Using Creative Thinking to Increase Flexibility

Thursday, May 21, 2020

A Message from Katie Tagye, Director, Organizational Design and Development 

Earlier this month, in an email from Valencia College President Sandy Shugart, we learned that while the College will not be closing on Friday afternoons this summer, that full-time employees would, in fact, have the opportunity to continue with our tradition of a 36-hour work week throughout the summer.

It would have been easy for College leaders to be lured into a false choice to either maintain the status quo and close the College at noon on Fridays, potentially putting students at risk for being unsuccessful, or to simply end the practice of half-day Fridays all together, potentially putting employees at risk for burnout.

This example of flexibility got me thinking. How might we use the principles of creativity to help us reframe challenges so that we can meet needs in new ways?

Here are some ideas that might help you increase your flexibility:

1. Recognize the why. What are the outcomes, reasons or principles behind what you are trying to accomplish?

In the example of “half day Fridays,” the idea was originally conceived of as an opportunity to spend less time commuting and more time with family as well as a signal for self-care and downtime. Examining these helped identify what makes sense in today’s landscape. Most of us don’t have to worry about a commute or being in proximity of our families; however, the notion of self-care and increased quality time with family does still stand as a powerful “why” to maintain some version of “half-day Fridays”.

Stuck on your “why”? Try making a list of all the things you accomplish. Consider getting input on the list or sharing that list with your team or a colleague to help you think it through. Cognitive diversity, incorporating different experiences and perspectives, is a huge benefit of collaboration.

2. Deconstruct the how. What are the elements, steps or processes that you’ve used in the past to reach the goals? Pay attention to things that seem like they are defining characteristics. They may only be so because they had always been in the past.

For instance, we know how “half-day Fridays” were originally implemented — it’s in the name. The College closed after noon on Friday and everyone had those hours off. If leaders hadn’t moved past the name, they might not have discovered the flexibility available to them. Now, this may seem obvious to us, but we might also be able to see how a rigid approach is also pretty easy to come by.

Push yourself to deconstruct what you’ve been doing as far as you can go. Deconstruction doesn’t necessarily mean elimination. Some elements might need to be redesigned during the recreation step, but some elements might stand on their own

3. Practice generative or divergent thinking. What are all the ways that you might be able to reach your goals?

Now is the time for divergent thinking, an opportunity for you to identify all of the ways that you might reach the objectives.

The work might is key here. “Might” connotes possibility, not probability. In this step, we aren’t looking at what we could, would or should do. We’re simply exploring what possibilities might exist, if given the chance. In this spirit, aim for quantity rather than worry about whether or not ideas will work.

Remember that you’re looking for new ways of reaching your goals, so after you’ve listed everything you can think of, push yourself to be deliberate in imagining still other ways. Sometimes imagining the way other people might solve your challenge can help you create a longer list. Need some more inspiration for how to come up with possibilities? Here is a list of ways to ideate.

4. Revisit the why. Look back at your reasons or principles. With those in mind, begin reviewing the list that you generated of how you might be able to reach the goal.

Begin to make affirmative decisions about which possibilities might help you get to your goal. Review the whole list with an open mind and begin identifying ideas that will get you the same results you’ve already gotten or that lock you into an approach that will not lead you to flexibility. Either eliminate inflexible ideas or, where the ideas have an element that is helpful, adjust the idea so that it opens up to more flexibility.

5. Recreate the how. It’s time for a final decision. Which of your approaches will you use? What are the exact steps needed?

As you go, you will need to begin converging in order to lead to a choice that will help you reach your goals, support and engage your employees, and meet the current restrictions or constraints. As you converge, you’ll want to be deliberate in how you make choices; not every idea will work as a solution. You should also be deliberate in your flexibility; it is easy to automatically revert to the steps you have always done.

Asking yourself these questions might help you make your decision:

Does this idea lead you to more flexibility in implementation? If it does not, it may not help you arrive at the change you seek.

Does this idea meet your “why”? If it does not, it is likely unimportant and unlikely to be useful in the end. (This might seem obvious, but some of us get so excited about our ideas sometimes that we forget to make sure it meets the original objective.).

Am I the decision-maker for this idea or do I have an opportunity to impact the decision? If not, it might be best to move on. There’s no sense in loving an idea that you will have to spend your time trying to convince someone else to implement.

Finally, consider what are the risks or barriers that might pop up with this new approach? How might you address those in your approach?

If this is brand new to you, I suggest you practice on something in your personal life first. You might find that taking the risk of being flexible not only helps you maintain your goal but it might also open up new opportunities for improving your work, regardless of where your workstation is. If you struggle, be patient with yourself. Not all goals will be as simple as these ideas might make it seem. If you’re stuck, employ the help of a colleague or reach out to the Organizational Design and Development team to imagine possibilities and recreate plans.

I don’t know about you, but I’m appreciative of the flexibility that led to our 2020 summer hours. There were options between keeping and canceling the notion of “half day Fridays,” and to discover the possibilities, it just took a little creative thinking and flexibility.

Want some other ideas for ways to increase your creative thinking? Entrepreneur.com has some tips for you in this article 9 Ways to Rewire Your Brain for Creativity.

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