Leaning In and Falling Over Conventional Wisdom


I had just graduated from Stanford with Honors, gotten a MBA in Finance and Accounting with a minor in Organizational Behavior from UCLA, and received job offers from my two dream companies. IBM got to me first, and I was extremely happy to be the first female in my family to graduate from college, and get hired by a major, prestigious corporation.

When I got there, I was a fish out of water. I had had no role models, no mentors, no street smarts, no brothers, and a Dad who had travelled for work most of the time. Even though I had a Mom and a Dad who did everything they could to encourage me to do what is now called leaning in, I didn’t have the confidence to insure I wouldn’t fall over when I got there. The hard work that got me through school had not prepared me for a high tech, primarily male, work environment.

I realized I needed to figure out how to fit into this foreign culture. I was part of a wave of new hires selected for their credentials but the people I worked with didn’t seem to be impressed. In fact, some seemed to resent it. Reading the sports pages and participating in the football pools seemed to be more valuable in meeting my male colleagues and making friends than just “doing my job.” Someone recommended I read Games Mother Never Taught You to understand how males and females operate differently. I needed help on all fronts so I took advantage of internal educational opportunities, too. The convergence of these two strategies – learning about and integrating into the culture plus learning about the business – worked well.

One day I attended an internal class featuring the male Director of Finance. It was the first time I had heard anyone talking about something I could relate to from my finance MBA education. I asked a few questions and thereafter, he recognized me. I made no effort to cultivate the relationship or promote myself to him. A few months later, I was called into my male manager’s office and told that I had been asked to interview for a plum job reporting to the Director of Finance, an opportunity that typically came up only for more experienced people. My manager told me I should feel honored to even be asked to interview for the position and that I probably wouldn’t get it. That ticked me off and I decided I was going to nail the interview and get the job.

Thanks to Games Mother Never Taught You, I learned that women typically look at their qualifications differently than men do. Women tend to think they need to have all the qualifications in the job description (which, if they don’t, reduces confidence in the interview), and men think they need to have some of the qualifications, and assume that this is sufficient at first, and then they’ll figure it out as they go along.

I don’t remember all the details, but I do remember the experience of walking into the interview determined to convey my value, commitment, and confidence that I could do the job, knowing that if I was selected, I would be successful in the position because I would do whatever I needed to do to be productive and effective. I would learn what I needed to learn, and do what I needed to do. I would jump in, get to know people, become part of the team, make mistakes, take responsibility for them, correct them, and move forward. I would lean in, fall down sometimes, pick myself up, and keep at it, even though I may feel fearful at the time.

Fast forward a few decades, to a couple of years ago. I came across an article in Atlantic Monthly titled The Confidence Gap. It said: “Evidence shows that women are less self-assured than men—and that to succeed, confidence matters as much as competence. Here’s why and what to do about it.” I was surprised that this article covered the same type of research that I had learned three decades before in Games Mother Never Taught You!

What the heck is going on here? Why has this “confidence” issue persisted for decades? Why haven’t we moved beyond the gender confidence gap despite the research, the articles, the books, and the panels about it at conferences?

I’m convinced that we should have a different conversation, and go beyond gender. The real issue is how we think about confidence and how we act on that at an individual level. There has been too much comparing and too little introspection. It’s time to toss conventional wisdom and look at “confidence” in a more fundamental way, one that is dynamic and very personal.

dictionary.com defines “confidence” as “full trust; belief in the powers, trustworthiness, or reliability of a person or thing.” In the Information Age (when I was in corporate), this was based on pedigree (specific degrees from certain colleges and universities); specific job experiences (from certain industries or types of companies); and, as the business environment got more complex due to globalization, specific “competencies,” the general ability to do something successfully or efficiently. If you met the established criteria, you and those hiring you could be “confident” that you could do the job. That was the conventional wisdom. Companies looked for people who could do things predictably, even perfectly.

The Information Age criteria and conventional wisdom are insufficient if not irrelevant in the current environment, sometimes referred to as the Digital Age. The Digital “Age” is characterized by unprecedented complexity in terms of speed, scale, and scope of change. Some use the acronym VUCA to describe it – volatile, uncertain, chaotic, and ambiguous – an acronym used by the military to describe battleground conditions!

In these increasingly complex times, experiences and skills become obsolete quickly, so companies are looking for people who can figure things out, people who are independent thinkers, committed, collaborative, not afraid to take risks, who question the status quo, are self-motivated, curious, and “damn confident.” That is, they are looking for skilled creatives.

The qualities of creative potential are not acquired in the classroom; paying attention to them brings them out. The good news is that everyone has this potential. The bad news is that most people aren’t aware of it.

Confidence is a capability that comes from paying attention to, exploring, and developing your own creative potential, by having a personal purpose and vision, knowing your capabilities and what you are committed to, choosing to persevere in the face of fear and criticism, acquiring the skills to meet the challenges you want to take on in your personal and professional life, and believing in your creative potential and the creative potential of those you want to lead.

Get acquainted with your creative potential and develop it so you believe in your ability to do the job at hand, and develop the confidence that you can “figure things out,” over and over again. It is a potential that you, and only you, can bring out. Gender has nothing to do with this.

To learn more, contact CLUE Institute

www.clueinstitute.com susan.jamison@clueinstitute.com.

408-399-8883 land or 650-291-2706 mobile

The Need for Creativity Warriors

teracottarwarrioreverseI’m a Creativity Warrior. Over the past few years, I called myself a Creativity Architect, then Creativity Agent, then Creativity Actuator. During that time, I got a broader view of the wobbly state of creativity of individuals and in business, and decided those titles were insufficient to represent my mission and justify my tag line “When Creativity Is Unlocked, Extraordinary Happens.” I realized it will take a warrior mindset to unlock creativity and enable extraordinary to happen; then it will be fun and easy and remarkable!

Typically, the word “warrior” evokes “battlefield warrior.” Most of us have no experience as a battlefield warrior and don’t have the experience of putting our lives on the line. I’ve learned that what makes a warrior a warrior is not how aggressive or competitive one appears to be on the outside. Being a warrior is about who one is being on the inside that enables them to perform full-out, all-in, in an extraordinary way.

To better understand the concept of “warriors,” I did some research on the greatest warriors in history who battled between the 6th Century BC and 17th Century. People like Sun Tzu, Attila the Hun, Julius Caesar, William Wallace (aka Braveheart), Richard the Lionheart, Alexander the Great, Miyamoto Musashi, and more. They committed a lot of killing, bloodshed, and violence. They inspired terror and were merciless on the battlefield. Some were thought to have super powers. They also are described as bold, brave, daring, disciplined, fearless, and relentless. Their mission was about defending or conquering territories, or consolidating and ordering their empires. They were victorious on the battlefield and sometimes the last to die on the front lines.

Two of those warriors wrote books about battlefield strategy, tactics, and philosophy that are still used today in corporate and military training, and continue to have an impact on both Western and Asian culture. Sun Tzu who lived in the 6th Century BC, was a Chinese military specialist, general, strategist, and philosopher who wrote The Art of War. Miyamoto Musashi, who lived in 17th Century, was a skillful Japanese swordsman (considered by many to be the best who ever lived) and an invincible samurai who wrote A Book of Five Rings. They wrote about the importance of plans, tactics, strategies, methods, discipline, using each man according to his abilities, and the creativity and skill involved in pulling all the above together.

I also looked at current-day warrior (military) codes of conduct. The required qualities are: Adaptive, competent, confident, disciplined. The culture assumptions include: Mission first, never accept defeat, never quit, never leave a fallen comrade, serve with honor, be ready to lead, be ready to follow, take responsibility for your/your teammate’s actions, train for war, fight to win, excel through discipline and innovation, uphold the prestige, honor, and esprit de corps of your chosen profession, move further, faster, and fight harder than any other Soldier, keep mentally alert, physically strong, and morally straight, shoulder more than my share of the task whatever it may be, one hundred percent and then some. The values are: Loyalty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, personal courage. All are powerful attributes on and off the battlefield.

A couple of years ago, I learned the term “VUCA” in a presentation about a mindfulness project conducted with the Army Rangers. It’s a military term used to describe battleground conditions. It means Volatile, Uncertain, Chaotic, and Ambiguous. The presenters pointed out that business people were using the same terms to describe business conditions. I hadn’t heard the acronym but I recognized that those words were (and still are) used consistently in magazine articles, studies, reports, and blogs about the complex and disruptive business challenges. High employee disengagement numbers indicate that substantial individual creative resources (potential Creativity Warriors) are unavailable. What do people in business depend on to resolve challenges? Personal Creativity. Who is best suited to perform in battleground conditions? Warriors. Challenges are the fuel of creativity. Creativity Warriors will take on those challenges. BTW, in the Zulu language, VUCA means “to be awake.” When are we going to heed this wake-up call?

What is the Creativity Warrior’s battle?

  • The external challenges of a VUCA environment
  • The internal barriers and obstacles that suppress, obstruct, inhibit, and undermine their natural capabilities (creativity) needed to meet those   challenges

Why is the Creativity Warrior battling?

  • To make a difference
  • To access their potential, to understand their super powers, and use them
  • To increase confidence, well-being, engagement, productivity, resilience
  • To increase ideation and the quality of ideas to fuel innovation
  • To increase effectiveness of interactions, efficiency, quality of decisions, self-direction, self-motivation, speed of decisions
  • To increase alignment, engagement, harmony, risk tolerance, trust
  • To improve business results and overall prosperity

How does the Creativity Warrior battle?

  • Exploring, practicing, and integrating their qualities of personal creativity that ignite a self-perpetuating cycle of confidence, communication, collaboration, contribution, and community for all who participate

Where is the battlefield?

