Creative leaders manage change before change manages them

May 8, 2018

We all resist change. We prefer to create predictable patterns and normalize events so that we don’t have to work so flippin’ hard. It’s normal. But we also know, maybe deeper down, that change is inevitable. So where’s the balance?

In developing my innovation workshop for product managers, I did a deep dive into the concepts of change management and “positive turbulence.”

In my exploration, I came across this quote in an article about positive turbulence from Robert Brodnick (looking for an amazing strategist/innovator/facilitator, anyone?) and Stan Gryskiewicz (author of Positive Turbulence, founder of the Association for Managers of Innovation and the Center for Creative Leadership):

“Creative leaders manage change before change manages them.”

That really struck a chord. In speaking to many product managers about their day-to-day jobs, and what that feels like, I’ve come across an important insight about product management and product managers: while product managers talk about “change management,” they are mostly getting knocked around by it—fighting for control versus managing, and feeling more like a hamster on wheel than a creative manager.

This is key as product management grows as a field, and in its influence on product development. If product managers are largely being managed by change, what happens to innovation? To creative problem solving? To their ability as creative leaders? Where does that negative energy flow? What impact does it have on the people around them? Where do the next round of innovations come from? Are we going to put all our innovation eggs in the one visionary leader basket? And, how’s that working for us so far?

Take a look at some of these statistics (from Global Innovation Index in 2017). Did you know that while the U.S. (4th) still ranks ahead of Canada (18th) in global innovation rankings, with Switzerland, Sweden, and the Netherlands coming in #1, #2 and #3? What’s more, Canada’s ranking fell from the previous year and the States’ was static. Suffice to say that in terms of innovation Canada AND the US are lagging behind European competitors.

You might be wondering, where did that product management insight come from? Over the last year, I’ve been conducting research into product management, innovation and the role of product managers vis a vis innovation. Several product managers have recounted a situation in which they knew innovation was needed, that their process was not working well at some level, they weren’t getting traction towards anything innovative and they couldn’t fire up the creativity of the team. And during all that, leadership seemed only focused on the very tight goal of increasing sales of the current product and were making seemingly random and reactive decisions.

I realized that what they all describe is what we call “negative turbulence.”

Negative turbulence creates that sense of fighting for control and reduces our ability to manage. It is change managing us. And from what I can tell, this is such a common occurrence among product managers, it’s accepted as just the way it is.

But what if that’s not true? Imagine your whole team firing on all their creative cylinders? What if instead of reactive decision-making, you felt in control; as if you and your senior leadership were totally in sync? What if you had a clear flow from creative idea to product improvement, all the way to your next big thing?

One of the concepts I’ll be covering in my workshop will be positive turbulence and how you can shift from floundering in all that negative turbulence to generating positive turbulence—and making an elegant shift back to managing rather than controlling.

Interested in learning more about positive turbulence? Use the Contact Us form to ping us and we’ll get back to you within a day or two. I look forward to connecting.