Data & Innovation, Leadership & Culture, Performance | Feb 17, 2020
Five pearls of Wisdom from Google’s Head of Creative Capability Development.

As a coach, you’ll almost certainly have your trusted assistants but do you call upon your wider performance staff as often as you might? Come to think of it, do you prioritise the views of your coaching assistants as much as you could?

By John Portch

While they may or may not share your intimate knowledge of the sport, it could be your experience, your technical expertise, that hinders your attempts to solve a performance problem.

That is the view of Kirk Vallis, Google’s Global Head of Creative Capability Development, and he shared it with the audience while speaking at the 2019 Leaders Sport Performance Summit in London.

Vallis, who was granted the freedom to choose his own job title, was at Twickenham Stadium to discuss the tech giant’s approach to disruption and creativity.

Far from being a wishy-washy concept, he explained that the World Economic Forum as listed ‘creativity’ as the third-most in-demand skill by 2020 (behind critical thinking and problem-solving). Creativity sat at No10 five years earlier and at No20 two years before that.

“Creativity is an underrated skill,” he suggests. “And creativity is just creating more options – with more options you can make better decisions.”

That is where your people can come in, as you are likely to already have the requisite expertise in the building. “We’re not lacking in knowledge or technology in the world,” declares Wired Founder Kevin Kelly from a presentation slide Vallis projects onto the screen, “we’re lacking the imagination for what to do with it!”

Vallis adds: “Those organisations that are most successful are those who use that expertise to do things a bit differently to everybody else – how do you outthink the pack by thinking differently?”

Here are five steps to help harness the talent in your building and, consequently, the creativity of your people.

1. Don’t be a slave to your success

While no one is questioning your knowledge, might your performance department suggest another way to think about a performance question? “We are slaves to our success,” says Vallis. “Our brilliance prevents us looking at things in a different way.” He proffers that it is about mindset, not skillset. “Technical expertise is overvalued – especially at the expense of being able to think differently.”

2. Create a positive relationship between success and failure

Vallis hits the audience with a stark fact: only one in four people feel they can be creative at work. “That’s a worry, especially for those of you who are leaders,” he tells the room. “Where are you sign-posting, role modelling, ‘big picture, little deeds’; where is it you’re giving people the ability to think differently or to fail? Where does failure live? I asked England rugby Head Coach Eddie Jones a couple of years ago and he said ‘Mondays’. ‘Mondays we’ll fail. We’ll try new stuff on Mondays – I don’t want to fail on a Friday when we’re trying to wriggle around execution – but on Mondays we fail loads.’” This is perfect: “Test the premise of your ideas, not the execution – do it fast and do it cheaply.”

3. Explore related worlds

In making this point about related worlds Vallis is speaking to the Leaders Performance Institute and our efforts to connect the great and the good of world sport. “Every challenge we face has been faced before in a different context,” he explains. His three-step process is 1) define the essence of your challenge 2) Explore a different world with the same issue and ‘steal with pride’ 3) Use as a stimulus for new ideas. “Value your loose connections.”

4. Break the rules

The instructions could not be simpler here: 1) List the roles or conventions 2) Choose one and break it 3) Use that as a stimulus for finding the best ideas.

5. Find expansive options for reductive decision-making

A greater variety of creative options is great – Vallis is staking his reputation on that very notion – but a decision must still be made. “Expansive options are good but not if nothing gets done,” he says. “We need to be reductive, analyse, judge and make decisions. How do we know we’ve got the best idea? You never will but you will gain confidence from the number of options considered.”

What is it going to take to win in 2020?

That is the focus of our latest Performance Special Report. Download The High Performance Manual: Winning in 2020, which features sports organisations as diverse as Red Bull, the Brisbane Lions and the Royal Military Academy discussing the pertinent topics across Leadership & Culture, Coaching & Development, Human Performance and Data & Innovation.

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