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Eureka: Creativity is hard work without rigidity
by Joseph Gatt
2017-04-07 10:21:02
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Something I noticed about the South Koreans is that they tend to be incredibly rigid until their business or team starts losing by alarming margins. That’s when, just as a technical knockout is about to be called, they tend to lose their rigidity and come up with creative plans to reemerge.

creat01_400As a coach I don’t really have rules for my team. A few guidelines, but no rules. You can check your phone all you want, you can chew gum, you can take toilet breaks, you can rest if you’re tired, you can talk with your teammates, take a nap, play music videos or use four letter words. What I want is those bad habits to gradually and naturally disappear, rather than policing my ten commandments for being the perfect team member. I don’t yell off the top of my lungs “thou shalt not use your phone during training sessions.” I let the guy or girl use their phone, or chew gum, or use four letter words, I don’t praise them for doing that, then one day at lunch I might tell them ‘is there a specific reason for you to use your phone so much?” Gradually my team members stop using their phone, stop chewing gum and stop playing music videos for their teammates to watch.

The advantage of not forcing myself on such small annoying habits is that on the playing field the team tends to play consciously on the field. They know there’s no right answer as to who to pass the ball or project to. They know they will need to improvise, to play by ear, to feel the chemistry around them while they’re on the field.

But then there’s the other side of the coin. The hard work coin. The idea is to spend as much time as I can spend 12 hours a day with the team if necessary, teaching them the secrets of the game and practicing on the field. This guy runs fast, this other guy gets a kick out of tackling players, this other guy can’t kick a ball with his left leg, in the business we’re competing with, the CEO has all the contacts, but his team is a bunch of amateurs, so his clients are often disappointed. 

As for creativity a little bit of two cultures can help. In some cultures, teachers focus on what you’re allowed to say and what you’re not allowed to say, on what you’re allowed to do and what you’re not allowed to do. In other cultures, people focus on what you have to say and what you want to accomplish. If you come from a rigid culture, you’re going to focus on a product that works very well but that is not always appealing to the public or to clients. If you come from a relaxed culture, you might find the arguments to sell your product but it will have some imperfections and some things won’t work with your product.

So the idea is you want two coaches. One who like me focuses on the bigger picture, and one who focuses on minimizing mistakes. One teacher with a lot of rules, one with few rules.

In language learning for example, you will want a teacher who keeps correcting every mistake you make to the point of stifling your message, and one who allows you to talk and focus on your message. In math, you will want one teacher who will focus on the mistakes done in your reasoning, and one who will focus on the reasoning itself.

But you can’t solve math problems, or learn a language, or develop and app, or the next computer for that matter without spending two couple dozen hours a week studying the field. Then you will want to come up with a product that the public likes, but also one that works and doesn’t bug or break too easily.

As for team building, individual players rarely work when they are not supervised. But they mess up if you tense them up. You will want to supervise them and make sure they have the information and are getting the work done, but will want to have a pleasant presence.

But the biggest quality a coach or teacher or boss will have: knowing your stuff. If you teach math but don’t know math, teach languages you don’t speak or coach sports teams of sports you barely know, you’re going to end up doing this; talking nonsense for hours and inventing rules of the game that don’t exist, and your team will look ridiculous in competition, or will perform poorly at tests.  

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