Article: Michael J. Gelb on mastering creative energy in times of crisis

Learning & Development

Michael J. Gelb on mastering creative energy in times of crisis

In his closing keynote for People Matters L&D Conference 2020, Michael J. Gelb shared with us his thoughts on how organizations can become healing forces, how people can realise their untapped potential by transforming their skill sets and the fundamentals of thriving in a very disrupted world.
Michael J. Gelb on mastering creative energy in times of crisis

Themed around ‘Rev-Up Growth,’ this years’ People Matters L&D Annual Conference 2020 was even more special and unusual given the unique circumstances presented by 2020. For our closing keynote, we were thrilled to be joined by Michael J. Gelb, the world’s leading authority on the application of genius thinking to personal and organizational development. 

A renowned author of 17 books, including 'How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci' and 'The Healing Organization: Awakening the Conscience of Business to Help Save the World,' Michael Gelb is a pioneer in fields of creative thinking, innovative leadership, and executive coaching. His clients include DuPont, Emerson, Genentech, KPMG, Merck, Microsoft, Nike, and YPO. Michael is a Senior Fellow at The Center for Humanistic Management and a member of the Leading People and Organizations Advisory Board at the Fordham University Gabelli School of Business. 

In his power-packed closing keynote session, ‘Mastering Creative Energy in Crisis Times,’ Michael shared with us his thoughts on how organizations can become healing forces, how people can realize their untapped potential by transforming their skill sets, and the fundamentals of thriving in a very disrupted world. 

Creative Energy is the source of all our accomplishments

We began by asking Michael for his thoughts on how to master creative energy in times - such as these - in which we’re experiencing immense mental pressure.

“Creativity is always important,” Michael said. “When we’re in difficult times it becomes more important.” 

Creative energy comes in many forms. For example, an engineering client of Michael’s in New Jersey lost a third of their clientele during the pandemic and had to furlough a number of employees. However, this business did two things: 

They thought really creatively about how they could develop business during this time and came up with a whole new business around air quality management. They were able to bring back and pay the benefits of all 40 of their furloughed employees. 

The CEO of the company regularly called all employees to check-in and see how they were doing. “That provides the kind of energy that then fuels people’s creativity to get the job done no matter what the circumstances,” Michael said.  

The healing organization

In his book, ‘The Healing Organisation: Awakening the Conscience of Business to Help Save the World,’ Michael and his co-author Rajendra Sisodia identified three types of organization: 

  • Those who begin with a higher purpose. Their primary reason for beginning is to “alleviate suffering and promote human flourishing.” 
  • Good people with good values and good ethics, who didn’t necessarily see a seamless connection between higher purpose and business, but always tried to do good. 
  • Those actively ruining the planet and destroying people’s lives for short term profit. 

The more we can serve our communities and clarify our purpose to be more giving and serving, the better. Ultimately, this can also lead to a surge in growth and profit too because “the creative energy” creates a “culture sale” that clients respond to positively. 

“Business itself has no conscience,” Michael said. “What happens is individual people wake up and see that they want to be part of the solution and no longer contributing or going along with the problem.” 

Three critical skills

What are the critical skills needed in this new world of work? How can individual’s realize their untapped potential? There are three skills to consider: 

  • The first one is the skill of “forming a big vision for your life and a sense of purpose.” 

“If you want to learn something, go to the top,” Michael said. Look to your role models to develop your conscious thinking ability, for example like Leonardo da Vinci from Michael’s book or Thomas Edison for the competencies of innovation. 

  • Connection and relationship-building. “Treat everyone with the same soul-level kindness and connection, humor, basic dignity, and respect. Everybody loves that and it brings out the best in everybody,” Michael said. 
  • Present yourself well and get other people inspired by your idea. In his latest book, ‘Mastering the Art of Public Speaking,’ Michael expands on this. Anyone can have a great plan, but you need to be able to connect with people and get them on board to make it happen. 

The art of connection 

Conjungere ad solvendum, in Latin means “Connect before solving,” and is a motto Michael uses in his book. 

“When there’s a problem, especially when we’re all under great stress, it’s too easy for people to get transactional and to focus just on getting something done without connecting first with the people,” Michael said, but building rapport and connection creates an amazing space for people to come up with solutions, be creative and apply innovation skills. 

Take complexity and make it simple 

In the same way, Einstein’s E=mc2 contains a vast amount of knowledge in a single formula, so too should companies look to simplify their business. According to Gelb, we should align around core principles. Genius doesn’t have to be complex: a core principle could be something like finding joy and laughter in every day, or a higher purpose beyond just making money. 

Harmonize your nervous system

Lastly, Gelb emphasizes how absolutely critical it is to have a daily practice that harmonizes the nervous system, particularly during times like this. 

“If you don’t have some kind of personal practice, the stress is probably going to overwhelm you,” Gelb said. Whether it's through yoga, meditation, tai chi or anything else that helps you, do it every day. 

“Emotion and energy are contagious,” Gelb said. “For better or for worse. If I smile, it’s hard for other people not to smile. Leaders set the emotional, energetic, and spiritual tone for everyone.” It’s important, therefore, to internally cultivate that energy every day. CEOs, boards, and leadership teams should support their people in finding this balance. It really helps to “rethink the purpose, values, vision, strategy, goals, and tactics of your organizations and link them with appropriate compensation, training, and development so that you’re rewarding and encouraging the skills that go with the vision, mission, and values. Then you have hope of integration and alignment.” 

Gelb ended by sharing three points on one thing leaders should start and stop doing: 

  • Should start doing: smile in your eyes and exhale. 
  • Should stop doing: clenching their jaw and stiffening their necks because they never need to. 
  • Can continue doing: keep breathing! 

A profound and inspiring way to draw the 2020 People Matters L&D Conference to a close, we’re extremely grateful to Michael Gelb for sharing his thoughts on leadership, harnessing creative energy, building that essential connection and purpose, and harmonizing our inner lives in order to live and work better. 

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Topics: Learning & Development, #PMLnD

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