September 26, 2017

My experience with the IdeoU course – Leading for Creativity

I’m not proud to admit it, but I haven’t completed a ‘structured’ course of learning since finishing Uni almost 3 years ago. In my defence, I was at Uni for what felt like a very long time.

One of the OKRs I set myself at the start of last quarter was based around upskilling. I’m pretty good with reading blog articles, less disciplined with reading books (my Key Result of 3 books in the quarter went… poorly), but completing a course was something I did actually manage to achieve.

Completing a course through IdeoU has been on my radar for a while now. I’m a huge fan of the Ideo Futures podcast as a source of inspiration and of learning, which is where I heard about IdeoU from. Ideo as a company is one I find inspiring too. Moreover, I openly admit that I’m very inexperienced and am still learning how to be both a GM and a leader. If Alpha Digital is going to be the breakout success we know it can be, everyone in the business needs to step up, myself especially.

The course I chose to complete is called “Leading for Creativity” by IdeoU.

One of the overarching themes of the course (and indeed in all content released by Ideo) is the importance of curiosity.

The course encourages leaders that want to lead creative teams to move away from the mindset that the leader must have all of the answers. They instead should be asking the right questions to allow the teams to come up with the answers.

Bang. First point for me to improve on. My study at Uni (intentionally or not, I’m not sure) developed this habit where I often ask leading questions where I believe I already know the answer.

The course was structured into 3 main leadership roles:

  1. Leading with a strong point of view
  2. Leading through culture
  3. Leading alongside your team

Leading with a strong point of view

Think the typical charismatic, inspirational leader. One who has a vision and inspires others to take risks and join them on the journey. This role was likened to an explorer, setting sale for new land, taking risks and inspiring their crew to reach new heights. If you’re starting something new, changing course or taking a big risk, this role should be in play.

Be Elon Musk – got it.

I’m not the super charismatic-type who excitedly tells everyone they meet how they’re going to change the world, so I started small.

Part of this lesson included defining your organisations Purpose and Vision and listing the main challenges you’re facing on the way to achieving that vision.

These challenges were turned into something we have already started using to solve problems – ‘How might we’ questions. An inspiring question, that’s specific enough to include who we’re problem solving for and what part of their journey we’re addressing, but not so specific that it includes or leads the team to a predetermined answer.

The question I came up with as part of the course was: “How might we decrease recruitment lead time?” Perhaps not the most exciting question but one that directly addresses a problem we (and lots of other digital agencies) often have. We win a big contract, we have specific needs, but there’s a million and one other agencies out there vying for the same talent. I still don’t have the answer, but we’re getting more active with some of the fantastic University student groups to help us better connect with recent and future graduates. It’s a start!

I found (and am still finding) this way of framing a question difficult, but incredibly worthwhile. It’s really helped me step away from asking leading questions, and has kickstarted a few new initiatives at Alpha Digital which is very exciting.

Leading through culture

Is your culture one which stifles or encourages creativity? Inspiring everyone to take the leap and work towards the now shared vision of the organisation is great, but what are you doing to ensure the organisation supports the team doing the creative work? When you lead through culture, the course likened the role you play to that of a Gardener. It’s your job to set the conditions to allow your team to flourish, nurture the team (or the ideas) as they’re developing, and eliminate any problems should they arise (removing weeds).

Part of this lesson that I found particularly interesting was the exploration of ‘nudges’ in the form of rituals. A nudge is something designed to prompt the receiver to respond in a certain way that is desirable for the business. There’s been a lot said about nudges in recent years and I fully encourage anyone interested in behavioural economics to do a bit of reading on the topic!

We were asked to brainstorm a new ritual for our organisation that helped solve for a gap or tension in the culture, turning into a ‘How might we’ question in order to solve the problem. I’d encourage everyone to give this a go – I’m even going to try and incorporate it into my personal life for things I think could be improved!

Leading alongside your team

Being present, engaged and accessible by your team are all key to the final lesson. Instead of being instructive, the final leadership role encourages offering guidance to reach the goal. The course likens this sort of role to that of an authentic and relatable coach. One where, outside of crises moments (maybe a time-out after the opposition has gone on an answered scoring run?) the coach doesn’t instruct, but encourages each person to play their role in the team.

I see this role as the consolidation of the previous two lessons, with an added element of guidance. For example, you might run a brainstorm with your team on how to better service an unmet segment of your market. You craft the How Might We question, pose it to your team and, whilst pushing the pace, stay out of the way unless prompting is required. Taking what was learned during the brainstorm, the team might go away and do some of their own research which may occasionally require your guidance, or if they get stuck, your instruction. Finally, once the team has decided on the few best paths or solutions, it’s your job as the coach to make the tough final decision.

As I saw this role largely as the culmination of skills learned in the previous two, I have not focused too much on improving this aspect of my leadership just yet though I’m not at all discounting its importance.

So that’s it!

The key takeaways for me were:

– Ask better questions

– Develop a clearer vision (and work on being more inspiring)

– Identify parts of the culture that could do with a ‘nudge’ in the right direction.

Was the course worth it?

I think so. It wasn’t a cheap course, but it was well run, the content was strong and the additional resources have been really helpful after the fact. I probably won’t rush back to do another IdeoU course just yet, but I’d recommend at least looking into it you’re interested in improving your leadership in a creative space!

Get in touch if you have any questions!

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