Last week, there was news that Elon Musk responded to an idea from a 5th grader that he received via Twitter. In a re-paste of a letter that she wrote to the founder of Tesla, the girl's father shared his daughter's message with the entrepreneur. Musk then responded, noting that his company would take action and make the idea happen.
Ideas are not individual, but they are environmental. Just as we move with a wave in the ocean, we are rocked back and forth by influences that are stronger than our individual mode of function. That which you believe is 100% original is created through thousands of interactions with hundreds of people dozens of times. The day we start believing we are the sole provider of creativity is the day we have allowed our egos to surpass prudence. From that day forward we will dismiss the creations of those around us as being nothing but a product of our own, when in reality the reverse is true.
You don’t have to follow this advice to succeed as a leader. Many who have long abandoned caring for the source of creative advancements have indeed succeeded. The pitfall in believing in egocentric self-reliance is the inevitable disintegration of the team that truly delivered collective creativity, as no team can be stable without an understanding of this simple concept: We are nothing but a part of the creative process and we must not only play our part, but understand the importance of the parts others play. As mentioned previously, leaders who ignore this fact may indeed succeed, but only temporarily. After the team disintegration takes hold, such leaders tend to find themselves unable to move the business left or right, and often get frustrated with the process.
As a leader, if you have built a winning team, keep the following simple script in mind:
- Start Over
Being a leader means that you are perfectly poised to do that which others can’t do, and that is to dream. Just as any famous band has a front man without whom they would be playing in a garage, every business has the need for you because you have the capability of moving people and dreaming with balance and purpose.
The creation process will be accomplished by those on the team that create. As a leader, open space and enjoy the process, while maintaining a full understanding of the collective experience. The creators can push the foundation and practice forward.
After every element of your dream has been realized through the creative process, recognize those who have created alongside you. Please realize that you are not doing this for your team, but it is an exercise to keep you grounded on what is actually happening.
One you have started winning, your team will be empowered to think beyond the “now,” and you should give it a good listen. They will give you fuel so that you may dream further.
Like any good framework, repeat the process and start over.
On college campuses, ideas come from everywhere. In our years in higher education, we've seen it firsthand. Conversations with cafeteria workers about long lines during peak meal times resulted in how classes were scheduled to help alleviate stress in the facilities. Landscape crews that noted wear and tear on certain pathways across campus resulted in paving new sidewalks between academic buildings. Observations of student traffic patterns by library staff influenced how common areas and seating were rearranged in order to afford students greater access to the resources needed for their research and foster collaboration.
Ideas can come from anywhere. Institutions just need to be mindful of the collective wisdom and intelligence that makes their institutions great, and welcome ideas as an extension of the campus culture. Place suggestion boxes throughout the campus, and launch an online presence to elicit feedback. When a recommendation is brought forward that presents a solution to a known issue, reward that idea by putting it into action and promote it.
Ideas are environmental. Create an environment and culture that helps ideas become reality.