Restrictions Will Set You Free!

We're paralyzed by infinite possibilities. Give yourself some intentional restrictions in life and you’ll finally get inspired to act.  Restrictions will set you free.  ~Derek Sivers

We tend to think that a blank canvass will spark creativity. That if we remove enough barriers employees will suddenly become inspired and innovation will flourish in every corner of our organizations.  Could it be that the exact opposite might be true?

Derek Sivers is a musician and the creator of, which became the largest online seller of independent music. Derek provides this example:

I say to you "Write me a piece of music. Anything at all.  Go."  "Umm…anything?” you say.  "What kind of mood are you looking for? What genre?"
There are too many possibilities. The blank page problem. How do you begin with infinity?
Now imagine I say, "Write me a piece of music, using only a xylophone, a flute, and a shoe box.  You can only use four notes: B, C, E, F, and only two notes at a time.  It has to be in ¾ time, start quiet, get loud, then get quiet by the end. Make it sound like a ladybug dancing with an acorn.  Go."
Ah…your imagination has already begun writing the music as soon as it hears the limitations.  This is easy!
Those of us in developed countries have a blank page. We can do anything. Anything we want.   And that's the problem. We're paralyzed by the infinite possibilities.
I've seen this thinking within organizations frequently and I've done it myself. Give people lots of freedom and they'll be creative. Instead, they become paralyzed. They return to their offices and keep doing what they've been doing; nothing innovative or even new or different materializes.      

Testing has shown that restrictions actually aid creative thought. An art guild in Colorado took that finding literally and created an entire show based on restrictions. Each artist was limited to a 1' x 1' canvass. They believed that if they put certain limits on things, it would force artists to see things in different ways and stretch their abilities.

Disney believes that when you have unlimited resources, you can afford to be sloppy with your designs. Restrictions introduce a set of rules that you cannot change so you are forced to be creative in order to come up with a solution.

Think about something you have wanted to accomplish but it's stalled; it's not moving forward. Identify specific restrictions, work within those restrictions, and then watch your creativity and innovation soar. Your restrictions will set you free!
Dr. Kathryn Scanland is the president of Greystone Global LLC, a consulting firm focusing on strategic planning, leadership development and organizational design. This post is republished with permission from Tuesday Mornings.

New Book Redefines "Entangled," Sets New Framework for Building Strong Corporate Culture

Is employee entanglement the way to build an exceptional organization? At first glance, the idea is a bit disturbing. I squirmed a little when I read this use of the word "entangled" in It's My Company Too!, a new business book published by Greenleaf Book Group Press.

Entangled has messy connotations to me: maybe they meant engaged? I wondered. Or embedded? But no, three pages in the authors make it clear: they mean entangled. Why that word? Because entangled implies a state of tension, of being stretched - a familiar state for small businesses, like those featured in the book, in the current economic environment. But, as the authors describe it, for entangled employees in entangled organizations this tension exists because of their clear vision of where they want to be, and a firm knowledge that they aren't there yet. The entanglement tension creates a drive that helps organizations out-perform their peers.

"Entanglement is the critical force that separates world-class from common performance, providing an organizational competency that makes leaders among peers," write the authors. "It's these distinctive competences that make imitation impossible and competitors irrelevant."

Eight Not-So-Easy Pieces
Using the analogy of a puzzle, the authors identify eight "not-so-easy" pieces that great companies put into place to gain employee attention, build discretionary thinking, and excel in the marketplace:

  • Having leaders who do extraordinary things
  • Building an ethical organization
  • Focusing all the human capital
  • Using process to guide performance
  • Increasing an individual's self-efficacy
  • Giving employees freedom and responsibility within a culture of discipline
  • Hard-wiring discretionary thinking and actions
  • Guiding the transformation process to remarkable performance
None of these concepts are original to the book. What is original is the chemistry created by the combination of these ideas: when functioning together, it creates exceptional organizations. This is evident in the examples of the eight organizations featured in the books. 

One company that especially works against the odds to create an entangled workforce is Mike's Carwash, an Indiana company with revenues around $60 million annually. In a business that often experiences high turnover within its lower-educated workforce, Mike's has decreased turnover by 25 percent, achieving exceptional standards within their industry, by concentrating on discretionary thinking, a trait they select for in the hiring process and train for once a new employee is on board. Team input drives strategic planning and shapes important customer service decisions. The Mike's workforce, writes the authors, "knows it can not only make suggestions and utilize discretionary thinking but also exercise its right to do what will delight customers." 

Combining Practical Knowledge with Researched Insights
Delight is a concept that repeats itself throughout the book - customers are delighted, employees are delighted, results are delightful. But It's My Company Too! is not just a book of anecdotal stories and insights. Author Ken Thompson, Ph.D., is a professor of management at DePaul University; authors Tom Walter (CEO of Tasty Catering and a regular contributor to this blog) and Ray Bendetto, DM, are business owners and members of the Academy of Management. Co-author Molly Meyer helped launch creative firm NuphorIQ. Together they combine well-researched insights with observations from the inside of exceptional companies. The result is delightful. 

It's My Company Too! is available on Amazon or through the authors' website
Amber Johnson is the Center for Values-Driven Leadership's corporate relations and social media advisor. She is a non-profit and small business communications professional. In addition to blogging about business for the CVDL, Amber writes about marriage and other topics on her personal blog

How to be a Good Coach: Tips for Employee-Focused Leaders

  by Tom Walter

Tom Walter is a "serial entrepreneur" who has launched nearly 30 companies. He is the CEO of Tasty Catering, named one of Winning Workplaces best small companies in 2010. He is the author of the forthcoming book, It’s My Company Too! This post is republished with permission from Serial Entrepreneur
Being a good coach means putting others before yourself and always making decisions for the good of the team.  Here are a few tips on how to take coaching principles into the workplace in order to be an employee-focused leader.

This is the most important part of communication.  Part of your job as a leader is to optimize your employees’ time at work.  This might mean allowing them to vent for a few minutes to you in the morning if it helps them clear their heads and get on with the rest of their day.  Otherwise, they might have a nagging thought constantly interrupting their work, or worse, they might end up complaining to a co-worker and simultaneously disrupt other people’s work.
Show your employees that you support their decisions.  When your teammates know that you have their backs, they are more empowered to make decisions on their own and challenge themselves to take on more of a leadership role.
As a leader with experience, offer your point of view when you see employees faced with certain dilemmas.  Coach them to a higher emotional intelligence and toward greater problem-solving skills, and offer them perspective when their particular dilemma grows out of proportion.

Workplace Bullying: One CEO's Alarming Discovery

Photo by Eddie~S via Flickr. 
Jeff Talbert* was the CEO of a fledgling company when, in an instant, he made a troubling discovery. More than a third of his 17 person staff was actively engaged in bullying another colleague.

The revelation came when Talbert scrolled through an email and found a chain of messages that had been inadvertently forwarded. Here was proof that six members of his team - some of them his most competent staff members - were sending anti-Semitic, degrading messages about the targeted colleague. They'd gone so far as to create a daily email of the target's offenses and short comings.

"The tone was hateful," says Talbert. "It was truly ugly stuff. I couldn't believe what I was reading."

Just a few years out of business school, and with a rapidly growing business on his hands, Talbert was faced with an ethical dilemma: do I fire some of my best staff and possibly sink the company in the process, or do I turn a blind eye?