the end who is really grateful for the extra hours you spend at work instead of playing with your children or spending with your friends. You may also do things to please your ego. The kick of feeling indispensible could be very powerful. Realise you aren’t. None of us is.

Just as you can choose what to do, you can also choose how to do it. Of all the hundreds of different small activities that you have to do every day, it is important to put on a reasonable level of ambition.

When you go for lunch on a regular weekday, it is important to go to a restaurant where the food is good enough, but you do not have to spend hours finding the absolute best lunch spot. Same thing when you clean the house. It should be good enough for you to feel satisfied, but every piece of dust under the cupboards need not be gone. And honestly, do you really need that new car, when your old still takes you where you want to go?

The Nobel laureate Herbert Simon has coined the concept of satisficing or the art of living your life at the optimum rather than perfection. Always going for the perfect and choosing between a large number of fairly equivalent alternatives creates stress and fatigue in the form of information overload.

In all aspects of our lives we are overloaded with different alternatives, and all the time choosing between a large number of fairly equivalent options creates stress and fatigue in the form of information overload. Each active decision requires mental energy and modern neuropsychology research has shown that we as humans are only able to make a certain number of considered decisions per day. Then it will stop regardless of how important the decision is.

By instead going for the optimum, you can avoid a lot of stress while you have enough time to invest your full energy on the things that really matter.

In the end, the happiest people are not the ones who have the most but the ones who are happy with what they have and can spend their time on what they are passionate about.

5. Manage your time

This brings us to time management. Let us assume that you now have cut out a lot of things that you no longer spend time on, but what about the rest?

We believe that we are able to multitask, but that’s an illusion. Every time you shift your attention to a new task, energy is required; less for the small tasks and more for the larger, but any shift does have an energy cost.

Therefore always try to get as much uninterrupted time for what you’ll need to do. Turn off the alert signals on your computer and smart phone, put a busy sign on your door, and try to avoid any other distraction.

Also have in mind the pareto principle that 80% of the benefits comes from 20% of the efforts. Therefore, try to identify and focus on the important 20% and if possible cut down on the rest.

6. Look for inspiration

Things and experiences that intrigue you and tickle your mind and fantasy are not only fuel for your creative abilities but also energy boosters. Even though we are creatures of habits, try to challenge yourself at least once every day by doing something out of the ordinary.

Read books that give you new dimensions. Watch a documentary on TV rather than a soap. Visit an art gallery. Go to a poetry slam. Or take a walk in the nature.

7. Find your passion

To live a complete and full life we will need to find a deeper purpose. This may sound grand and overwhelming, but need not to be. You don’t need to find the cure for cancer or become a buddhist monk, but in order to live fully, you would need something that would ignite your passion and give meaning to your life.

What this woul be, will be different to different people, and often something simple, but still of great importance to you. Maybe it is to devote yourself to your grandchildren in a way you did not have time for with your own children, or following your favourite sports team, or solving difficult crossword puzzles.

Your passion may very well change over time, but when you’ve found it in the life where you are right now, stick to it and seize the opportunities to endulge in it. Your surrounding may not always understand or appreciate it, but in the end they will also benefit from you being a more complete person to be around.

8. Strive for happiness

The final tip concerns your happiness. That does not mean that it is the least important, rather the opposite. Dalai Lama and other wise people claim that the real purpose of our lives is to find happiness. In recent years, happiness research has shown how we can change our lives ourselves to become happier. In a previous blog post, I wrote about twelve strategies to incraese your happiness.

If you want to read more about how to increase your life energy, I can also recommend Sanna Ehdin’s excellent book on increasing your energy! Höj din energi! Nyckeln till ett starkt, friskt och lyckligt liv. (available in Swedish).

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How do you spend your life capital?

capital

Imagine that you have a bank account where someone every midnight deposits € 1,440. You can use this money just the way you want in the next 24 hours, but after the day has ended the remaining money is withdrawn and you will never get them back.

In such a situation, you would probably have thought carefully how to use this money in the best way possible to give you, your family, your friends and others you care about the greatest possible benefit, satisfaction and joy. You would probably not have appreciated, if by midnight they just disappeared without having given you anything of value. You would probably also not have liked to waste them on something that was not important to you.

Of course, you do not have such a bank account, but you have something that is even better and more valuable. At the beginning of each new day, you have 1,440 new and completely unused minutes in front of you until to spend the best way you can until the next day begins. It’s up to you how to use them. You can choose to use these many minutes for something that gives you and others joy, for something useful. But you can also choose to spend this amazing gift at the front of the TV or worse by doing something that will hurt you or someone else.

To make a habit every evening to consider the day that passed from the point of view that it was filled by time that will never return, could help us choose a richer life.

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The importance of treating employees fairly

Fairness

Few things affect people more negatively than the feeling of being unfairly treated and anyone who has seen children divide a piece of cake between themselves can see that it is the millimetre justice that matters. This is deeply rooted in our genes and is strongly linked to our own self-esteem and our sense of how we are perceived and respected by persons around us and what place we have in the social hierarchy.

The brain’s reward system is stimulated by the feeling of being appreciated and treated fairly, whereas the opposite instead triggers discomfort from those parts of the brain that are otherwise activated by nausea and unpleasant smells.

A classical psychological experiment involves two subjects (A and B). In the experiment, A gets a sum of money to share with B. A decides unilaterally how much B will get and if B accepts, both could keep the money. But if B does not accept the offer, both will lose their share of the money. Repeated such experiments have shown that at an offered share of less than 20-30%, the perceived injustice is so high that B would rather refrain from the money in order to punish the unfair behaviour of A.

If the original sum is say $ 4, B would be happy to accept an offer of $ 2, but if the original amount is $ 10 then the response in most cases would be that B does not accept and none of them will get any money.

Tabibna Golnaz and co-workers at the University of California Los Angeles has taken this experiment one step further and demonstrated that the activation of the brain’s reward centre in subject B is independent of the total amount of remuneration, but directly correlated to the fairness of the offer.

The described discomfort when we feel unfairly treated is the same as occurs when we are in situations of relative inferiority. As humans it is much easier for us to accept poverty if everyone else is poor compared to being wealthy if those around us are even wealthier.

As a manager and leader, it is therefore important that you are constantly aware of the devastating negative power that occurs when employees do not feel treated fairly and not appreciated according to their achievements. This applies not only to monetary and other rewards, but also to the extent to which the different employees get your attention and access to your time.

It’s human to feel more comfortable with some people than others, especially if they confirm yourself, but if the surroundings get the impression that you are playing favourites, it will bring jealousy and negative feelings.

It is therefore important that you consciously scrutinize your own attitude towards your various employees and resist the impulse of paying more attention to those you like most. Appreciation, rewards and promotion should therefore be governed entirely by staff performance, including their behaviours towards each other and external customers and stakeholders.

In addition to a better mood in the workplace, a fair assessment will also be a guarantee that it is the most talented employees that can make a career, not the ones excelling in flattering their superiors. Be especially observant on the more introverted employees, who may not be so good at “selling” themselves, but nevertheless can make an outstanding effort. Also, be aware that the most creative employees often are perceived as “difficult” as they, by virtue of their own ideas, often question the current order.

History has repeatedly shown how much more dynamic meritocratic societies are compared to communities where services are added after birth, family ties, population, gender, etc.


Source: Tabibnia G, Satpute AB, Leiberman MD (2008).The sunny side of fairness: preference for fairness activates reward circuitry (and disregarding unfairness activates self-control circuitry). Psychological Science. 19:339–47.

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