Tag Archive for: Health


Making Time for Creativity

Is creativity a product of nature or nurture?  While some people have a higher proclivity to creative expression, we all have the potential; it’s part of human nature.  But we are forced to specialise so early in our development, we shut down pursuits, interests and disciplines unconscionably early.  The arts are often the first to go, either because parents push their children toward so-called ‘safe’ subject matters to set them up for stable careers, such as engineering, mathematics and the like, or schools shove art, music, creative writing and drama into the periphery of the curriculum, if they appear at all.  In grade school, I recall that my music and art classes only occurred once a week versus daily sessions in math, history and science.  There may be exceptions, but most schools do not hesitate to shave funding from the arts at the first sign of budget cuts.  As the harried principal shouts when firing the titular music teacher in the film Mr. Holland’s Opus, ‘If I’m forced to choose between Mozart and reading, writing and long division, I choose long division.’  To which, the music teacher Mr. Holland retorts, ‘Well, I guess you can cut the arts as much as you want, Gene.  Sooner or later, these kids aren’t going to have anything to read or write about.’[i]

Too many schools minimise or ignore creativity, too many parents discourage it and too many companies devalue it.  Our firms abrogate responsibility for innovation to a select fraction of the employee population, often someone with a lofty title like Chief Creative Officer, which of course tacitly communicates to the rest of the company that they should leave creativity to the specialists.  This is not only a shame but a great waste since seventy-five percent of productivity gains can be traced back to bottom-up ideas from front-line employees.[ii]  Or our company’s leaders encourage innovation in their words but deprioritize it in their actions, always selecting the safe, the incremental and the staid in their decisions.  Or if we observe how our leaders spend their time, and by extension how we should spend ours, they are tacitly telling us that creativity is relegated to possibly a few minutes a week and ideally in one’s free time, not when we’re ‘on the clock’.  In my advisory work, I usually find this last condition, lack of time, to be the most common and pernicious reason why people tell me they cannot be creative at work.

The problem is that if we budget very little time in our lives to innovating or adapting to try new ideas, we typically incur a double deficit in our creative capacity.  First, we never make the time because creativity is always at the bottom of our priority list.  Inevitably, we can never plan on all the firefighting and pop-up meetings that will occur in the week, so our real week is much more full of ‘dealing with the day to day’ than our diaries suggested on Monday morning.

Second, if we do keep and honour a tiny fraction of our week or month to creative thinking, brainstorming and the like, we find our attention span is constantly distracted, and we never seem to produce anything worthwhile as a result.  So we face each new window of opportunity for innovation with an ever growing, soul-sucking impression of dread or, at the least, resignation.

What we’re learning now is that we’re actually training our brains to deliver this depressing result.  These hurried, captured moments of precious time for innovation yield paltry results because our brains just can’t turn on the magic for such short, unsustainable periods of time. Because we don’t have balance between the mundane and the creative, we can’t achieve creativity even if we give ourselves those fleeting thirty minutes a week to do so.  We must change our routines so that we give our brains more time to marinate in innovative thinking or expression and increase the frequency of those marinades.  Like any muscle, the creative function in our brains requires exercise in order to improve, but as importantly, to be receptive to create in the first place.

The point is not that we denude all traditional routine from our organisations;  we need some of that.  But the hundreds of companies that I’ve worked with usually operate at a ratio of about ninety-nine percent business as usual to one percent creative time…on a good week!  So if you’re feeling uncomfortable that I might be suggesting something like a fifty-fifty balance, I’m not necessarily saying that.  But the better ratio surely has to be closer to eighty-twenty at least? I’m merely entreating us to ask ourselves honestly, ‘Is the balance right?’


For more on my thinking on this topic, please see my book, Sparking Success: Why every leader needs to develop a creative mindset [Kogan Page, 2023].  

i. Mr. Holland’s Opus, directed by Stephen Herek (1995; Burbank, CA: Hollywood Pictures).

ii. Bilal Gokpinar, ‘Driving Efficiency Gains Starts with Frontline Employee Innovation,’ UCL School of Management, 21 July, 2021, https://www.mgmt.ucl.ac.uk/news/driving-efficiency-gains-starts-frontline-employee-innovation.

