4 Ways To Cultivate A "Lightbulb" Culture Of Great Ideas

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I loved the animated movie Despicable Me. In the film, supervillian Felonious Gru has moments of clarity in which he concocts ideas for evil schemes, emphatically stating, “Lightbulb!”

As a leader, I love seeing a staff member and/or volunteer have a “lightbulb moment” – a moment of clarity that provides a solution to a problem or inspiration for a new project or idea. "Lightbulb moments" create a feeling of ingenuity, ownership and empowerment. How do we, as leaders, create a culture that encourages these "lightbulb moments?"

Here are four tips for cultivating a culture of great ideas.

1. Ask Questions Rather Than Offer Solutions

As leaders, we can get into the habit of wanting to solve problems or move projects forward ourselves. It's only natural to want to rely on your own instincts and experience to address challenges. However, our ultimate job as leaders is to empower other leaders.

Immediately offering a solution doesn’t empower those working for you; rather, it creates a culture of dependence. When a staff member or volunteer comes to you with a problem or hurdle, start by asking questions. You'll demonstrate to them that you realize they have great solutions and that you trust them to implement the solution. Ask them questions like:

  • What do you think the best thing to do would be? Why?
  • Have you had a similar situation that you have dealt with in the past? How is this different / the same?
  • How will you implement this solution? How can I support you?
  • Have you gotten feedback from any of your core volunteers, other staff members, etc. who have skin in the game?
  • If it doesn’t work, will it give you the opportunity to fail fast and forward?

2. Expect Individuals To Own Their Issues And Solutions

When you ask guiding questions that lead others to their own solutions, it gives them ownership. We all work a lot harder when we have ownership over something – it becomes a reflection of our work ethic and skillset, so naturally, we want to make it as good as possible so it is a good representation of ourselves.

Leaders should be coaches and sounding boards, warning others about possible pitfalls or unnecessary detours while still allowing an individual to map out the route and the steps needed to arrive at the final objective. Let them be ingenious! Let them feel empowered! A staff member's idea may end up working better than anything you could come up with.

3. Allow Them To Fail

Failure is the best teacher because it is an opportunity for growth. Leaders need to teach others how to fail fast and forward. Failing fast does not mean that when we see failure around the corner we step in and stop them. I am not talking about a failure that will debilitate the church or a moral failure you see coming.

Rather, I am talking about trying a new way to gain volunteers that may end up being a flop, stopping a ministry that has lost momentum, creating a new event, etc. We never desire failure, but it happens.

Our job as leaders is to coach our staff through failure so they can learn from it and move forward in coming up with a new plan. Always be available to have candid conversations privately after a failure. Never say, “I told you so.” Always say, “I am so grateful you tried something innovative. What can we learn from it? Don’t get discouraged. Keep moving forward.”

4. Follow Up  

It takes time and energy to create a culture of "lightbulb moments." Part of that time spent is in follow-up. Everyone processes things differently. When you start asking the questions that make people think through their challenge, they need to have time to process it.

Some individuals process externally. Maybe you need to take them to lunch and allow them to process out loud. Other individuals need to process internally. Let them think about it overnight and check in with them the next day. See how they are feeling. Have they had any epiphany moments since yesterday?

Some people may need to process with their teams and colleagues. Continue to follow-up throughout the process. Check in occasionally and make sure you have an open door that allows them to come and bounce ideas off you any time. In these moments, keep asking questions rather than offering solutions. Follow-up is important in both success and failure. Follow-up is what keeps people failing forward rather than never trying at all.

"Follow-up is important in both success and failure. Follow-up is what keeps people failing forward rather than never trying at all." Tweet:

The benefits of a culture that is conducive for lightbulb moments are far reaching. What is one thing you can start doing today that will move toward a culture of saying, “lightbulb!”?

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