Have you heard this story? A box truck was trying to pass under a large bridge, but got stuck in the process. The driver tried to put the truck in reverse and back out, but it wouldn’t budge. Traffic began to back up and emergency personnel and city officials came to the scene. Measurements were taken and discussions began as to how the truck could be removed without damaging the bridge.
Could grooves be cut into the road under the truck’s tires to lower it? Could it be yanked out by a tow truck? Or maybe heavy machinery could be brought in to raise the bridge in order to remove the truck. That would certainly compromise the integrity of the bridge and make it potentially unsafe. As frustrations mounted, a worker walked by a little boy who was staring intently at the situation. “Why not let the air out of the tires?” asked the little boy. “What?” said the worker incredulously. “What was that?” Again, the boy said, “Why not just let the air out of the tires?” With a simple observation from the boy, an easy solution was found to a very complicated problem that had perplexed some very intelligent people.
The little boy illustrated something every leader needs for personal success … imagination! Imagination gave the child the resourcefulness needed to “think outside the box” to find an easy solution to a complex problem. Unfortunately, research shows that as we age, we lose some of our creativity. As children, we learned innovation through play. As adults, we tend to think more logically, but we don’t use our imagination as often. Sometimes problems can easily be solved if we wander out of our comfort zones and use imagination as a resource in our problem-solving arsenal.
This has become a common problem in the business world today. Often, management believes that problems must be solved by spending large amounts of money and drastically changing the culture of their organization. This “mountain out of a molehill” mentality can make problems more difficult and expensive to fix than they should be.
Leadership Requires Imagination
When you are in a leadership role, emergencies, complications and unexpected circumstances will undoubtedly block your path. At times, analytical thinking won’t be enough. By using imagination as a resource and keeping a cool head, you can make wise, resourceful decisions. Don’t allow emotions to run high. Save your passion for the time when you act on your decisions to make things happen.
The first principle in The Twelve Principles of Personal Leadership emphasized the need for personal vision. Vision is what fuels our passion to accomplish great things, despite the obstacles in our path. Imagination helps us get around those obstacles. One pitfall for many leaders is their view of the world as being either “black or white.” These same leaders often view people and events as good or bad, right or wrong, with no in between. With this view, you greatly limit your ability to creatively deal with problems. You must be open-minded to think creatively. Find the good in the people and circumstances you encounter, not the bad.
Tips to Overcome Obstacles
Regardless of the decision or problem, an effective leader never quits. Some people naturally have great imaginations and are often considered “idea people.” Most of us have to work a little harder to get the job done. Here are some tips to prime the pump for solving problems creatively:
- Do research
- Seek advice from others
- Perform some analysis
- Approach from a different angle than you normally would
- Ask yourself a series of “what if” questions
- Conduct brainstorming sessions with team members
- Realize that there is typically more than one solution
- Be open-minded
- Take responsibility for difficult decisions
As someone in a leadership or management role of any kind, you will often end up at a crossroads. You can either make the tough decisions or allow “time and chance” to decide for you. The latter will offer you no control over the outcome, so, regardless of the difficulty, it is best to step out of your “comfort zone” and make those important decisions.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “A wrong decision is better than indecision.” Why? If you are on a battle field, you can make a decision and correct as needed when you get a sense of its effectiveness or ineffectiveness. If you choose indecision, the problem will likely surround you, leaving you with no options at all. Often, there is more “give” in a decision than you realize. While many major decisions can be hard to reverse, most bad decisions aren’t the end of the world.
Four Keys to Improve Decision-Making
- See the facts for what they actually are, not how you choose to see them.
- Be objective to ensure that your decision is based on facts and intelligent analysis rather than emotion or preconceived notions.
- Avoid using shortcuts or “the rule of thumb” to save time (i.e. heuristics).
- Avoid anchoring; placing too much weight on the first set of facts or communication we hear and dismissing information heard later on.
So, the next time you have the opportunity to make an important decision, remember to rely on your creativity and use the tips above to help you overcome obstacles and make sound decisions. Who knows … you may just need to let some air out of the tires.
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