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Creative Ideas: Anybody Can!

By Shlomo Maital

  Over the years, in teaching Workshops on creativity and innovation, mostly to MBA students and managers, I always began the workshop by asking participants: On a scale of 1 to 10, who thinks they score 9 or 10 on creativity?

   Very very few people raised their hands. And the rest of the workshop was devoted to persuading my students that “when it comes to creative ideas: anyone can!” The creative brain is much like our biceps (a muscle) — exercise it and it gets far stronger and more productive.

   Confirmation comes from Avery Blank, writing in the June 9 issue of Forbes magazine. Here is her finding:

     “People underestimate the originality of their ideas, according to recent research from INSEAD, The Open University of Israel and Technion. People assume that others have the same ideas as them. Like many assumptions, this assumption is often incorrect. The danger of believing in this assumption can stop you from acting, whether that is presenting your idea in a meeting, writing an article on a topic or starting a business venture. Stop thinking that you do not have unique ideas, because you do.

OK, so – what can we ordinary folks do, to be more creative. Blank proposes three steps:

  1. Hold on to the idea.   If you have an idea, capture it. Your idea might be the key to helping your team pivot in a more successful direction or helping your organization to be more innovative. Don’t dismiss your thoughts.
  2. Resist the urge to always think more. Some people equate more effort with better. That is, some people believe that thinking more on an idea will make that idea better. While this could be true sometimes, it is not necessarily always the case. There is a lot of creativity at the start of the ideation process. When you are brainstorming, you don’t feel boxed in. You feel more comfortable letting your mind go, thinking about the possibilities and less on the probabilities.
  3. Now speak up.   You could have a unique idea, but no one will know it if you stay silent because you think your idea is not good enough. Research shows that people underestimate their originality. Now that you are aware of this bias, try to overcome it and share your idea.

Blank concludes forcefully: “You have more originality than you think, so don’t discount all your thoughts as uninteresting or commonplace. When you have an idea, capture it. Don’t think that you have to always think on the idea more to make it more original. Finally, just say it. The difference between a person who is seen as having a unique idea and a person who is seen as not having a unique idea can be found in the act of speaking up.”

I believe there is a gender-bias problem with creativity. Women have lots of ideas. But in mixed groups or teams, men often simply do not listen to women, who speak more softly and often lack sharp elbows. These days, we cannot afford to let great ideas go to waste. Let’s listen to the women — look how female heads of state in Taiwan, Finland, Norway, New Zealand and Germany have outdone their male counterparts elsewhere!

     p.s. this is my 1,700th blog.

Girl Power: It Starts at Age 8

By Shlomo Maital

   As a constant listener to US Public Broadcasting, I recently heard an interview with two brilliant women, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, on their book The Confidence Code.*   As an educator for five decades, I’ve long believed that women have many superior qualities but are dominated by men, often less capable ones.

     In their book, says the back cover, “They visit the world’s leading psychologists who explain how we can all chose to become more confident simply by taking action and courting risk, and how those actions change our physical wiring. They interview women leaders from the worlds of politics, sports, the military, and the arts to learn how they have tapped into this elemental resource. They examine how a lack of confidence impacts our leadership, success, and fulfillment”.

   In the WBUR radio interview, Kay and Shipman observe that while girls have superior academic grades to boys in elementary and high school, the boys are encouraged to be bold risk-takers in their career choices, while girls are expected to provide ‘perfection’ and avoid risk.   The cover of boys’ magazines cite how to become an astronaut, excel in rugby, etc., while the girls’ magazines write about “your first kiss”.  

     I once led an outdoor leadership exercise for senior managers, men and women. They had to tackle a tough task. The men were stumped. Standing off to one side, “Michal” said quietly that she knew how to crack it. None of the men paid any attention. I stopped the group and forced them to listen. Michal reluctantly took the lead. And she led the exercise to perfection. This has happened to me countless times, in classroom settings – women know the answers, have the insights, but are reluctant to speak up. Gender bias is not only in wages. It starts at age 8, in the way we socialize our boys and girls. It has to stop!   The #Metoo movement, protesting male exploitation of women, is just a symptom of a deeper problem.

     I just wrote a column about how Israel’s Finance Minister intends to replace the female head of the Bank of Israel, and her deputy, also a woman, highly capable effective leaders, because they punctured his ego with truth-telling.

     This just has to stop. If we give more power to women, and taught them to empower themselves, we will have a better world. And it IS a matter of choice. As the authors note, “fewer people [i.e. women] e pleasing and perfectionism and more action, risk taking, and fast failure.”

* Katty Kay, Claire Shipman. The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self Assurance – what women should know Paperback. Harper Business 2015

Girls Who Code: The Effective Way to Defeat Gender Bias
By Shlomo  Maital
         Reshma Saujani
  In virtually every country,  women are paid less than men, for equal work.  Women are under-represented in high-tech,  senior management, politics, legislatures (except Iceland) – everywhere. 
   What can be done?   Pass laws?  It doesn’t work.   Let’s analyze the underlying true cause.  According to Reshma Saujani, in a powerful TED talk,  it is because boys are taught to be bold risk-takers, while women are socialized to be … perfect.  To get it right. 
    Boys who are taught computer coding try it, make mistakes, try again…   in an experiment, girls taught to code had blank computer screens…because they erased their trials, since they were not perfect.  
     Let’s teach our girls to be bold risk-takers! Let’s teach our girls bravery, the same way we teach our boys.    This is Reshma’s message.  She should know – she was one of the ‘I have to be perfect’ girls,  Yale Law, etc.,    until she figured it out.  She has helped launch a movement that hopefully will bring many more women into engineering and high-tech and to senior management.   Here is a short piece from her TED talk:
     “For the American economy, for any economy to grow, to truly innovate, we cannot leave behind half our population [women].   We have to socialize our girls to be comfortable with imperfection,   and we’ve got to do it now.  We cannot wait for them to learn how to be brave like I did when I was 33 years old.   We have to teach them to be brave in schools and early in their careers,  when it has the most potential to impact their lives  and the lives of others,  and we have to show them that they will be loved and accepted not for being perfect but for being courageous.  And so I need each of you to tell every young woman you know –your sister, your niece, your employee, your colleague –to be comfortable with imperfection,   because when we teach girls to be imperfect,  and we help them leverage it,  we will build a movement of young women who are brave and who will build a better world for themselves and for each and every one of us.”


Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital