“I have to make something amazing!” How often do we tell ourselves that?

Or as leaders, it might be a related phrase: “You have to make something amazing.” Usually on a timeline.

How’s that working for you?

“I have to make something amazing!” was the background noise spinning around in my head just this past week, and it was not working well.

I’d just signed up to tell a 5-minute story in a storytelling competition, and now I was feeling as blocked as blocked could be!

None of the stories I’d told onstage before felt like the right fit. I wanted something new. But I was coming up dry.

The problem was, it had to be amazing, because it was a COMPETITION!

What had I gotten myself into? 😖

I contemplated pulling out…

But I knew that was just my gremlins talking, trying to keep me safe. 👹

So I consulted my Creative Sandbox Way™ guideposts:

1️⃣ There is no wrong

2️⃣ Think process, not product

3️⃣ Think quantity, not quality

4️⃣ Think tiny & daily

5️⃣ Just start. Anywhere.

6️⃣ Ask, “What if ..?”

7️⃣ Take the riskier path

8️⃣ Dismiss all gremlins

9️⃣ Spring the Comparison Trap

🔟 Treat yourself with compassion

And little by little, by letting go of the need to be amazing, and cobbling together two not-amazing stories, a new story idea came together.

First as a crappy first draft.

Then, a whole lot of editing. And more editing. And MORE editing, to get it down to 5 minutes.

And even MORE editing!

I’ll tell the finished story in public (on Zoom!) for the first time on Saturday, March 16, at the NSA Northern California Chapter Contest.

I don’t expect to win the competition (though, ironically enough, the story I’ll be telling features a competition!) and in fact, the competition itself has become an afterthought.

Which, ultimately, is how it should be.

If we focus on WINNING, creativity tends to fly out the window.

If we focus on GROWTH and EXPLORATION and FUN, however, there is no limit to creativity. 🤩

The key for leaders is to cultivate a culture of creativity (growth, exploration, fun) even (especially!) when your ultimate goal is — and has to be — to create something amazing for your customers and stakeholders. 

So how do you do that? How do you cultivate a culture of creativity when you HAVE to create something amazing?

The short answer is that you have to make space for people to create not-amazing things.

This requires trust. Psychological safety. Uncertainty tolerance. Permission to fail.

(All areas I love helping organizations with — using play, of course! Transformation through “the other AI”: Applied Improvisation. 🤩)

The story I’ll be telling on March 16, “Gremlin Intervention,” has something to do with this, so come have a listen.

And when you’re ready to help your team or organization blast through creative roadblocks and cultivate a workplace where everyone looks forward to Mondays, schedule a complimentary Team Performance Assessment Call.


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