  • Personally, everywhere
  • In business, “everywhere” is 5 domains: People, Products/Technology, Processes, Environment, Business Results

When do battles occur?

  • Anytime, in the face of challenges and questions

How does the Creativity Warrior battle?

  • Awake
  • Focused
  • Self-aware
  • Self-confident

What are the Creativity Warrior’s weapons?

  • Personal VUCA – Vision, Understanding, Clarity, Acuity
  • Personal creativity qualities
  • Personal creativity process
  • Mindset
  • Brain

What is victory to the Creativity Warrior?

  • Living purposefully
  • Nourishing relationships
  • Stress-free living
  • Balance
  • Alignment of personal, professional, and organizational purpose and vision
  • Co-creativity among colleagues

You Choose: Creativity or Commodity?

choosealtered1“Creative” has become a “buzzword” according to LinkedIn. Since Creativity is my area of expertise, this was of great interest to me. In response to the LinkedIn’s finding, experts say you should not use the word in your profile because the word is losing its meaning and it makes you sound like everyone else. It’s a shame that a word that represents the most significant gift of human intelligence has been trivialized by overuse.

There are some positives about this. “Creative” was the #1 ”buzzword” in LinkedIn profiles in 2011 and 2012, #3 in 2013, and #2 in 2014. Claiming that you are creative in your profile indicates you know it is important. In a prior blog, I mentioned that in two consecutive IBM Global CEO studies, the CEO’s considered “creativity” to be the most important attribute for leaders and employees. Another positive is that the word “innovative” was #9 in 2011 and 2013, and not in the Top 10 in the other years. It is a good sign that most people are describing themselves as “creative,” rather than “innovative,” as the latter descriptor is more relevant to products.

A negative is that although leaders say they want creative employees, and prospective employees are selling their creativity and seeking creative places to work on LinkedIn, there is increasing employee disengagement in the workplace. This suggests a disconnect about the meaning of “creativity,” and how to enable it and use it. Hopefully, the “buzzword” phenomenon will pass; in the meantime, we can benefit from looking into some significant issues around the Creativity-Commodity dichotomy.

When I’m presenting or discussing “creativity” with a group, I often ask three questions:
1. How many of you feel that being creative is very important (to your organization, you)?
2. How many of you feel you and your colleagues are living up to your creative potential?
3. How many of you think about your creativity every day and do something to strengthen it?

Close to 100% of those asked believe that creativity is important. About 40% believe they are creative in some ways. When asked if they or their companies are doing anything to develop their creativity, usually there are some chuckles and few, if any, hands go up.

What gives? If individuals know creativity is important and know something is inhibiting it, why aren’t they more motivated to do something about it? In 18 years of formal education, I do not recall the subject of creativity ever coming up. Although there are many articles, journals, newspapers, books, and presentations about creativity, the decline in it, the myths about it, anecdotes about creativity successes, tips and techniques to stimulate it, and books about creative icons, it is rare to find content that is operational for creativity, to make it relevant in everyday work and personal life.

If people can’t distinguish their creative capabilities, they probably are a commodity or on their way to becoming one. In today’s competitive environment, that puts them into a very vulnerable position. A commodity is useful or valuable because it can readily be bought and sold, is interchangeable with other commodities of the same type because there is little differentiation, has uniform quality, and meets minimum standards. This is not a desirable category for an employee or job seeker in a demanding, complex, and dynamic environment.

Most jobs would benefit from creative employees. As Pixar’s CEO, James Catmull, says in Creativity, Inc.: “If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better. (Replace “mediocre” and “brilliant” with “creative” and you get his gist.) Companies want and need creative employees because the opportunity cost of the alternative is so high.

What can be done about this? If you’ve had any professional development training, you’ve probably already taken assessments that showed your strengths and how you do things. (Personally, I’ve taken at least four – Birkman, Meyers-Brigg (MBTI), StrengthsFinder, and Kolbe). Everyone has strengths. Companies assume you have the strengths needed to do the job for which you apply. They are looking for something more – to know how you are different and how you can be uniquely valuable to them. And they struggle to do this, so if you can help them…

You have a choice – commodity or creativity? Choosing creativity involves understanding the fundamental qualities and process and nature of personal creativity (addressed in a prior blog titled What is Creativity? Why Is It Relevant to Innovation?). It also involves a shift in focus. You can choose a commodity focus by continuing to focus on your strengths, getting better at fulfilling known requirements, working harder than others, and getting better compared to others. Or, you can choose a creativity focus by focusing on your differences, your unique value, who you are versus what you do, and how you are seen at your best. Understanding what creativity is and refocusing your attention in this way is a very powerful combination.

Recently, I discovered a “fascinating” tool for understanding the creativity focus and I added it to the unconventional CLUE Institute® and hellofuture toolkit. It is a unique way of understanding and tapping into your natural personal advantages, so I became a Fascinate Certified Advisor and affiliate.

You can check out the Fascination Advantage® Assessment at this link: