"Protecting the status quo does not foster creativity, fearlessness, innovation and advancement."
I’m not exactly sure how I stumbled across John J. Murphy’s book Zentrepreneur because I keep an ever-growing list of books I might want to read, however, in the grand scheme of things it matters not where the recommendation came from. What matters is that it did land on my reading list and that I chose to read it before some of the other competition on the list. And what a delightful and thought-provoking read it was!
The writing was personable and direct – almost conversation-like. Each chapter opened with an interesting quote (and I adore quotes) and closed with a bulleted ‘checklist for success’ – simple, yet inspirational ways to highlight the lessons contained in the chapter and apply in your life. In between there were stories and examples, tons of powerful questions (I also love good questions) and some well-placed lessons on how to lead yourself and others to a culture of innovation and fearlessness. And I was reminded, yet again, that sometimes we are the ones hampering our own success.
Uncover Your Roots
"The only real barrier is what you hold to be true in your own mind."
Wow! Isn’t that a powerful statement? “The only real barrier is what you hold to be true in your own mind.” I certainly have read numerous books that have discussed the power of our minds and the difference one can make simply by changing negative self-talk to positive self-talk. Murphy, however, challenges us to dig deeper to discover what is truly holding us back from achieving the success we desire.
He shares examples of how he leads teams in organizations through kaizen events (which loosely translated means ‘good change’) where teams define the current state of affairs using factual data or ‘undisputable facts’ and then dig deeper to identify the root causes of the problem(s) they are facing. Murphy notes that in organizations, “root causes are often related to flawed assumptions” which in turn lead to flawed policy, procedure and process design.
On a personal level, if we do not challenge our own assumptions and identify the fears that hold us in a less than optimal ‘status quo’ state of being, we will not be able to awaken the zentrepreneur within us and overcome these self-imposed barriers. So, let me ask you: do you make time to reflect on what is holding you back and why? Do you know what ‘mental boxes’ you routinely play in? Do you try to ‘shake up’ your thinking periodically? If not, perhaps you need to start asking different questions.
Are You Asking the Right Questions?
"To apply zentrepreneurial thinking effectively, we must learn to ask questions in a variety of different ways."
This by far was the biggest take-away for me. The sheer volume of questions that Murphy identifies throughout the book is staggering and reminded me that in our haste to solve a problem or implement a new idea we often don’t pause long enough to ask and answer a goodly number of questions. If you want to immediately boost your creativity and problem-solving skills, try answering these questions:
- What if…? Why? Why not?
- What are the risks of doing this? What are the rewards? What happens if I do nothing?
- How might I do this? Who might help me? When?
Murphy points out that these questions are ones of “playful possibility” and help us dig deeper to address the larger questions of “Yeah but…? So what? And, now what?”
The key though, is to ask these questions a lot! Not just once or twice. For example, see what happens when you ask ‘why’ four or five times (children are great at this one!):
- Why was George late? His car would not start.
- Why did his car not start? The battery was dead.
- Why was the battery dead? He left the lights on.
- Why did he leave the lights on? He was distracted and forgot to turn them off.
- Why did George forget? He is human and made a mistake. There were no cues to remind him.
Now, consider what solutions are generated at each question level. Can you solve the problem at level 1? No, we do not have enough information. How about level 2? Well, the short-term solution would be to get a battery boost, however we haven’t yet identified the root cause of the problem so it can easily happen again. It’s not until we get to level 5 that we can generate some creative solutions to address the problem once and for all.
Empty Your Bowl
"Beyond Doubt provided the simple how to ‘let be, let go, let see, let flow’ model to move one beyond this inertia fears, uncertainties and doubts."
Here is another truism that’s easy to say and awfully hard to do. Think about it. We often say to people who appear somewhat rigid to ‘just go with the flow’. It’s our way of saying, ‘relax, enjoy the moment, take a chance, something good awaits you’. And yet we often forget to take our own advice!
Learning to ask more and different questions is essential if you want to be able to ‘empty your bowl’. And while it is something you can probably learn to practice on your own, I think it is much easier to do this with others. We all see the world with different eyes, based on our knowledge and experiences. Tapping into this wisdom with a sense of wonder and curiosity can help us let go of our ‘habitual, auto-pilot mind’ and open us to new possibilities.
If you want to change something in your work or personal life and are struggling with how exactly to make the shift, seek the ideas of others – either one-on-one or within existing teams (work, family, community). Don’t go looking for ‘the’ answer – empty your bowl and fill it up with lots of possibilities. Then have fun experimenting with the different solutions to find the one that works best for you. Murphy believes, and I agree, that “We are inspired and creative when we let go of our resistance…” Let go to let flow.
If this is too big a leap for you, if it seems too loose-y goosey and irresponsible, then fall back on the more business-like structure of DMAIC – define, measure, analyze, improve and control. Moving through these stages in a disciplined way “helps keep teams aligned and moving forward in a clear, compelling and rational manner.” Which is a lot better than stagnating in an unimaginative and fearful status quo situation, wouldn’t you agree?
Have you ever used any of the strategies and techniques outlined in this summary? What was the outcome and what did you learn from that experience?