The unnecessary mindset that kills creativity. (Episode 63.)

The unnecessary mindset that kills creativity. (Episode 63.)

Interview with Dr. Alejandro Valenzuela, CEO of Banco Azteca.

We have all heard the saying from corporate leaders about how we need to ”encourage failure”, ”celebrate failure” and ”fail faster”, but while all that is true, there is one aspect about the human psyche around the creative process that we need to address if this approach is to work.

And that aspect is how so many people take failure personally.

If we want people to take risk, try new things and innovate we need to get people to not look at set-backs, failures and disappointments in the creative process as something that is connected to themselves, but to the process.

I talked about this aspect of creativity with Dr. Alejandro Valenzuela, CEO of Banco Azteca. The bank he is running was founded only in 2002 is already the #1 bank in Mexico in terms of national presence. Alejandro is a champion of creativity – and let’s be honest, if you are a CEO in the fast changing financial services sector right now you have to be!

He told me: “One of the biggest challenges with getting people to really innovate is that they take failure personally. We (as leaders) need to get people to disconnect the failure from themselves and instead connect the failure to the task. By doing that a failure becomes a problem to be solved, not a personal attack on your character.”

Now, we all know that people love to look at others, and themselves, as “failures” or “successes”, but I agree with Alejandro that it does not help the creative process to do so. Really creative people do not think that way. They look at the failure as something that is part of the creative process, not part of who they are.

In my conversation with Alejandro I wanted to know how a leader can develop people to stop taking failure personally. He explained:

“There are three things we need to do:

1) Acknowledge that this is an issue. We cannot solve this problem if we do not acknowledge that many people will take failure personally.

2) Accept it. It’s part of being human and it is easy fall into the trap of blaming yourself for a failure.

and finally:

3) re-align your people toward the goal of the project, and get them to understand that by focusing on how we can solve the problem we are moving forward.”

When talking about this issue, its’ important to differentiate between being committed and taking an interest vs taking failure personally.

A person that is not personally invested in a project will not create magic. So we need inspire people to balance between the positive commitment to a creative project that makes us invested in it and the negative commitment that makes us take failure personally.

Remember: as leaders our role is to help people move in the right direction, and when it comes to creativity that involves reminding them to focus on the goal, take failures as challenges to the project, not ourselves, and give them the tools they need to overcome them.

As companies loves acronyms perhaps it’s time we add one more to the – very long – list of corporate acronyms: It’s time for DTIP.

DTIP stands for Don’t Take It Personally.

I leave the conversation with Alejandro Valenzuela inspired to take the DTIP message to heart for myself, as a reminder for me to instill this in my children, and to communicate it to the people I work with in creative projects.

And I leave this text by saying it to you one more time: The next time one of your creative projects fails, falters or stumbles: Do Not Take It Personally.

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