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A Brick in the Hand (or is it a Bird?): Secrets to becoming more Creative

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by Dr. Anthony Paustian
Author of A Quarter Million Steps

Decades ago my dad, always the jokester, would tell this "multipart" joke. The genius of his approach was in how it was told––as two separate jokes, delivered back-to-back, each totally dependent upon the other. No one ever saw the connection until the end (often after it was revealed), which is what always made it funny.
Today, when I speak about creativity, I frequently begin the presentation by telling a version of his joke to help illustrate a point. It goes something like this:
A little girl is skipping down the street when she comes upon three colored bricks lying on the road: one red, one yellow, and one blue. She pauses, reaches down for the red one, thinks for a moment, and heaves it into the air. The brick hits the ground hard and breaks into pieces. After laughing a bit, she reaches down for the yellow one and heaves it higher into the air. The brick hits the ground with a greater force and shatters. Laughing a…

Pressure really blows

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by Dr. Anthony Paustian, the author of A Quarter Million Steps: Creativity, Imagination, & Leading Transformative Change

I recently saw the movie "Deepwater Horizon." Since the movie is based on actual events, I’m not spoiling anything by describing how it chronicles the 2010 oil well explosion in the Gulf of Mexico that caused the largest oil spill ever in U.S. waters. What struck me the most was how I could actually feel the gradual, yet massive buildup of pressure ultimately released from the ocean floor more than two and a half miles below the surface—pressure that literally blew apart the entire structure.

It got me thinking about how pressure can also affect our everyday lives. Except in a few scientific and engineering contexts, intense pressure is seldom a good thing. However, people often think they actually perform better under pressure, despite the research showing just the opposite: No one performs better under pressure.

“The idea that people perform …

The not-so-secret secret

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by Dr. Anthony Paustian, the author of A Quarter Million Steps: Creativity, Imagination, & Leading Transformative Change

Over the years, I’ve been asked a number of times how to creatively develop and maintain a competitive advantage in an environment marked by rapid changes in technology, fluid delivery systems, intense competition, real-time communication and instant (and often brutal) customer “experience” reports through social media.

A day doesn’t go by that I don’t hear about someone bemoaning a poor customer service experience. In fact, I believe customer service has gotten so bad that some people generally seem to expect a bad experience. As a result, I believe we have lowered our bar to the point where we now just tolerate being treated poorly.

Although I do think it’s becoming more difficult to maintain an advantage, I believe there is a solution … perhaps even the solution. Here’s the “secret” competitive advantage solution, especially if you’re trying to build a…

Think big, execute small

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by Dr. Anthony Paustian, the author of A Quarter Million Steps: Creativity, Imagination, & Leading Transformative Change

Too often, people have a tendency to view the primary role of creative leadership as having and setting long-term direction, while letting others figure out how to get there. However, effective leaders are not only able to visualize which mountain to climb but also the individual steps necessary to climb it.

In the 1991 comedy What About Bob?, Bill Murray plays Bob Wiley, a character suffering from some serious “issues” (the clinical diagnosis given in the movie was an extreme case of multi-phobic personality characterized by acute separation anxiety).

When Bob’s current psychologist pawns him off on Dr. Leo Marvin, an egotistical psychologist played by Richard Dreyfuss, Bob shows up at Dr. Marvin’s office for an initial interview. As Dr. Marvin is getting ready to leave on vacation for a month, he shoves a copy of his new book, Baby Steps, into Bob’s hands and sen…

Bring out their creative best

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by Dr. Anthony Paustian, the author of A Quarter Million Steps: Creativity, Imagination, & Leading Transformative Change

One day, a pedestrian stopped to admire the skill of two men who were laying bricks. She asked the first bricklayer, “What are you making?” In a somewhat gruff voice, the bricklayer responded, “About $20.00 an hour.” At a loss for words, the pedestrian stepped over to the next bricklayer and asked, “Say, what are you making?” The second bricklayer happily replied, “I’m making the greatest cathedral in the world!”1 Same activity, same question, two totally different responses. A positive attitude will change one’s total perspective of something, and a good leader chooses to see problems as opportunities to do great things versus mere labor. 

Leadership is a daily process, not a destination. Before you can effectively lead others, you must first lead yourself. In other words, a strong leader leads by example and knows their personal character will set th…

Work HARD, not SMART

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by Dr. Anthony Paustian, the author of A Quarter Million Steps: Creativity, Imagination, & Leading Transformative Change

There’s a frequently used acronym related to creating goals––SMART––which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic (or Relevant) and Time-based. As a college professor, I taught for over 20 years a variety of concepts required to attain a desired goal or future vision. I frequently discussed the importance of creating SMART goals and how they were absolutely critical in order to accomplish this desired end.

Hogwash.

It’s not that SMART goals are necessarily bad, but I now believe they’re flawed if what you are trying to achieve requires a behavioral transformation or major proactive change. Specific, Measurable and Time-based are all fine attributes and should automatically be built into all goals. It’s the Achievable and Realistic (or Relevant) parts I’ve been struggling with for some time now, especially after reading a piece in Forbes d…

It's ok to ask

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by Dr. Anthony Paustian, the author of A Quarter Million Steps: Creativity, Imagination, & Leading Transformative Change

I’ve made a general observation concerning millennials––at least one within my limited context. Young people seem less inclined today to ask for help or assistance related to either professional or personal needs. Twenty-five years ago, many of my college-aged students frequently asked for help. Many have stayed in contact with me over the years, still needing occasional tips or advice. But despite offering this to every class or workshop I’ve ever taught, students––or even the young professionals I work with now––rarely take me up on it.

When having coffee recently with a group of “seasoned” friends and colleagues (seasoned being defined as someone old enough to have gained enough life and professional experience to have learned some lessons along the way), I jokingly shared this observation with the group, thinking that millennials just didn’t want my help. To m…