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Just In Time Hiring, ‘Covering’ and the Engagement Crisis

I’ve talked at length in previous blogs and articles about employee engagement, but now I’m going to address a political hot potato – that thing that many people in organisations all know, all whisper about around the water cooler, but won’t say out loud, and that is the staffing model. How many of us have been in situations where our colleagues have gone off on long holidays or unfortunately have gone off sick for a long period of time, or fortunately have had children? What happens with the rest of us? Almost always, our organisation asks us to pick up the slack. So for a long period of time we’re not just trying to fulfil our roles, but we’re trying to fulfil someone else’s role as well. But do we receive both titles? No. Do we receive two salaries? No. Are we rewarded in any way by our organisations? Typically not. In fact, in many ways we’re often punished. What do I mean by that? Well, think about what happens during one’s annual review. Your boss or HR might say, ‘Well look, you didn’t achieve these objectives,’ and you’re thinking, ‘Yeah, I didn’t fully achieve those objectives because I was trying to achieve those objectives and someone else’s objectives while trying not to keel over from exhaustion!’

So our organisations might philosophically say we have just the right number of people to fulfil all the roles required. In reality, architecturally our organisations are chronically understaffed, and that creates an enormous engagement problem.

Think about what happens when organisations downsize and they tell teams, ‘Okay, yes, we know you had to do x amount of work with six people but now you have to do x amount of work with two people, but don’t worry’, the organisation says, ‘After six months we’ll revisit. This is just temporary.’ And we all know what happens: Two years later you look back and you think, ‘Huh!  We’re still in exactly the same position. We’re all working umpteen hours a day, and this was all supposed to be temporary!’ Organisations sometimes claim: ‘We have just in time hiring. As soon as we see a gap we will hire.’  I say that’s almost always nonsense. Organisations typically do not do that. They tacitly expect their people to pick up the slack. And if they are going to do that, then at least be honest with employees. When you do put them under that stress of having to work two or three jobs for the same title for the same salary for long stretches, then, even better than simply being honest about it, reward them for it and watch what will happen to your employee engagement when you combine transparency with recognition.  

Adam Kingl, www.adamkingl.com, is the author of Next Generation Leadership and Sparking Success.  He is also an educator, adviser and keynote speaker.  

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Quiet Quitting: New Name for an Old Problem?

Let’s consider that most troublesome of conditions that’s much in the press – quiet quitting. Is that a thing? Really? Or actually, are we just talking about people doing the bare minimum, just trying to hang on and draw their pay cheque and keep their noses down? Well, isn’t that what a lot of people have been doing for decades, if not centuries? I wonder if we just put a new label on a condition that we have been too easily ignoring for far too long, and that’s the chronic engagement problem. So how do we as leaders better engage our people?

I was particularly looking at the largest demographic (over 65%) in the workforce in my own research, and that’s Generation Y or Millennials, and what might keep them engaged at work and actually allow them to give more discretionary effort than they ever have before, and I found that engagement has to do with mainly three things.

One is giving them development opportunities and naming those development opportunities explicitly. In other words, if we give people projects, do we actually tell them that this is a development opportunity for these reasons?  When they are shadowing, or attending international secondments or placements, are we explicit about how and why those are development opportunities? Do we give our people mentoring? Most of the things I’ve mentioned are free or inexpensive.

The second thing that we need to think about is culture. What is it like to work around here? What’s the experience? The two questions that Gen Y told me they wish they could ask or would have been asked in a recruitment interview are: Can I meet the team I would be working with, and can you show me where my desk will be? In other words, what they are interested in is: What are the behaviours I observe from the people around me? What they are interested in, therefore, is culture.

Third is work-life balance. Now, this doesn’t mean necessarily working fewer hours, so when we say people are quiet quitting, what they’re telling us is that they’re working the bare minimum of hours, but there might be something behind that, which is that they may truly want flexibility in terms of where they work, and if they have that flexibility then they might actually give us more of their time in terms of doing the work required. I am not suggesting that we kill people and work them to death, but if we think that people are giving us the bare minimum, how do we create the conditions of that work, so that they’re more willing to do what is required to the extent that is healthy and well? That is a two-way conversation of course between employer and employee. But work-life balance is a tricky question because we always have to ask ourselves whether we are dealing with hours worked or with flexibility in terms of where and how the work happens.

For more of my media and speaking, please visit www.adamkingl.com 

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Responding to the Resignation Crisis

One of the topics I discuss in my book, Next Generation Leadership, is how to respond to the resignation crisis. I discovered that, among many tactics, one which appears to be highly effective is cultivating an alumni network. If it is true that Generation Y, or Millennials, are leaving their organisations with frightening rapidity, my research show that this is in fact their expectation.  They are often anticipating leaving every two to five years from one organisation to the next. 

Then, it’s best that we consider how we might allow them to come back at some point in the future. So, they may not stay for more than two to five years at a time, but perhaps we can convince them to come back two, three times over the course of their careers, and in so doing, the develop new, senior leadership skills, customer relations skills, sales skills, whatever it might be, which you didn’t have to pay for, and then you get them back, and you get the benefit of all that new development. So how do we cultivate an alumni network? Well, professional services organisations like McKinsey or Accenture are world class at maintaining their alumni networks, so we can learn a thing or two from them. They even hold reunions in many cases, just as a university would, of their former employees because these people are currently clients, they’re customers, they’re net promoters.  You certainly don’t want them to be net detractors!  

