Monday, November 10, 2008

Train Others

Can We Train Others To Be Creative?

This question is a 'poser'! Throughout my life, I never thought for one minute that one could 'train' people to be motivated, positive, kind, polite, respectful, creative, innovative, and so forth. These are intrinsic qualities people have or do not have.

Sometimes, it is qualities they did acquire throughout their life due to circumstances, environment, and experiences, but it usually takes them many years to acquire, if these are not part of their nature and early upbringing.

One can teach them to 'demonstrate' kindness, politeness, and respect, and maybe pretend to be creative and innovative (by stealing other's ideas). We must always remember that we train people to have them perform a task or demonstrate a certain behavior. If they 'demonstrate' a behaviour this does not mean that this is part of their nature, nor of their psyche. However, based on my personal experience with others, whether in private life or as trainer, instructor, coach, or consultant, I discovered that some people do have such qualities which they 'stifled' due to difficult circumstances, never daring to bring them out in the open.

Through guidance, coaching, and leadership, we can indeed impact others in such a manner as to encourage them to bring to the surface and to outer expression the gifts they were born with, to use and develop their potential. We can gently get them to shed off their protective shell and amorphous personas with stimulus and courage, and let the juices of creativity flow. We can help them realize their value as 'intelligent' human beings, who can contribute something uniquely theirs.

We coach, guide, and lead by example, prod and encourage, offer support, open the doors to what's possible, and we give easy to understand examples.

After preparing this creative setting, and sharing with them personal examples, as well as the examples of others (individuals, groups, and companies), we begin bringing back the subject to our immediate interest: the organization and our area of work.

We select (for discussion) one or two facets of the operation. We analyze these, with input from the group. We ask if the status quo is the best way it can be done or if the organization, or 'we people', can improve on this.

We (trainers, facilitators) present at least two different proposed improvements, and ask the group to join in and suggest alternatives no one maybe yet thought of (way to improve service, operations, work procedures, product quality, customer satisfaction, sales, savings, or profit).

We, ourselves, speak with excitement, so we can communicate it to the group. We treat the people we speak to with respect and as equals. We create an environment in which 'we all', as a team, plan to find better solutions.

We begin seeing their interest perk up, their eyes sparkle. We can almost see many thoughts racing through their minds. We ask a few, by name, to share their thoughts with us.

Once we break the ice with one, two, or three, of the group, and get them to present ideas, we sense that all the rest now want to pitch in. Sometimes, we cannot contain the rush of thoughts and have to begin establishing some order. When individuals propose something, we ask the group what they think and who is ready to comment on this proposal. We ask who else has a proposal 'we can learn from'. We get a dynamic discussion going.

From 'presenter' we now turn into 'facilitator' and 'leader'. Each suggested proposal is given importance, analyzed by the group to see if it indeed offers additional value to the operation and/or to customers.

We sense the excitement and high motivation in the group. We go one step further and ask someone to come to the whiteboard (or flipchart) to write down the different ideas presented.

We regularly express our appreciation for their contributions. We wonder aloud at their creative thinking. We ask them how all these valuable ideas could be practically implemented.

We gently make sure that whoever speaks is not interrupted or derided by others, however impractical the idea presented. We (ourselves) find value in each contribution. We engage people in a respectful conversation about their idea(s).

In such a session, we turn a roomful of listless and cynical supervisors (and/or employees) into a highly motivated and creative team, working towards one objective: How to come up with ideas to improve operations, the organization, service, etc.

Please note that this is 'not' a training session to teach creativity, but is a dynamic exercise in creative thinking, which we, ourselves, lead like a maestro. The participants are the members of the orchestra who will realize the 'production' we want.

In such sessions, we often discover ideas we and all of management never thought of. Participants too are amazed at their individual gifts and collective power of thought. It gets them excited. It also give them the opportunity to demonstrate their value as individuals and be acknowledged for this.

Following such a session, we continue receiving more ideas from the individuals in our group. We can keep this up we honestly discuss the feasibility and practicality of each idea presented, explaining why some cannot be implemented. We critique, but do not criticize.

We have to show that we did take their contribution into serious consideration, and appreciate it sincerely.

The purpose is not only to create a dynamic discussion, but to follow through on this. It must have meaning which relates to them.

I cannot think of any other way to lead people to think creatively. If you do, please share with me, but make sure it is based on actual, successful experience.

We cannot 'train' people to be creative. We can only lead them by personal example (we give them clear examples of 'our' creative thinking) and examples of others, as well as guide, coach, and inspire them.

All this is easier said than done because not all supervisors and trainers are 'creative' themselves, or capable of leading and inspiring.It is not only a matter of quality, but intelligence, sensitivity to others, experience, and sawy.

This is why we should always focus on training and coaching supervisors (and trainers). Their performance in this area does not depend on their reading, nor on college degrees. It is much more refined. We are asking one person to affect the mind and innermost soul of others.

Such supervisors and trainers must not only be intelligent and sensitive, but have a sincere desire to help others succeed. They must not be driven by personal agendas and selfish interests.

This is why it is so important to choose trainers and supervisors most carefully and, once hired and/or promoted, to offer them full training support, whatever the cost. It is always wiser to promote 'after' such training will have been provided.

Believe it or not, I wrote the above on a pad while sitting at a coffee house on the beautiful Vancouver beach front yesterday. Wish you were all here so we could discuss the points made.

One thing more, which needs to be said again: Employees are not robots we can command with pushbuttons. They are led by generals (supervisors) . We must concentrate on supervisors before demanding a certain behaviour from the rank and file.

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