Challenge the creative


If you were an elementary-school teacher and you shouted at your class, telling them to draw the nicest picture they’ve ever done, how do you think those drawings would turn out? Full of color, imagination and creativity? Or rigid and nervous, penned by children terrified of making a mistake or getting it wrong.

We’re trained from an early age that being wrong is a bad thing, and as adults – especially driven, motivated adults – we still worry about making a mistake. But failure is the foundation of innovation, or “Success is 99% failure,” as Sochiro Honda (Honda’s founder) put it.

So if we always shy away from making mistakes, we’ll never produce the amazing.

As a company leader, your job is not to stand over people, barking at them, it’s about helping your creative minds work together to discover and vet new ideas – no matter how bizarre – then help them identify, refine and execute the best ones.

Two approaches to help you help your creative minds take it to the next level

  1. Be Brave

To innovate successfully, creative ideas need to be vetted, challenged, and acid-tested, and that means someone needs to have the courage and skills to deliver bad news. Not all creative ideas are good, but it doesn’t mean they can’t become fantastic with some tweaking.

Research suggests that we’re not as good at delivering bad news as we need to be. For example, research from the University of California suggests that even though most people prefer to deliver bad news sandwiches (bad news preceded and followed by good news to soften its impact), delivering bad news without buffering good news is more effective in motivating behavior change.

Research “findings suggest that the primary beneficiary of the bad news sandwich is news-givers, not news-recipients. … Although recipients may be pleased to end on a high note, they are unlikely to enjoy anxiously waiting for the other shoe to drop during the initial good news.”1

  1. Find the Positive

Instead of sandwiching with news, why not sandwich with language? You still focus entirely on the behavior-changing bad news, but you become part of a positive process rather than one that nurtures the idea that mistakes and failure is bad.

Switch the syntax

Starting a sentence with ‘while’ or ‘although’ warns the recipient of the bad news that something bad is on the way.

» “While I see you’ve done a lot of work here, it’s just not what we need.”

Try instead:

“There’s a lot of work here, but we need to take it more in this direction, to include X, Y and Z. How can we get it there by Friday?”

»“This is dreadful, what the heck were you thinking?”

Try instead:

 “Could we consider looking at this from another angle,” or

“What about talking this through with XX to see how we can take this to the next level.”

THE QUESTION TO ASK YOURSELF: Do you have the courage to deliver tough messages in a constructive way?

What is the best phrase you’ve heard use to share bad news? How would you best hear bad news?

1Source: Legg, Angela and Kate Sweeny, University of California, Riverside. “Do You Want the Good News or the Bad News First?” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, October 2013  

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