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Work Life Lead: The Experience of It

We live in a very compartmentalized social and mental world. image

The way we have structured our organizations and education systems has compartmentalized all facets of them. As a result, everything we do is done in little segmented boxes of interactions and activities. It is a hold over from the industrial era, I suspect.

It isn’t enough to try to elevate right brain creativity as a discrete learning activity. It falls prey to the same compartmentalizing like everything else.  Art should be taught in every class, not in a separate class just for the “artists” in the school.

Being creative is not an end in itself. We don’t measure creativity by being creative. We measure it by the effect it has upon the context in which it is utilized. We can say a sculptor is creative, but only if her artwork embodies that creativity in something real and tangible. We see her creativity in the unique use of all her skills to create a work of art.

Creativity is a way of functioning in a context.

The context could be your family, or your work, your hobby, or your neighborhood. It could be the context of your concern for global sustainability or locally for the homeless or the theater.  We live in a set of interlocking social and organizational contexts, each with their own structure, rules and boundaries. Without attention given to how we structure them, they easily end up being a bunch of separate boxes of interactions and activities.

Creativity is how we bring out the hidden potential of those interactions and activities that are the contexts of our life and work.

This is a reason why I find measuring performance by activity level is only a measure of costs, not impact.  What is the impact  we create? What is the difference we create that matters? It is a change in the context where we are that is what we should measure.

How do we begin to see our lives and work as places not organized into these discrete boxes of activity and human interaction but rather as a life connected together that has integrity and impact?

Right now, I’m working on preparations for a leadership workshop that a group of us here in Asheville (NC) are doing at the end of the month (See Lessons in Leadership 2010 Workshop – Making the Big Shift ). Part of our agenda is to change the way workshops are done.

We have three presentations. One on the skill of focusing our priorities, another on practical change, and a third on networking and relationship building. Each presentation gets linked into a larger integrated learning / networking environment that encompasses the workshop as a whole.

The workshop is creative, innovative and going to be fantastic. It is also true that  the audience is not prepared to enter into this atmosphere of learning. They are prepared to enter into a compartmentalized workshop environment where information is delivered and notes are taken for future reference. It does not mean they won’t welcome this innovative approach. Just that they have to make mental and emotional adjustments quickly to gain the full benefit of the experience.

What do we as the organizers of this event do to prepare the participants to be fully engaged in the experience of the workshop?

In the spring of 2005, I was scheduled to give a talk on servant leadership to a local university student group. In talking with the organization head a couple weeks ahead of the event, I asked without thinking. “How many people will be there?” The answer? Between 6 and 10. I just sighed.

I said we need to get more people to this event. This is valuable information for them. From that conversation I received an invitation to attend the following week’s meeting of all the heads of student organizations at the school. I talked with them about my presentation and how it could be beneficial to their organization. We talked about their experience as student organization presidents, and especially how they all felt alone, having to do all the work to keep the group going.

I had anticipated this, and decided to create interest in the presentation by starting a weblog just for the event. Here’s the first posting. I challenged them to bring their best friend in the group, and the first year student most likely to be the next president. I got their email addresses and began to send daily blog posts on leadership. Next week came, and instead of 6-10, we had 15. Sure we doubled it, but the potential was over 200 people.

In asking why people didn’t come, the word got back to me that the organizing group never invited the other organizations to attend. A simple invitation would have maybe brought an additional 50, possibly. It was a great lesson in the social dynamics of university students.

As I approach our workshop in three weeks, as the coordinator and facilitator of the workshop, I have a plan for engaging those who register with an experience prior to the event that will prepare them for what they will find. In other words, the moment they register, the event has begun.  Over the next few weeks, they will get messages that help them envision what can happen during our morning together. The idea is to create the experience now that is fulfilled later.

This is a paradigm shift of major proportions. To see that our experience laps over the top of all these boxes of our life and work, and it is the experience of them that links them together.This is the key to understanding how by being creative, we create experiences that bring completeness and integrity to our life and work.

Creativity is not a discrete activity I do, but rather how I approach integrating everything I do into being one big thing.  When it becomes the one big thing, then the experience of it completes the circle of potential impact that all our activities and interactions have.

The challenge for organizational leaders is to create this kind of atmosphere in their companies. It is already happening on the negative, crisis, stressful end as our personal lives and work lives are intruding into one another. That is why morale is so bad in so many businesses. It is time to flip this paradigm so that positive, affirming, impactful experiences begin to intrude into our life and work.

If you want to change your business’ future prospects, look at the experience that exists in how you do everything you do.  Create the right experience, and the rest will follow.

The time we are living is giving us a great opportunity to create new ways of organizing our businesses.  The change that we must create will cause all our boxes to diminish, and our experience will be the difference that matters in the end.

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About the author

Dr. Ed Brenegar I'm a leadership speaker, writer and consultant who is a mentor and catalyst for change. I assist leaders and their teams in the transitions required to succeed in today's complex organizational environment. I live in Western North Carolina. I'm involved the Boy Scouts, a charitable leadership training group called Lessons In Leadership, an ordained Presbyterian Church USA minister, and am the host of the Say Thanks Every Day social network.

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Posted in General Leadership, Leadership Q + A, Work Life Lead.

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