Sir Ernest Shackleton was a great explorer who found himself and his crew in a life-or-death crisis when they had to abandon ship in the icy waters around Antarctica.
It was 1914, and Shackleton's expedition had planned an unprecedented land crossing of the frozen continent. When the ship got stuck in the ice and sank, the crew began an unscheduled 18-month survival test. They stayed alive as they moved among the drifting ice floes until they eventually found an island, where they established a camp. When their provisions began to run low, Shackleton and several crewmembers boarded one of their salvaged lifeboats and made a daring 800-mile voyage to a whaling station. They returned with a ship, and all 27 men survived the ordeal.
There are two types of people during a crisis - those who freeze and those who focus. Shackleton might have been stranded in one of the coldest places on the planet, but his creativity never froze. Instead, it was critical to the team's survival.
As I studied Shackleton's experiences, three principles about leading with creativity during crisis came to mind.
1. Creative activity increases creative ability.
As you become active in creativity, you gain more creative ability. Many people would love to have creative ability, but they've never done creative activities. When we freeze, we stop creating. Shackleton practiced "routine" creativity, for himself and for his crew. So when problems presented themselves, he and his crew never gave up on their ability to come up with creative solutions.
2. The rulebook no longer rules.
Everybody wants to give you the rulebook. David Kelley was right when he said, "The most important thing I learned from big companies is that creativity gets stifled when everyone's got to follow the rules." And Thomas Edison, probably the greatest inventor ever, would tell people who visited his laboratory that, "There ain't no rules around here! We're trying to accomplish something." Structure and rules serve us well, but legalism can choke our creative spirit to its death.
3. God is the Great Creator.
It doesn't make sense not to bring God - the Creator of the universe - into the creative process. No matter how much natural talent God has given us, God always can make it greater, better, bigger. That's why I pray for creativity. And when I pray for creativity, I ask for two things - I ask God to give me an idea or give me an example.
In our fast-paced, competitive marketplace, few resources are more valuable to organizations than creativity. But during a crisis, which is when real leadership either rises or falls, creativity often finds itself swallowed by urgency. Who has time to think outside the box when the box is collapsing around you?Shackleton, however, saw beyond the problems to the big picture. He recognized creativity's importance in keeping him and his crew alive and functioning as a team when they had little margin for error in the bitter cold and isolation of Antarctica. More than a skill, creativity was an attitude in his life that enabled him to find solutions to the obstacles they faced. When others would have frozen - literally as well as figuratively, in this case - Shackleton focused creatively on surviving the crisis.
John C. Maxwell is an internationally-acclaimed author and speaker on the subject of leadership. Learn more at http://www.johnmaxwell.com/. © Copyright 2001 by The Injoy Group. All rights reserved.