Putting Out Too Many Fires Lately?
What’s more productive over time, firefighting or fire prevention?
Does it seem that every time you think things are going to be okay, another problem seems to pop up out of nowhere? I know I’ve been there; feeling the frustration of not believing I’d ever get time to get back to working on that new project I had been hoping to get underway. My focus turned from the exciting creating mode to the problem solving mode. Sometimes it was equipment breakdown that needed immediate attention. Sometimes it was helping members of the team to resolve a relationship or teamwork problem.
When our momentum consistently shifts from putting out the fires that seem to pop up, we often become discouraged and stop moving forward. We can get ourselves into the habit of procrastination, of spending valuable thinking time on ways to prevent or handle the next problem or fire that will inevitably pop up.
It can slip up on us and if we are not careful, we can end up losing all of our momentum and end up in a downward spiral. Hopefully we can stop that downward momentum soon enough so that we don’t have to start all over again. It happens to a lot of people personally as well as organizations and the culprit is always the same: Lack of focused attention to innovation.
People and organizations that lack innovation are in trouble and the only way to turn that trouble into forward momentum is to be determined and persistent to create a sustainable culture of innovation. The leader must be determined and persistent, refusing to allow any down time to be spent on putting out fires. Steven Covey developed a Time Matrix model that helps a person to determine what is urgent and what is important.
I learned through his teaching of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People that urgent things usually deal with things while important things deal with people. Important things such development of a vision and communication, discovering and utilizing the strengths of the team, building and maintaining trust by understanding how to deal with conflict, getting buy-in and commitment, having accountability, and synergy by creating clarity around desired results.
When we shift our extra or down time from thinking about how to deal with urgent things, like the fires we seem to always be putting out, to how we can train and equip others to handle the urgent things, we begin to create forward momentum. Momentum toward innovation and creation rather than maintenance and repair. Both maintenance or repair and creation and innovation take energy. But creation and innovation create energy while maintenance and constant repair drain energy. Ask yourself what kind of energy field you are operating in. Do you go home tired and frustrated or do you go home satisfied and fulfilled?
Let me share with you what I learned about creating a culture of innovation from the article from John C. Maxwell:
1. Model it. Your leaders need to act on opportunities quickly and decisively. If their decisions reflect where the business is going, not where it is today, their mindset can permeate the whole organization. If they demonstrate a forward-thinking mindset, you’ll soon start to see creativity amongst all your leaders and team members.
2. Encourage positive failure. Failure is a critical part of success. Your leaders need to know their creative problem-solving attempts are appreciated even when the end result isn’t quite what they hoped.
3. Embrace option-thinking. Your leaders and managers need to become comfortable with change and risk. Great ideas are born from uncertainty. Take another look at Odon. His own wife told him he was crazy at first! But innovators like Odon look for options, no matter how off-the-wall they may appear. If you can encourage the environment with your leaders, innovation can follow.
4. Insist on solution-thinking. No one benefits from constant complaining that doesn’t seek a solution. Train your leaders to brainstorm multiple solutions for every problem they identify. This approach not only minimizes the issues that come up, but also gives leaders ownership of challenges.
5. Harness the power of fresh perspective. One of the best ways to remain innovative and flexible is to make the most of new leaders’