But what too many organisations do, instead of cultivating those relationships, instead of holding alumni reunions, instead of keeping a social network alive, is when someone resigns they say, ‘Oh, you’re leaving? Ok, leave your swipe card on the desk and don’t let the door hit your butt on the way out.’ That’s certainly not the way forward. We want to keep a workforce, whether it’s in one go at a time or two or three goes at a time because we’re living in a world where young employees want mobility from job to job.  Sometimes those future collaborations might be contractor positions instead of full-time employee engagements, and that’s fine.  Certainly we need to make working with us as attractive as possible, so that over the course of their careers, we can collaborate with the high potentials for as long as possible. The only thing is – it may not be all in one go. 

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Humanising Leadership

Work life has fundamentally changed over the last 150 years. We’ve seen technology evolve how we work, we’ve seen scientific management evolve how we work, we’ve seen Six Sigma evolve how we work. We’ve seen other forms of agility, adaptability, etc., evolve how we work. However, the act of management, the habits, processes, and technologies of management have fundamentally not changed since the industrial revolution. As a result, we are facing an engagement crisis, and I don’t need to tell you that we are also in the midst of a resignation crisis. That’s because work is becoming more incremental, inertial, and inhuman. Fundamentally inhuman.  

Covid didn’t cause these crises, but they accelerated the trends, as we were forced home to contemplate our lives and fulfilment.  We’ve seen the engagement crisis evident for years in polls such as the Gallup Survey, which indicates that only about 13% of the global workforce are engaged in their jobs, 62% are disengaged, and about a quarter are actively disengaged, meaning that they hate their employment so much that they would sabotage their organisation given half a chance.  As dramatically depressing as those statistics are, the real tragedy is that most managers don’t seem to care enough to do much about it.  When I share these survey results in front of executive audiences, the most common reaction I see is resigned acceptance: a shrug, a shake of the head, eyes downcast.  

We simply have to get angry about this state of affairs in order finally to change it.  I would argue that you wouldn’t see this reaction in similar circumstances with professionals other than ‘managers’.  If I were addressing an audience of general practitioner doctors and told them, ‘I interviewed all the patients you saw over the past year and their families.  Here are the results.  13% of your patients got better.  25% died, and 62% reported that seeing you made no difference to their health whatsoever.’  Those GPs would be up in arms!  They would be demanding that the practice of medicine be completely reimagined in the face of these results and particularly if they largely didn’t change year to year.  Yet again, corporate managers have grown accustomed to such dire results to the point that they neither act upon nor even dwell on them.    

What’s the solution? Not more management!  At least not more management in terms of the definition of ‘to control’, but more management in relation to being more human, more empathetic, helping our people, and by extension our organisations to be more relevant tomorrow than they are today. This, I believe is the challenge of leadership in the 21st century: humanising management. 

To find out more, please go to my website www.adamkingl.com.

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Work-Life Balance

When I wrote my book Next Generation Leadership, I interviewed Generation Ys, Generation Xers and Baby Boomers, and I asked them about work-life balance. My first question was, ‘What do you mean when you say work-life balance?’ What was very interesting is that I learned that there’s semantic discord among the generations about their definitions of that term. 

For most Gen Xs and Baby Boomers, work-life balance is a ‘when’ question. In other words, when they hear ‘work-life balance’ they would interpret that the speaker wants to work fewer hours, which can lead them to conclude, ‘They don’t want to pay the dues that I paid, and so they’re lazy. So it goes, and that contributes to this incorrect prejudice that Gen Ys are somehow lazy. 

When I ask Gen Ys what they mean when they say or hear ‘work-life balance’, they generally say that this is a ‘where’ statement. In other words, technology allows me to work wherever I want. Therefore, what they’re looking for is flexibility in terms of location of work. What they’re rejecting is face-time culture, being chained to your desk, not being able to leave the office until the boss leaves, etc. 

Of course, what we learned since Covid is that we should in fact have flexibility in terms of workplace location. And yes, I know that it does vary based on your function or industry whether it is possible to work from home or elsewhere, but nevertheless this is an important semantic discord for us to notice and understand. A great solution is to ask one another before you get into a work-life balance conversation is ‘Well, what do you mean when you say work-life balance in your context,’ to make sure that you aren’t speaking at cross-purposes. 

For more from my articles, media, book and speaking, please visit adamkingl.com