All Articles Leadership Communication How leaders can create space for creativity, communication and connection

How leaders can create space for creativity, communication and connection

4 min read


Would an executive at your company set up shop in the middle of the IT help desk, hang a gutted fish over his desk and declare, “The doctor is in?” In effect, that’s what Paul Bennett, chief creative officer at IDEO, has done, and he claims it’s helped him foster creativity in a way he previously wasn’t able.

In his New York Times essay, “Where the Fish Swims Ideas Fly,” Bennett says that his role as a “project leader for inspiration” was being stifled because his time wasn’t his own. He found himself highly scheduled, moving from meeting to meeting, sometimes in 10-minute increments. (Sound familiar?) So, Bennett took matters into his own hands: he decided to go to the epicenter of his office’s operations — the IT help desk — and create a workspace there. He hung a light that was fashioned from an actual fish over his desk and when it’s illuminated, the “doctor is in,” so to speak.

To further the medical analogy, Bennett implemented what he called “doctor’s rounds” — walking about the office for a few minutes (or even hours) and tapping into conversations where, he says, people seemed interested to engage with him.

Might this be an outlandish practice for senior managers in your office? Granted, Bennett’s primary role is to foster innovation in a company that’s known for its creative practices. Even so, the essence of his message applies to anyone in a leadership role: when leaders create the time for community and conversation, great ideas flourish. Says Bennett, “Because of [my ‘doctor’s rounds’], I feel as if I am part of a living, breathing organism, and responding to its needs rather than simply running from place to place with a calendar in my hand.”

Are you a leader whose time is ruled by the iron fist of the Outlook/Lotus Notes calendar? How might you create more space in which to just “be” in your work environment with those you lead? Creating space is a “to do” list in reverse: what will you not do? Choosing the tasks that you will not do requires an element of courage, (“I’ll defend my decision should it be questioned”) and faith (“I’m confident that no matter what the consequence, this was a good choice”).

Yet, it can be done; to succeed you must lay to rest the concerns you have about taking this bold approach. Here’s an idea: ask yourself, “If I block out time to connect in an unstructured way with my team, what am I afraid might happen?” Give yourself an honest answer. Then, follow up with, “And then what?” Continue to ask this a few more times to see if you have surfaced all of your concerns. For each concern, write a counter statement. For example if your concern is, “I’ll fall behind on my work,” counter that statement with something positive such as, “Connecting with my team is a priority; I’ll feel a sense of accomplishment for taking time out to interact.”

Are you ready to take the leap and stake a claim for more creativity, communication and connection with your team members? You don’t need to hang a fish light or change your office location to do so, but you do need to be intentional about your actions. Create a space in your calendar to reach out to those you lead and you’ll be amazed at what unfolds.

Career strategist Jennifer V. Miller is a former HR manager and corporate trainer who helps mid-career professionals chart the course for their next big “leap.” A self-described “professional opportunity cultivator,” Miller provides one-to-one and small group professional development coaching via her company SkillSource. She offers up tips for leading yourself and others at The People Equation.