President's Letter: Fostering Creativity

February 8, 2022

As owners, managers, colleagues, volunteer leaders and parents, it is easy to unintentionally stymie creativity. How many times have you brushed off an idea or said “no” simply because you didn’t have time to digest the concept or because it didn’t fit within your current reality? Last month, while attending the Opening Session at Tropical Plant International Expo (TPIE), I was struck by the notion that I may be ruining my son’s creativity by infecting him with realism. 

Before I go any further, I must take a moment to give a huge shout out and thank you to the TPIE Show Committee and FNGLA staff for putting on a terrific event despite the challenges presented. The uncertainty of a new venue in a new city, colliding with fears over the spike in Omicron cases across the state, did not deter this group from planning and executing the premiere event showcasing the latest trends in foliage, floral and tropical plants. 

Creativity was abound across the show floor.  Penang Nursery put a spin on Roald Dahl’s classic, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" to create the show-stopping Penang Nursery & the Plant Factory. No details were spared as they even handed out plant-themed chocolates. A few lucky golden ticket recipients even won prizes! Bethel Farms brought in live puppies to showcase their Gotta Go Grass®. This brilliant move had their booth buzzing with attendees through the duration of the show. I mean, who doesn’t love puppies? And, the best part is they coordinated with a local animal shelter to help get these puppies adopted. At least four puppies found a home during the show. 

At the TPIE Opening Session, Duncan Wardle, former head of innovation and creativity at Disney, spoke about Embedding a Culture of Innovation into Everyone’s DNA. During the interactive session, Wardle asked the audience to participate in an exercise on party planning. Audience members split off into pairs. In phase one of the exercise, participant A’s role was to come up with a theme for the party. Participant B was tasked with coming up with ideas to support that theme. Participant A was then instructed to shoot down every single idea by beginning their response with, “No, because…” It did not take long for the energy to be sucked out of the room. The exercise felt deflating and frustrating.

On to phase two: Participant B was tasked with coming up with the party theme. From there, participants A and B were asked to take turns coming up with ideas to support the theme.  This time, participants were directed to use the words, “Yes, and…” to begin their statements. Energy and volume in the room continued to escalate as “yes, and” language helped participants build off each other’s ideas for exciting and collaborative party planning.

After this exercise, I reflected how often I say, “No, because…” or other creativity stifling language like, “Well, buddy, things don’t really work that way.” I realized by attempting to teach my children about the truths of the world, I may be limiting their ability to see how the world can be. Similarly, in business we may get stuck focusing on what we must do rather than allowing ourselves a bit of time to explore what we can do.

After returning from the show, I asked my six-year-old to do an activity with me. The activity was to develop a creature using characteristics from other animals. There was one rule: neither of us was allowed to say “no.” Instead, we had to follow each other’s ideas with “yes, and…” Through this activity we allowed ourselves to let go of the bounds of reality. We were inspired to create and, before I knew it, we had not only developed our creature, but we gave it a name, habitat – and we began to craft its story:

The Ellagorami (pictured above) is an elusive animal from the Island of Palmadora. This subtropical island is lush with lollipop trees, SpaghettiOs lakes and chocolate bushes. The Ellagorami has flamingo wings, the trunk of an elephant, a fish face, the fur of a tiger, the tail of an alligator, a butterfly antenna, human legs, the mane of a lion, the eye of a tiger, eagle claws, the neck of a vulture, the body of a camel, a pig nose, eyebrows of a Macaroni penguin, the fin of an orca, feet of a rabbit, ears of a horse, and tiny, little Tyrannosaurus Rex arms. The Ellagorami eats thistles and KitKats. He makes the grunting sound of a whale to scare off other chocolate eaters as he guards his chocolate treasure chest.

While the animal exercise was intended to be silly and fun, it’s not a stretch to see how “yes, and…” sessions can be used to foster creativity in the workplace. At the end of Wardle's session, he challenged each of us to schedule time each month for creativity. I’m taking on that challenge, and I’d like to pass it along to each of you. Allow yourselves the freedom to periodically color outside the lines and explore the rules that can be changed – you may surprise yourself  with what you come up with.




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