Leaders to Leader

Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

Posts Tagged ‘creative thinking

Looking into the Crystal Ball

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The events that have transpired over the years since the onset of the current recessionary cycle, underscore the turbulent times all organizations face. While uncertainty is troubling, the time of greatest organizational opportunity is found when the business environment is experiencing its greatest turbulence.

If one looks at when the greatest industrial giants started, it was during times of upheaval and turbulence. Greats like Rockefeller, Carnegie and J.P. Morgan emerged out of the shift from an agrarian to an industrial society. Companies like Hewlett-Packard, Apple Computer and Microsoft emerged from the shift to an electronic society. This leap to greatness is made possible by the fact that during times of turbulence many of the traditional paradigms that govern business are shattered. Companies and whole markets begin to seek out new solutions to the problems brought about by the forces of change.

Creative thinking and decision-making can greatly enhance leaders’ success during turbulent times. Rather than mourn the loss of business or bemoan internal changes brought about by recessionary pressures or from intensified market competition, leaders begin seeking new opportunities that present themselves in the prevailing market conditions. One thing is certain: organizations are not going back to the business models that governed them prior to 2007. They are seeking new ways to enhance productivity and profitability, and therein lies the opportunity for any leader who wishes to seek it out. However, each should acknowledge that in times of turbulence, the ability to anticipate problems, situations and opportunities dramatically increases their chances of success.

If leaders wish to take advantage of the turbulence in their markets they must apply creative thinking skills that enhance their decision-making and enable them to step ‘outside the box.’ The resultant shift in thinking allows them to design and develop new solutions to address their workplace and organizational problems. It is also a necessary component for pinpointing available but oftentimes hidden opportunities. These demand a creative thinking process consisting of the following steps:

Related: Why New Ideas Trigger a Competitive Advantage?

Understanding Personal Influences

All leaders are influenced by their own impressions of reality. This creates a personal bias that shapes their perception of the present and future. Typically these perceptions are created from personal and professional past or recurring experiences. This is exemplified by military generals who plan for future wars and conflicts based on lessons learned from past engagements. The leaders that emerged from World War II—Eisenhower, Bradley, Patton—began as colonels and majors. The conflict gave them the ability to shine as leaders.

This highlights the crucial importance of managers transforming themselves into positive and effective leaders. More than ever, today’s leaders need to be driven by their zealous view of the possibilities held by the future, as defined by their vision. Leaders learn to rid themselves of their personal biases and look to what is possible and then actively, consistently and passionately work toward specific goals that will achieve it. In this way their perceptions of the past do not negatively influence their outlook on the future: this is where opportunity resides.

Once leaders understand that which impacts and influences their personal perceptions, they can take them into account as they anticipate the future. This allows them to actually step outside of their self-imposed limitations to see things in a creative light as never before—and to think and plan accordingly.

Related: The Value of Personal Experience and Expertise

Divergent Thinking

Leaders must apply divergent thinking skills to understand and discover more than one right answer to any problem. Included in this classification is the “what if” thinking scenario. Divergent thinking allows leaders to seek the possibilities and opportunities that present themselves. Additionally, polished divergent thinking skills allow leaders to remove the personal biases and perceptions that normally work to distort or eliminate creative possibilities. Doing this aids them in fully exploring all possibilities, thoughts and ideas from various perspectives and angles.

Related: You Keep Innovating if You Want to Keep Leading

Convergent Thinking

Once leaders have examined all of the possibilities available to them, they must use convergent thinking skills to focus on the integration of data and prioritize available choices. This is where leaders apply analysis skills to determine the economic feasibility of each choice and determine its impact and the ramifications upon the organization and workplace.

Related: The Importance of Intellectual Honesty


Mapping, another word for planning, is the leader’s capacity to draw the pathways that show how he or she will get from the present to the future. In others words, it is the ability to formulate objectives that lead the organization toward the accomplishment of the overall goal or desired outcome.


Imaging is the ability to draw visual pictures or representations using words, graphs, models or drawings to effectively communicate the vision and intended course of the organization. This allows a leader to effectively communicate his or her vision of its future direction and to highlight opportunities as they present themselves. It is vital that leaders present options, opportunities, ideas and pathways to the vision’s attainment in a way that can be easily understood by their employees and others.

