Creativity is Subtraction


Creativity is one of the most important traits a leader can possess, and when a leader is able to creatively experiment with processes, the dividends can be huge. For example, Bill and Ralph discuss the benefits of a “less is more” approach in this episode. Intentionally choosing to create space – and where you choose to do so – can help improve team satisfaction and increase productivity. Listen, and try adding to your own leadership toolbox – through subtraction.

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*Note: The following text is the output of transcribing from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases it is incomplete or inaccurate due to inaudible passages or transcription errors

Bill Berthel: Welcome to the Get Emergent podcast. Our podcasts are focused on individual team and organizational development. We focus on leadership topics and provide concepts, ideas, and pragmatic tips and practices for all leaders. I’m Bill Berthel.

Ralph Simone: And I’m Ralph Simone. And today, bill, I can tell you are excited about what we’re talking about and uh, the very first topic is creativity is subtraction. What do we even mean by that?

Bill Berthel: I am excited. So I think, I think that creativity is one of the most important leadership traits a leader can have, that they can develop and that they can nurture. Maybe I’m a little biased. I think we’ve got two creative guys on this podcast right now, but creativity is change and purposeful creativity can make meaningful change.

And I think leaders are change agents. In their organizations. The space of creativity as subtraction, though, I think tips creativity on its ear a little bit.

Ralph Simone: Yeah. Well isn’t it counter to what most companies do that they just pile on and pile on? You know, I’ve heard some leaders recently, they want their people to work unusually high number of hours.

So, you know, how do we reconcile that?

Bill Berthel: So there is value in additive. Creativity. I’m not suggesting that that’s not a form of creativity. You know, I think creativity is one of those words that when you say it, people get it. But when you start to really unpack it or drill into it, it becomes more and more complex.

There’s so many different creative processes and subtraction is one that maybe is underutilized. For most leaders and most organizations, it’s the idea that it’s not about adding more. More isn’t better, but we can do better with less.

Ralph Simone: Can you give a few examples that people would be able to relate to on that?

Bill Berthel: I think, you know, let’s stick in. What I think most people think about creativity in is, uh, you know, how we add paint to a canvas, how we compile words to a passage or how a musician adds notes to create a composition. These are all important additive processes, but what about the spaces between the notes?

Mm. What about the subtractive process in say, sculpture? Right. Michelangelo said a sculpture’s already complete within the marble block. He said before he starts his work, he recognized that the sculpture is there. It’s his job to chisel away the material. Mm. That’s a subtractive creative process.

Ralph Simone: So that reminds me, and this may be a little bit tangential, but this idea that there’s really nothing to be fixed.

Only something to be found. Oh, I love that . And sometimes we find it by taking things away.

Bill Berthel: Absolutely. Absolutely. So how does this apply to leadership? Just as you suggested a little bit earlier, Ralph. The mentality of, you know, more is better, more hours, more time, more energy, I think needs to be challenged in most organizations.

Ralph Simone: I think so. Cuz it ain’t working for us. I mean, if we look at our productivity as a country and compare it to some other nations who work fewer hours, our productivity’s lagging.

Bill Berthel: So there’s an absolute trend in, in Western organizations where more is better. We can take some cues, not just from the East, but really in Europe.

There have been some amazing research programs looking at the number of hours for full productivity and individual health, and it turns out it’s under 40 a week. Yes, it turns into sweet spots. Something around 30 hours a week.

Ralph Simone: so it reminds me, you know, one of two of the, I think more unhealthy things that we do is we compare and consume, but we usually compare, like looking at who has more, you know, what else could we do?

And I think those things get us sideways and we actually become less creative.

Bill Berthel: Absolutely. So where we intentionally choose to. Not act matters as much as where we do, where we choose to intentionally create space in our schedules and time, in our physical space where we can start creating clear space, matters.

It really shows that we not only get more creative, we get more productive when we start taking things away.

Ralph Simone: So I love that, but how would we , how would we coach our listeners? Not to be perceived as lazy or not engaged, or not committed to the cause because I think the perception of that could be some of those labels that I just shared.

Bill Berthel: Absolutely. So what comes up for me is that waiting is an action. Waiting isn’t being lazy. What also comes up for me is that there is activity in consciously eliminating or saying no to obligations we don’t really, either belong with us or that we’re fully passionate about or that we can really add value to.

And so I’d ask our listeners to contemplate where they can say no. Mm-hmm. where they can eliminate, where they can delegate with others in their organizations, where are they willing to experiment with purposeful schedule voids? So I remember back in the eighties it was called Slack time, and that almost has a negative connotation, right?

Like the slack or the laziness, I’m not suggesting slack time, but it’s meaningful, purposeful voids in our schedule.

Ralph Simone: I think I was referred to as a slacker back then, and I don’t believe it was complimentary, but I used to say that I was ahead of my time around time management. So

Bill Berthel: absolutely. I’m sure, I’m sure

Ralph Simone: I subtracting things outta my schedule.

Bill Berthel: You know.

And it’s also in our physical space, where can we either create, More space not to just fill up with more things. Where can we create clarity in our space? Many organizations are cluttered in mind, time and space.

Ralph Simone: Oh no, bill, that, that gets me thinking about Feng Shui, right? And how we organize our room. How we block the flow of energy.

Cuz we got too much stuff.

Bill Berthel: Absolutely. And so I wanna anchor back to what I said a little earlier, that creativity is change and one way to change the use of our time, our energy, and our space. Is to be thinking about subtraction as compared to addition or piling on more.

Ralph Simone: I’m not suggesting this for our listeners, but it just triggered with me.

I go make my things not to do list for today. Beautiful. You know, is a way of, of taking things out. These are good. I’m, I’m, I’m getting excited about this.

Bill Berthel: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think you have another process that you follow on a regular basis.

Ralph Simone: I do and, and I used to call it my secret formula, but I’ve shared it with so many people, but it’s my 3, 5, 6, 8, and this is really about subtracting things.

So this is our call to action. So the three stands for. Only three essential things I get to do today. Mm-hmm. So now we’re taking things out by focusing on these three essential things. Love it. No more than five unique events, you know, so we’re again, taking events out and I consider unique event, a one-on-one meeting, a group meeting, a social function, or you know, any commitment that you have.

Right. So this is creating space between the notes. Six and I and, and, and a lot of people that companies that are stingy with vacation aren’t gonna like this. Today, as a matter of fact, is my 31st year in business today. November 18th, mark’s my… congratulations. And every year over those 31, I have taken six weeks out of the work.

You know, six weeks off, not necessarily on vacation. Creating that space to be creative, operating on a 46 week year. Mm-hmm. not a 52 week year. And then the last thing that I think is great for health is eight hours sleep. You know, kind of removing this, have to get up early, gotta burn a candle at both ends, stay up late.

Because I think that really for me, stunts my creativity. I got a good eight hours last night and I was ready to roll this morning.

Bill Berthel: Well, that eight hours of sleep is a beautiful way of creating a purposeful void in our schedule. Yeah. Yeah.

Ralph Simone: So three, five, six, eight is the call to action. Experiment with three essential things you get to do, only five unique events, six weeks out of the office or the work that you do, and eight hours of sleep per night. Love it.

Bill Berthel: So where can you eliminate? Where are you willing to experiment with purposeful schedule voids? Where can you make space or clear space in your individual leadership on your teams or in your organizations?

And you can listen to a new podcast two times a month here at Get Emergent. Where we will bring you contemporary leadership topics and ideas, balanced with best practices you can apply in your leadership.

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