The Power of Ordinary Practices

This interview with Dr. Teresa Amabile is supposed to be about creativity. But the end of the interview holds a key idea that is often lost in the business world. First she comments on the effects of mood on creativity.

An example of the influence of these feelings on performance is my finding that if people are in a good mood on a given day, they're more likely to have creative ideas that day, as well as the next day, even if we take into account their mood that next day. There seems to be a cognitive process that gets set up when people are feeling good that leads to more flexible, fluent, and original thinking, and there's actually a carryover, an incubation effect, to the next day.

I wrote about this before, and the post has some good comments that tie well into Dr. Amabile's final point…

I believe it's important for leaders to understand the power of ordinary practices. Seemingly ordinary, trivial, mundane, day-by-day things that leaders do and say can have an enormous impact. My guess is that a lot of leaders have very little sense of the impact that they have. That's particularly true of the negative behaviors. I don't think that the ineffective team leaders we studied meant to anger or deflate the people who were working for them. They were trying to do a good job of leading their teams, but lacked an effective model for how to behave.

So, I would say sweat the small stuff, not only when you're dealing with your business strategy, but with the people whom you're trying to lead. I would encourage leaders, when they're about to have an interaction with somebody, to ask themselves: Might this thing I'm about to do or say become this person's "event of the day"? Will it have a positive or a negative effect on their feelings and on their performance today?

For all the talk of strategy, big picture thinking, innovation, disruptive technology – the little things still matter. All that fun cool stuff that you find in the business mantra of the month is useless if you don't pay attention to the ordinary, the details, the implementation, the execution. Don't be one of those managers browsing the book store for the next big idea. There are no panaceas. Get the little things right. Build good solid habits. Then you can move up and focus on the bigger things.

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  • Sometimes ordinary practice is killing me, but most of the time, if regarded with understanding, it helps my mind to relax.

  • I totally agree, Rob. I think a lot of times, we can get so caught up in the latest buzz words — when really, we can improve our businesses so much more if we just focus on the basics. The ordinary stuff: execution, customer service, making good on promises, etc.