Excerpt: Becoming a Leader of Your Own Making: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI, 2011) $ 16.95 USD

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Why New Ideas Trigger a Competitive Advantage?

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Many effective leaders possess strong creative, innovative and entrepreneurial instincts. Their minds are always keenly open to new ideas, insights and possibilities, which triggers a strong competitive advantage. They have a sense of urgency, if not a bit of paranoia, about their competition. They are always looking back over their shoulders to ensure their competitors aren’t catching up with them. King Gillette (Gillette) was seeking a new disposable product, like the bottle caps he was selling before he developed the safety razor. Howard Schultz (Starbucks) saw the immediate possibilities for his future chain, when he first entered the first Starbucks, which he ultimately purchased. Ray Kroc (McDonald’s) had the same epiphany when he first saw the innovative restaurant designs created by the McDonald brothers.

Despite identifying and investigating new possibilities, nothing came easy. While everything starts with an idea, it takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears to evolve ideas into a profitable concept. Kemmons Wilson (Holiday Inn) observed, “Sometimes, the first step is the hardest – coming up with an idea. Such a concept should be like sitting on a pin – it should make you jump up and do something. I have had a great many ideas over the years. Some were good, others were great, and some I would prefer to forget about. The important thing is to take your best ideas and see them through. Not all of them are going to be winners, but remember, people who succeed may have been counted out many times before. They win because they refuse to give up.” [1]

Fred Smith (FedEx) explains the challenges many leaders experience when investigating and implementing new ideas. “The problem always comes in big companies, particularly ones that are extremely disciplined on the quantitative side, that most innovation doesn’t look like it makes much financial sense when you’re right in the middle of battle – it looks like you never should have done it. It’s only when it’s been done and it’s out there that everybody says, ‘Oh, but of course, that was easy.’ Then the money starts flowing in and you become a very big deal, and it all looks very logical.” [2]

Generating ideas is one thing. The implementation and execution of ideas is altogether another. Kroc had sold mixing machines for many years before he opened his first restaurant. He already possessed the knowledge of what successfully worked in the restaurant business. Sam Walton (Wal-Mart) looked for new ideas his entire life. “In his early career, he read an article about how two stores in Minnesota had gone to self-service, which nobody else was doing. Customers picked out their own stuff and checked out at the cash registers at the front of the store. So he rode the bus all night to visit the stores, liked what they were doing, and changed his store to self-service.” [3]

Montgomery Ward (Montgomery Ward) observed and investigated possibilities as a traveling salesman. “In tedious rounds of train trips to southern communities… listening to the complaints of the back-country proprietors and their rural customers, he conceived a new merchandising technique: direct mail sales to country people…

Ward shaped a plan to buy goods at low cost for cash. By eliminating intermediaries, with their markups and commissions, and drastically cutting selling costs, he could sell goods to people, however remote, at appealing prices. He then invited them to send their orders by mail and delivered the purchases to their nearest railroad station.” [4]

Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank (Home Depot) continually investigated new possibilities to continually change and transform their business. “On a regular basis, they embark on ‘road shows,’ during which they make unscheduled visits to Home Depot stores across the country. ‘Over the years, these road shows have changed the way we merchandise products, because Bernie and I re-learn our business firsthand from the people on the store floor… Associates know more about the products and what the customers are looking for than we do. It is a learning experience and an opportunity to change.’” [5]

[1] Wilson Kemmons, What Accounts for Success? (USA Today, September 1997)
[2] Federal Express’s Fred Smith (Inc. Magazine, October 1, 1986)
[3] Walton Sam, Made in America. A Money Book Summary (character-education.info)
[4] Kim Ann, Montgomery Ward. The World’s First Mail-Order Business (Illinois History, April 2000)
[5] Bernie Marcus & Arthur Blank. Do It Yourselfer’s Best Friends (Entrepreneur Magazine, October 10, 2008)

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great. What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It. (Majorium Business Press, 2011)

If you would like to learn more about the innovative thinking of the great American leaders through their own inspiring words and stories, refer to Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It. It illustrates how great leaders built great companies, and how you can apply the strategies, concepts and techniques that they pioneered to improve your own leadership skills. Click here to learn more.

Copyright © 2011 Timothy F. Bednarz All Rights Reserved

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