If you’re like me, you are both.

I love to travel. I even like the kind of business trip where I must get up at 3 AM to catch a 6 AM flight, land in a city I’ve been to 10 times before, spend all day in a conference room, and eat a sandwich dinner by myself in my hotel room. Sure, it’s annoying. Security lines, changed gates, late departures, late arrivals, taxi drivers who can’t find the office: there are plenty of ways the trip can go wrong. But what a great way to see human ingenuity at work! Humans are so ingenious, so creative. Aircraft, airports, security lines, taxis, ride-shares, sandwiches! All thought up and improved over time by humans.

Humans have changed the face of a whole planet – we have built civilizations, created technology, fought over land, cured diseases, created art, music, philosophy and literature, (and sandwiches.) Even as we charge forward with creating artificial intelligence, we must acknowledge the extraordinary capabilities of humans, in every field of endeavor.

But I must agree that I’m not thrilled about every change. I know which terminals in my home airport have TSA Pre-check. If TSA switched the Pre-check lines on that one day when I was in a hurry, I wouldn’t be happy – even if it made my overall safety more secure.

One day a couple of years ago, my husband suggested that we take a cruise. Since I love to travel, you would think I immediately said “Yes! I love that idea! Which cruise do you want to take?” But what I said was, “No.”

Sometimes I don’t even know why I resist a change. I know I have said “no” to many good ideas, without even thinking about why I am saying no. If you asked me afterwards, I tell you “my gut” made that decision, and immediately afterwards, I will be able to give perfectly logical-sounding reasons why my gut reacted in that way. In the case of the cruise, I immediately came up with a quite a few objections to the idea (none based on any real facts or data.) It would be too expensive, I said. We would be the youngest people on the ship. Our ability to really see the cities we were visiting would be extremely limited, and so on. I, the person who loves to travel, was obstructing my husband’s idea.

For every change are instigators – and there are obstructers.

Creativity is intrinsic to humanity – and so is resistance. Just as we are made to be ideators, innovators, and change-makers, we are also made to resist creativity, distrust innovation, and obstruct change. Resistance, distrust, fear, caution: feelings seated in the “primitive” parts of our brains, have kept us alive in times of famine, danger and disaster. We are not always wrong when we fear newness or when we obstruct change. The question is whether we are making those judgments with our primitive brain or whether we are engaging the human parts of our brain. (And don’t get me wrong. If your “flight or fight” reaction is engaged by the sight of a poisonous snake in your path, listen to your gut!)

I want to be a leader who drives continuous improvement. Intellectually I understand that everyone, (including me) can think creatively – and I must understand that everyone, including me, can obstruct creative thinking.

Why? Because the way I:

  • react when I hear an idea,
  • ask for ideas (or not),
  • coach my employees/team members (or tell them what to do)

affects the ability of my colleagues and teams to think creatively. The behavior of leaders has an indelible impact on the culture of an organization. Our self-awareness is vital to advancing innovation.

None of the products of human ingenuity that we value today are the result of a single person’s ideas. The best innovation is the result of combining ideas, of building ideas on other ideas, of breaking ideas and re-forming them. Creative thinking can be performed individually, but it is at its best as team sport. As a leader, I can demonstrate what can happen when I allow my ideas to prodded, poked, broken, added to other ideas, improved, strengthened, or just used as inspiration for someone’s even better idea. Or I can allow my fight or flight reaction to run my life.

Oh, my husband did manage to overcome my resistance to cruising, which was I think, based on my fear of not being in control of the itinerary every day. It was an amazing vacation! It is funny though, when I tell people about it, how many of them say “oh I wouldn’t want to do that.” Is that their fight or flight reaction talking?


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